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Fighting Heart Disease With Food Labels: Expert Q&A

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What about trans fats?

Trans fats come from partially hydrogenated oils. They’ve been shown to be even more dangerous to the cardiovascular system than saturated fats. The less trans fat you consume, the better. Labels can be a little confusing. Products can call themselves trans fat-free if they contain less than half a gram per serving. That amount isn’t a problem if you eat such foods now and then. But if you eat them frequently, you may be consuming more trans fats than is healthy. If you want to eliminate trans fats entirely, look on the ingredient label and choose foods that do not contain partially hydrogenated oils. Be sure to make sure the food is also low in saturated fat. Some companies have replaced trans fats with saturated fat, which isn’t healthy, either.

What’s the latest thinking on the healthiest types of unsaturated fat?

Unsaturated fats include vegetable and nut oils, such as olive oil, corn oil, safflower oil, and canola oil. These are liquid at room temperature. Saturated fats, in contrast, which are solid at room temperature, are known to raise blood cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease. Unsaturated fats are divided into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Some studies suggest that polyunsaturated fats are the healthiest. Don't worry too much about polys versus monos. In fact, most vegetable and nut oils contain a mix of the two.

Is it important to look at levels of dietary cholesterol in food?

If you have elevated LDL cholesterol or a family risk of heart disease, you should keep an eye on how much dietary cholesterol you consume. The Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes diet, known as TLC, has been shown in studies sponsored by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute to significantly reduce heart disease in people at risk. The TLC diet calls for no more than 200 milligrams of dietary cholesterol a day for people with high cholesterol. Reading labels is important, of course. But more important is limiting the amount of foods that contain high levels of cholesterol, many of which don’t carry labels, such as eggs and organ meats.

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