that knowledge isn't doing you much good.
About four out of five Americans know trans fats are bad for health. But
only one in five can name three foods high in trans fat, find University of
Colorado researcher Robert H. Eckel, MD, and colleagues.
"The trans fat message is pretty well out there, but we need to wake up
to the fact that the trans fats intake pattern for America and the Western
world is still too high," Eckel tells WebMD. "And we are still eating
too many saturated fats, too."
We're trying, but we still don't get it, says Michael L. Dansinger, director
of obesity research for the Tufts University atherosclerosis research lab and
nutrition advisor for The Biggest Loser television series.
"There is a lot of confusion about where the sources of fat are and the
best way to identify unhealthy fats," Dansinger tells WebMD.
The good news is that the Eckel study, a nationally representative survey of
1,000 U.S. adults, shows we're getting the message about fats:
- 92% of Americans have heard of trans fat.
- 73% of Americans know trans fats increase the risk of heart disease.
- 77% of Americans know saturated fats increase the risk of heart
The bad news is that most Americans have a fat chance of taking advantage of
their fat knowledge:
- Only 21% of Americans can name three food sources of trans fat.
- Nearly half of Americans can't name even one trans fat food source.
- Only a third of Americans can name even one trans fat food without seeing a
Looking Out for Trans Fats, Blindsided by Saturated Fats
Fortunately, new laws insist that products made with trans fats (and/or
partially hydrogenated oils) have to say so on their labels.
Unfortunately, that's as far as many people read, says Leslie Bonci, MPH,
RD, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center
and nutritional consultant to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"People are pressed for time. So they see 'Trans fats: zero' on the
label and they say, 'Fine, I'll buy it,'" Bonci tells WebMD. "But a lot
of those foods have replaced the trans fat with a saturated fat. Free does not
equal healthy. It is this assumption that 'trans-fat free must be good' that
does us in."
Yes, trans fats are particularly bad. They raise total cholesterol.
They raise LDL "bad" cholesterol. And the double whammy is that
they lower HDL"good" cholesterol.
But as Eckel points out, saturated fats aren't a whole heck of a lot better.
They can do a world of harm to your heart if not eaten in moderation. And when
it comes to saturated fat, we tend not to be moderate.
"The health message is more than trans fats. But this message is
ignored: 12.4% of our total calories come from saturated fats. That's twice
what we should be eating," Eckel says.
Where to Find Trans Fats
Where are trans fats?
Here's a list of foods typically high in trans fats:
- French fries
- Pastries (also high in saturated fats)
- Hard margarine
- Vegetable shortening
- Cookies (also high in saturated fats)
While many restaurants and manufacturers have started making trans-fat-free
versions of these foods, this still doesn't make them heart healthy.
Avoiding manufactured foods high in trans fats is essential, Eckel says, as
we get plenty of trans fats from natural foods.
"Twenty percent of trans fat consumption comes from natural foods, not
oils or solid spreads modified by the food industry to enhance shelf life or
enhance palatability," he says. "And now we are avoiding trans fats in
manufactured food products, if we eat beef or dairy we probably are cnsuming
most of our trans fats through natural foods."
Here's a list of foods typically high in saturated fats:
- Fatty beef (also naturally contain some trans fat)
- Pastries (also high in trans fat)
- Cookies (also high in trans fat)
- Dairy products (also naturally contain some trans fat)
- Whole milk
How to Eat Fewer Fats
Want to eat fewer fats? Here's advice that really works:
- Don't deny yourself today only to binge tomorrow. Enjoy fatty foods in
- To be moderate, fill up on healthy foods.
"People are getting sick of this negative message of what not to
have," Bonci says. "Let's focus instead on foods we love to
When you're filling your plate, Bonci says, start with the foods you know
are good for you.
"If half of the plate is red, yellow, orange, or green -- and it is not
M&Ms -- that's cool," she says. "And if another third of the plate
is lean plant or animal protein. And if the remainder of the plate is grain,
that's not fat either. But even if you decide at that point to have french
fries or a pastry -- well, there's not much more room on the plate, so
you're not getting an overwhelming dose of fat."
If you want a doughnut, Bonci tells her football players, go buy a doughnut,
not a box. Gotta have chips? Get a tiny bag, not a family-sized bag.
Not everyone has this much self-control, Dansinger says. He should know, as
the people he advises on The Biggest Loser have serious self-control
The answer for those of use who tend to be immoderate is "voluntary
submission" to someone -- a trainer, for example, or a doctor -- who will
hold our feet to the fire.
"If adherence to a plan is the key, the key to adherence is voluntary
submission," Dansinger says. "I let my patients know there is a certain
set of rules: keeping a food record, following a particular food strategy, and
exercising. The principle of being accountable to an outside authority has been
a key to my success."
The bottom line, Eckel says, is to enjoy good foods and to limit -- not deny
ourselves -- consumption of foods that carry a risk.
"We emphasize the good side of the equation: Enjoy fruits and
vegetables, whole grains, poultry, and fish," he says. "And if we enjoy
fatty foods on certain occasions, I don't think we need to contest
The Eckel study appears in the February issue of the Journal of the
American Dietetic Association.
By Daniel DeNoon
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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