Dr. Day is a cardiologist/electrophysiologist at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and completed his residency and fellowships in cardiology and electrophysiology at Stanford University. He is the former president of the Heart Rhythm Society and currently serves as the president of the Utah chapter of the American College of Cardiology.
The 7 Most Dangerous Foods for Your Heart
“Margarine is healthier,” I was told in the 1980s. I still remember moving out of my parents house and buying groceries for the first time in 1985. Like everyone else, I cringe to think that I used to buy that tub of trans fat laden margarine because I thought it was safer for my heart than butter.
The sad thing is that most Americans still unknowingly eat this unhealthy fat each day! Fortunately, the FDA has finally intervened and announced this week that “food manufactures” must eliminate added trans fat from our food supply within 3 years. As with lead poisoning, there is no safe level of this toxic fat.
Despite this good news from the FDA, there is a catch. Food manufacturers can petition the FDA to keep putting trans fat into their fake food products.
Even if the food label says zero trans fat, you are still at risk due to legal loopholes in trans fat reporting requirements. As long as there is less than a half of a gram, food manufacturers do not need to report this. For people who eat a lot of processed foods or eat out a lot, this can really add up. A large percentage of fast food establishments, restaurants, and bakeries still use this fat.
In this article I will share with you how to protect yourself from the 7 most dangerous foods for your heart. These 7 foods are those highest in trans fat.
Why Should We Worry About Trans Fat?
Trans fat causes inflammation to our arteries. It also dramatically raises our bad cholesterol (LDL) and lowers our good cholesterol (HDL). The end result is rapid plaque build up within our heart. The CDC estimates that trans fat causes up to 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 unnecessary heart deaths each year in the U.S.
Why Does the Food Industry Like Trans Fat?
Why do food manufacturers still insist on putting this fat into their products? The answer is because it gives fake food products a shelf life that just may be longer than your own life.
In addition to a long shelf life, some claim that trans fat makes things “taste better.” Lastly, when frying with trans fat, you can re-use the oil over and over.
Trans Fat in Meat and Dairy
It might surprise you to learn that trans fat is also found in meat and dairy. Grass fed animals may even have more trans fat than grain fed animals.
I should note that the chemical structure of naturally occurring trans fat is different from that of the man-made variety we have discussed thus far in this article. Fortunately, the natural forms of trans fat don’t seem to present the same cardiovascular risks. To stay on the safe side, it may be wise to eat leaner cuts of animal meat.
Why Are Cholesterol Levels Falling?
Something strange is happening in the U.S. Despite the fact that we are gaining more and more weight, our cholesterol numbers keep dropping. The pharmaceutical industry would like us to believe that this is due to the cholesterol lowering, “statin” drug, prescriptions being written.
Personally, I believe it is because we have been gradually phasing trans fat out of our diet. As mentioned, trans fat raises our bad cholesterol (LDL) and lowers our good cholesterol (HDL).
Since the FDA loosely required food manufacturers to report trans fat in 2003, we have reduced our consumption of this fat by 78%. Interestingly, over this same period of time, the number of people with high cholesterol in the U.S. has dropped by 27%.
Heart Stent and Bypass Surgeries Are Falling
Not only have our cholesterol levels dropped but the number of heart stent procedures has declined by 28% and cardiac bypass surgeries have gone down by 46% during this same period of time. I suspect that much of this decrease has occurred due to the gradual elimination of trans fat from our diets.
The 7 Most Dangerous Foods for Your Heart
As if the sugar and refined grains were not dangerous for your heart, the trans fat in many commercially prepared pastries delivers the triple hit to your heart. Never eat cookies, cakes, donuts, or pies without first checking the label to see if there are partially hydrogenated oils.
Commercially prepared frosting and refrigerated dough can also be high in trans fat. Even breads or crackers may contain trans fat.
If you want to have a pastry, try making a healthier version at home without all of the sugar, refined grains, or trans fat. For suggestions on healthier options, please review the many recipes my wife has posted on our website.
2. Margarine and Shortening
Margarine was the poster child for trans fat a generation ago. Shortening is another common source of trans fat. Fortunately, Crisco has recently eliminated trans fat.
If you want to use a healthier oil, try using olive oil or coconut oil. There are many healthier options than margarine or shortening.
3. French Fries and Fried Foods
French fries and fried foods are often fried in trans fat. If you love French fries, try baking your own at home with a little bit of olive oil and sea salt. Homemade sweet potato fries can be especially healthy.
Potato chips and other chips often contain trans fat. If you like the taste of chips, consider switching to kale chips. Better yet, make your own kale chips at home with some olive oil and sea salt.
Candy can be another source of trans fat. If you love your sweets, like me, consider switching to dark chocolate instead. With regards to health, the darker the chocolate the better. Dark chocolate has much less added sugar than milk chocolate.
6. Frozen Pizzas
Frozen pizzas are yet another source of hidden trans fat and other heart unfriendly ingredients. Consider making your own pizza. It is surprisingly easier than you think. You can even include almond flour and coconut flour into your homemade pizza dough recipe.
Microwave popcorn often contains trans fat. Movie theater popcorn is no better. If you love popcorn you can still eat it–just try the air pop variety at home.
Bringing It Home
The key message is that trans fat is still in our food supply and there is no safe amount you can eat. If you buy processed or prepared foods, you must ensure that partially hydrogenated oil or shortening is not listed anywhere on the ingredient list.
If you like to eat out, ask the manager, or your server, what types of oils are used.
Was it hard for you to eliminate trans fat from your diet?
Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.