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Nutritionists: Trans Fat Ban Good for Heart Health

They urge greater use of healthier oils, like canola oil or other vegetable oils, in food-making process

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Dennis Thompson

HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Nov. 8 (HealthDay News) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's proposal to ban trans fats from the food supply will trigger some scrambling by manufacturers and restaurant chains, but ultimately it will be a boon to the nation's health, dietitians say.

In fact, food manufacturers had been pivoting away from trans fats before the FDA announced its proposal Thursday, searching for useful substitutes.

"The lion's share of the added trans fats have been removed from our food supply. But this is a good step toward eliminating the remaining amount that continues to pose heart disease risk for many people," said Kim Larson, a registered dietitian nutritionist and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.

Even so, the FDA estimates that totally eliminating trans fats could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths due to heart disease each year.

Food makers first adopted partially hydrogenated vegetable oils -- the source of trans fats -- as a substitute for butter, due to health concerns over the saturated fats contained in butter, explained Cleveland Clinic dietitian Kristin Kirkpatrick.

Using trans fats to make a cracker gives it flakiness and "adds a buttery taste without putting butter in it," Kirkpatrick said. Trans fats also can be used to add a creamy taste, she said, noting that non-dairy creamers are loaded with the artificial fats.

Other foods that contain trans fats include margarine, prepared desserts, canned cake frosting, microwave popcorn, frozen pizzas and boxed cookies, nutritionists noted.

But the food industry has progressed to the point where trans fats can be replaced with healthier options, with no effect on food's taste or texture, Kirkpatrick said.

"I think this is an opportunity to look at some of those healthier oils, like canola oil or other vegetable oils, and how they can be incorporated into foods that traditionally used trans fats," Kirkpatrick said. "I think we can do that without affecting taste."

Trans fats are created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils. These partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are solid at room temperature.

Trans fats became popular because of their versatility in food production. They make processed foods "shelf-stable," able to stay on supermarket shelves for months without going bad. Fast food restaurants loved trans fats because they could be used repeatedly in commercial deep fryers without having to be replaced, according to the American Heart Association.

But, trans fats gained a notorious reputation because they literally do everything wrong in the human body when it comes to cholesterol.

Trans fats simultaneously increase LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and lower HDL (good) cholesterol levels, nutritionists explained.

They also cause inflammation, said Penny Kris-Etherton, a registered dietitian and professor of nutrition at Penn State University. "Inflammation is not only a root cause of heart disease, but other chronic diseases as well," she said.

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