It still makes sense to limit fats in your diet


October 13, 1992|By Colleen Pierre, R.D. | Colleen Pierre, R.D.,Contributing Writer

Are you mystified by the margarine maelstrom? Confused about which fats to eat and which to avoid? Ready to throw in the towel on nutrition generally?

Relax, and try to hang in there. The old rule still applies. Eat less fat of all kinds.

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a report concluding that trans fatty acids are similar to saturated fats in raising blood cholesterol levels, and in some cases, lowering HDL, or good cholesterol.

Trans fatty acids are the result of "hydrogenation," or adding hydrogen molecules to a liquid fat, like corn oil or safflower oil, to make it a little more solid, like margarine, which we've substituted for butter, a saturated fat, in order to get our blood cholesterol levels down.

Hydrogenation also prevents rancidity in cooking oils, like cottonseed oil, which many restaurants now use in place of lard, a saturated fat, for cooking our french fries, in the expectation of lowering our blood cholesterol levels.

In addition, hydrogenated fats like margarine and "all vegetable shortening" make our cookies, crackers and snack foods crisper, so we've substituted them for highly saturated "tropical oils," again in hopes of lowering our blood cholesterol levels.

At first glance, it appears we've made a lot of changes for nothing. But don't despair.

The FDA cautions us not to change back just yet, since current research leaves many trans fatty acid questions unanswered, while it is clear that saturated fats do increase our risk for heart disease.

While the research continues, you can modify health risks by practicing the golden rule of good nutrition: balance, variety and moderation.

* Eat less of all kinds of fat. Limit the fat you add to foods in butter, margarine, mayonnaise, salad dressing and cooking oil to 6 teaspoons a day for women and 9 teaspoons a day for men.

* Use a soft tub margarine, because it's lower in trans fatty acids than stick margarine. According to the International Food Information Council, the special margarine used in the Dutch DTC study that first uncovered this problem, contained 43 percent trans fatty acids, while margarines made in the United States contain 25 percent to 30 percent for the stick type, but only 13 percent to 20 percent for the tub style.

Use liquid oils instead of margarine or solid shortening for cooking. Natural liquid oils like corn, safflower, peanut, olive and canola oils, contain no trans fatty acids.

* Use heart-healthy, all natural, olive oil instead of butter or margarine as a spread for bread. It's the rage now in Italian restaurants everywhere. Some use plain olive oil, some seasoned. My favorite contains chopped fresh tomato, garlic, basil and a slice of lime.

* Eat more fresh fruit in place of cookies, crackers, cakes and snack foods. When you do indulge, eat just a little. Choose low-fat; or fat-free varieties.

* Eat fewer fried foods. Split a small order of fries, then have a bag of carrot or celery sticks or a side salad for "crunch."

Remember, nutrition is a very modern science, with fresh discoveries being made daily. It takes time to unravel the intricacies and implications.

Let nutrition influence the way you eat, but not jerk you around. Be moderate, not madcap, for better health.

Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center in Baltimore.

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