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Avoiding Trans Fats in Restaurants

Are unhealthy trans fats lurking in your favorite restaurant meals?
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Not a Quick Fix

It's important to note that limiting trans fats is only one factor affecting heart disease risk, experts say. Tufts University cardiovascular researcher Alice Lichtenstein thinks the impact is yet to be determined.

"It is likely to be a positive effect, as long as consumers understand that eliminating trans fats from their diets is only one piece of the puzzle and not a quick fix for heart disease risk," she says.

Unfortunately, fixing the American diet will take much more than eliminating trans fats from restaurant and home menus.

"We need to help consumers understand that good health is more than eliminating a single food," she says. "It is a lifestyle that includes regular physical activity, a healthy diet and being at a healthy weight."

Lichtenstein thinks reducing obesity should top the list of ways to prevent heart disease.

"The big gorilla in the room is body weight, and it is getting worse instead of better," she says.

American Dietetic Association spokeswoman Bonnie Taub-Dix, MS, RD, agrees.

"Banning trans fats in restaurants does not address the obesity issue, which is due, in part, to eating large portions of high-fat foods," she says. "Even if the fettuccine Alfredo is trans fat-free, it is still loaded with fat and calories."

Legislate or Educate?

Isn't it enough to inform consumers about trans fats, without letting lawmakers decide which foods we should avoid?

Taub-Dix thinks it is an excellent idea to encourage restaurants to use healthier fats. But she thinks it is more important to educate consumers.

"We need consumers to take responsibility to learn more about the food they eat and how it affects their health, whether they are eating at home, ordering takeout, or at a restaurant," she says.

Consumers need a crash course in all kinds of fats in the diet, she says.

"People think trans fat-free means fat-free, which is the wrong message that can be misinterpreted and lead to overeating," says Taub-Dix.

She is concerned that food packages and restaurant menus boasting "zero trans fats" may end up misleading consumers.

"In the grocery store, read the labels; and in restaurants, ask a few questions to make sure the trans fats have not been replaced with unhealthy saturated fats," she says. "And also be mindful of portion sizes and calories."

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