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The kinds of fats consumed, not the total amount of fat, determine a woman’s risk of suffering a heart attack, according to the first major study of the effects of all dietary fats in women.
The 14-year study, of more than 80,000 nurses, highlighted two types of fats as the bad actors in heart disease: saturated fats – found mainly in meat and dairy foods – and trans fats – found in most margarines, commercial baked goods and deep-fried foods prepared with hardened vegetable oils.
The earlier research focused mainly on saturated fat, cholesterol and total fat intake as the chief dietary factors. The new findings, in contrast, confirm and extend those from a report, published four years ago and also based on this study of nurses, about the risk of trans fats.
But a number of other experts reacted to the report skeptically, saying reduction of total fat ought to remain the focus of healthful eating.
Among the women in the study who consumed the largest amounts of trans fats, the chance of suffering a heart attack was found to be 53 percent higher than among those at the low end of trans fat consumption.
But women in the group with the largest consumption of total fat (46 percent of calories) had no greater risk of heart attack than those in the group with the lowest consumption of total fat (29 percent of calories).
Currently, about 5 to 10 percent of the fat in American diets is trans fat, which is produced when vegetable oils are artificially hydrogenated to increase their firmness and resistance to rancidity. Liquid vegetable oils, including olive, canola, soybean and corn oils, are free of trans fat.
Trans fats are not listed on food labels – the FDA is considering a petition that would require such listing – but a product is likely to contain them if hydrogenated fat is listed among the ingredients. The softer the fat, the fewer trans fats it contains.
SOURCE: Washington Post, 1999
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