Facing the trans-fat facts: Heart-disease risk studied

March 25, 1998|By Elizabeth Hiser | Elizabeth Hiser,Eating Well

Sure, everybody knows that doughnuts and other processed foods aren't the healthiest fare. But just how bad can they be? Pretty bad, according to a sobering statistic released by the Harvard School of Public Health: Replacing just 2 percent of calories from trans fat (a form of fat found in processed foods containing hydrogenated oil) with calories from unhydrogenated, unsaturated fats could decrease heart-disease risk by more than half.

The Harvard researchers based this finding on diet and health information collected from more than 80,000 women participating in the Nurses' Health study between 1980 and 1994. During that time, there were 939 cases of nonfatal heart attacks or deaths from coronary heart disease. When the researchers examined the risk associated with eating specific types of fat, they found that eating saturated fat raised risk, while eating unsaturated fat lowered risk. And regardless of how much total fat they ate, the women with the highest trans-fat intake were 27 percent more likely to have coronary heart disease, compared to the women with the lowest trans-fat intake.

This finding, combined with a European report in 1995 that showed that women with the highest trans-fats consumption have a 40 percent greater risk of breast cancer, implies that consumers should be carefully monitoring their trans-fat intake. Unfortunately, the exact amount of trans fats in a product is currently not required on food labels. For now, consumers' best strategy is to check the ingredient list and limit or avoid foods that contain "hydrogenated" oils.

Pub Date: 3/25/98

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