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Good Fat. Bad Fat.

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While the negative effects of saturated fats have been well documented and widely discussed over the past 30 years, an artificial and potentially deadly fat has silently made its way into our food supply.

While the negative effects of saturated fats have been well documented and widely discussed over the past 30 years, an artificial and potentially deadly fat has silently made its way into our food supply.

Trans fatty acids (TFA) are the result of an industrial process that hardens vegetable oils for transportation and storage. Found in fried foods, baked goods, chocolate bars, and various fast foods, TFA are generally labelled as "hydrogenated vegetable oil" or simply "shortening."

Bad Fat

Research now shows that TFA can harden the arteries, cause heart arrhythmias, increase low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or bad) cholesterol and decrease high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or good) cholesterol, and significantly raise the risk of diabetes. One study showed that those with the highest levels of TFA had almost three times the risk of heart attack versus those with the lowest levels.

If you think saturated fats are bad, consider that, gram-for-gram, TFA increase the risk of cardiovascular blockage more than 10-fold compared with saturated fats, according to the Danish Nutrition Council. TFA also have been associated with increased risk of breast and colon cancers, and pregnancy complications. The results of these studies persuaded the Canadian and US governments to require mandatory labelling of the TFA content in food by January 2006.

Good Fat

On the other side of the good fat/bad fat equation are omega-3 fats - naturally found in flaxseed, fish, walnut, and perilla oils. Omega-3 rich oils can reduce the risk of heart attack, lower triglycerides, increase HDL cholesterol, stabilize heart rhythm, and significantly lower the risk of cardiac death. Omega-3 fats are also associated with a decreased risk of numerous cancers, as well as diabetes and allergies.

Research conducted at the University of Guelph and published in 2002 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal shows we need to add more omega-3s to our diets, particularly the beneficial eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA) acids from fish. Currently our average intake is only 100 to 150 mg of EPA plus DHA per day. The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 650 mg of EPA plus DHA per day and at least 900 mg if an individual has cardiovascular disease.

To reach this target, we would need to eat five servings of salmon, four servings of herring, two and one-half servings of mackerel, or 21 servings of cod daily. That's a lot of fish. Mercury-free fish oil supplements are an easier solution.

We urgently need to fill the omega-3 void and eliminate TFA from our diets. Inexpensive and safe omega-3 supplements and non-TFA dietary choices are readily available at your local health food store.

Vegetarian Source of Omega-3s

Oil from the herb Perilla frutescens (perilla) is an alternative source of omega-3s for vegetarians reluctant to use fish oil. In fact, a study published in 2004 in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry showed in two separate experiments that ALA rich perilla oil increased EPA and DHA levels equally as well as fish oil.

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