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Good Fats, Bad Fats, Worst Fats, Continued

Terrible Trans Fats

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The Worst: Trans Fats

Finally, there are what are now described as the really bad fats: trans fats, also known as hydrogenated fats. Trans fats are created during a hydrogenation process, where liquid vegetable oils are converted into solid fats. Trans fats are thought to be worse for us than saturated fats because they not only raise total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, they also lower HDL (good) cholesterol.

Trans fats lurk in all kinds of processed foods, from French fries to cookies. Thanks to new food-label laws, which came into effect in January 2006, trans fats—once described as hidden fats—are now listed on all packaged foods. And in the year or two before these label laws came into effect, there was a lot of media attention focused on trans fats, and what food manufacturers were doing to reduce trans fats in their products. But has this increased our awareness of these bad fats made an impact on our eating habits?

A survey by the NPD Group, a market research firm, found that 94 percent of us are aware of trans fats, and 73 percent of us are concerned about them. But although most consumers were aware that french fries and other fried foods contained trans fats, they were less aware of the trans-fat content in other processed goods such as cakes, doughnuts, and snack foods. Indeed, 65 percent of consumers believed restaurant food was more likely to contain trans fats than food eaten at home. And despite consumers expressing a desire to avoid trans fats while eating out, sales of foods containing trans fats, such as fried chicken, are still increasing.

Either we're as confused as ever, or we choose to disregard what we know. It's hard to pass up those delicious fast-food fries or refuse to buy our favorite packaged cookies or doughnuts. But with many restaurants switching to alternative cooking oils—voluntarily or otherwise, it looks like trans fats are finally on their way out.

What Kind of Fats Should we Eat?

The bottom line is that the body needs dietary fat. Fat is a source of energy, it allows the proper function of cells and the nervous system, and fat is required for the proper absorption of certain vitamins. Fat also helps us maintain healthy hair and skin, and insulates us from the cold. Nonetheless, we should probably limit our fat intake to no more than 30-35 percent of daily calories. Anything lower than 20 percent, however, is unhealthy. Most of that fat should be unsaturated. Use liquid oils over solid fats in cooking. In general, we should choose low-fat dairy products, and the leanest cuts of meat and poultry. We should eat fish (including fatty fish such as salmon) at least twice a week, and keep processed food and fast foods to an absolute minimum.

Finally, back to trans fats: even if a food label proudly touts 0g trans fats, it doesn't transform that food into a health food. It means that the hydrogenated fat has been replaced by another kind of fat, often a saturated tropical fat, which may or may not be more beneficial.

This article is one of the "stops" on the Virtual Amazing Race, a lesson plan suitable for grades 5 and up. The lesson plan features research on around-the-world topics and Web Page Design Using PowerPoint

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