Trans Fats:

Going, going, but not gone!


It has been 6 years since the FDA began requiring packaged foods to list trans fats on the label.  Though animal foods like butter contain tiny amounts of natural trans fats, most trans fats in our food supply are synthetic, created when unsaturated vegetable oils are partially hydrogenated.

This gives the oils a semi-solid consistency that’s more suitable for many processed foods.  Synthetic trans fats raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and have other adverse effects that increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

In response to the labeling law, many manufacturers voluntarily reduced or eliminated partially hydrogenated oils – and thus trans fats – from their margarines, baked goods, snacks, and other foods.  Sone fast-food restaurants got rid of trans fats in French fries, while California and New York city banned artificial trans fats in restaurants altogether. cigs

Reassuringly, a 2010 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that most reformulated foods do not contain higher levels of saturated fats, as feared.  Instead, food makers and restaurants have largely replaced partially hydrogenated oils with healthy unsaturated oils.


These government and industry steps seem to be paying off now.  According to a large study from the CDC in the Journal of the American Medical Association in February, blood levels of trans fats decreased nearly 60% between 2000 and 2009, thanks to the removal of trans fats from processed foods.  Such a dramatic drop in blood trans fats “should help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease,” says Dr. Hubert Vesper, the study’s lead author.

That’s good news, but don’t let down your guard.  Some supermarkets and restaurant foods still contain trans fats, sometimes at very high levels.  Here are some examples, cited by the Center for Science in the Public Interest:

*       Jolly Time Microwave Popcorn (some flavors) has 4 grams of trans fat per serving.

*       Marie Callender’s Lattice Apple Pie, 5 grams

*       Long John Silver’s Clam Strips, 7 grams

*       White Castle donuts, as much as 9 grams

Other companies cites include:

Celeste Pizza – Jimmy Dean – Pepperidge Farm – Giant – DiGiorno, and Betty Crocker.trans fat pie_chart

The American Heart Association advises that trans fats provide no more than 1% of your total daily calories (that’s less than 2 grams a day for someone eating 2,000 calories a day.)

Bottom Line:


Check nutrition labels for trans fats, but you have to read between the lines.  Because of a labeling loophole, manufacturers can say their products have 0 grams of trans fat if they contain less than 0.5 grams per serving.  That may not sound like a lot, but the numbers add up if you eat several servings.

trans fat labelTo avoid synthetic trans fats in packaged foods, make sure that partially hydrogenated oil is not in the ingredients list.  If you use margarine, soft (tub) margarines are much less likely to contain trans fats, or at least much less of then, than hard margarines.  Keep in mind that products that contain trans fats tend to be junk foods anyway, often high in calories, fat, and sodium.  Life becomes much easier when you eat organic.



UV RadiationUltraviolet radiation can damage skin through a variety of pathophysiological cascades including the direct suppression of the skin’s immunity.  Consumption of fish oils, which are predominately comprised of omega-3 fatty acids, can “abrogate photoimmuno suppression in human skin,” according to research.

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AlzBetaA hallmark Alzheimer’s diseases’ pathogenesis is the development of beta amyloid proteins and the immune system’s inability to properly metabolize these brain plaques.

A recent study found that both vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids (docosahxaenoic acid or DHA) increased phagocytic activity of plaque-clearing macrophages while reducing troublesome inflammatory cytokines.

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hot flashesThe first published controlled trial comparing omega-3 fatty acid supplements versus placebo for treatment of menopausal symptoms has come out clearly in favor of the omegas.

Women in this study were between 40-55 years old and had moderate to severe psychological distress, defined as a score of 72 or greater on the Psychological General Well-being Schedule.  Only women with hot flashes were included in this analysis.

A cohort of 120 women was randomly assigned to 8 weeks’ treatment with either placebo or omega-3 fatty acids in the form of 500-mg capsules 3 times per day, with each capsule containing 350 mg of EPA and 50 ng DHA.

The baseline hot flash frequency was 2.8 per day.  After 8 weeks, the hot flash frequency decreased in the omega-3 group by a mean of 1.58 flashes per day, versus a reduction of 0.50 per day in the placebo group.  There was a significant 55% reduction in hot flash frequency in the omega group compared with only a 25% decrease in the placebo group.


Moreover, there was a greater overall responder rate in the omega-3 group, with 58.8% of the women reporting a reduction in flashes, compared with 34.4% of the women on placebo.  However, there was no difference in hot flash severity or quality of life scores between the 2 groups.

A previous randomized study suggested that the addition of an omega-3 fatty acid to an isoflavone supplement could gradually reduce hot flash severity, there was clearly a statistically significant reduction in frequence.  Omega-3 fatty acids may play a role in thermoregulation via their effect on neurotransmitters involved in regulating temperature homeostasis.

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