The American Heart Association has become the first big health group to urge a specific limit on trans fats in the diet — less than 1 percent of total calories — in new guidelines released Monday.
Also for the first time, the organization's dietary guidelines include lifestyle recommendations, including an emphasis on getting exercise and not smoking.
A panel of specialists in nutrition and heart disease reviewed more than 90 studies to update the dietary advice the association released in 2000. The guidelines are for healthy Americans ages 2 and older.
Rather than slavishly counting calories and grams of fat, people should try something simpler: getting in the habit of cooking with healthier oils and balancing calories consumed with calories burned through exercise, said Alice Lichtenstein, a Tufts University nutrition expert who chaired the guidelines panel.
Trans fats, or trans fatty acids such as partially hydrogenated oils, are found in many cookies, crackers, breads, cakes, French fries and other fried foods. They contribute to heart disease risk by raising LDL, or the bad cholesterol.
Avoiding them and keeping a healthy diet is challenging while eating out as much as Americans do, panel members noted.
Last week, a consumer group sued KFC to try to get the company to stop frying its chicken in trans fats. Other fast-food chains also have been pressured to lower such fats.
"Total fat reduction alone is not the only answer. It is important what kind of fat you eat," said Linda Van Horn, a Northwestern University dietitian who helped draft the guidelines.
Among the panel's other recommendations:
The guidelines were published in the association's journal 'Circulation'. For a free brochure, visit www.americanheart.org or call 1-800-AHA-USA1.