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Not All Fats are Bad for Heart Health – How to Tell Friend From Foe

Elizabeth Klodas, MD, FACC - Blogs
By Elizabeth Klodas, MD, FACCBoard-certified cardiologistAugust 17, 2017
From the WebMD Archives

If you’re trying to lower your cholesterol, one of the key things you need to do is focus on the fat in your diet. I’m not talking about following a low-fat diet – I’m talking about avoiding bad fats and favoring good fats.

What are the good fats? Fats that are naturally liquid at room temperature. Think olive oil, the oils in nuts and seeds, the fats in avocados, and the oils in fish.

What are the bad fats? They’re the saturated and trans fats. Saturated fats are naturally-occurring fats that are solid at room temperature. Think butter, the fat in cream, the marbling in beef, the fat in chicken, coconut oil. This type of fat can play a part in raising LDL (bad cholesterol).

But worse than saturated fat is trans fat. Trans fat does occur in nature, but only in minuscule amounts.  We’re exposed to it primarily through processed and packaged foods. Trans fats are fats that used to be liquid at room temperature, but have been transformed into solids though a chemical process – hydrogenation. Think partially hydrogenated corn and soybean oils. Trans fats raise LDL (bad cholesterol), lower HDL (good cholesterol), and increase markers of inflammation. There are no known safe limits for consumption.

So why are these fats even used in food manufacturing? Because they’re inexpensive to make, don’t spoil, and have a pleasant “mouth feel.” So, they’re the perfect fat for food manufacturers and processors.

The drive to use these fats in food manufacturing has been so strong that the FDA has been pressured to allow manufacturers to label a food as containing “0 trans fats” if it contained up to 0.5 grams per serving. Given that some servings might be artificially small, you could get to close to 2 grams of trans fats by eating a couple small muffins – all the while thinking you’re getting none.

So, when it comes to trans fats, you have to be a hawk. You literally have to read food ingredient panels – not just nutrition labels, because those could give you a false sense of security. Scour the ingredient panel for the word “hydrogenated.” If it’s there, put that food back on the grocery food shelf – it should not land in your cart.

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About the Author
Elizabeth Klodas, MD, FACC

Elizabeth Klodas, MD, FACC, is a cardiologist and founder of Preventive Cardiology Consultants in Minneapolis. Her professional interests include noninvasive cardiac imaging and valvular heart disease, but her true passion is heart disease prevention.

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