Health Watch -- Another Unhealthy Fat

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications  and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

You know saturated fat is bad for you, but there's another kind of bad fat to look out for.

Not all dietary fats are the same. While they all have the same calorie density, some have different effects on your blood cholesterol. Saturated fats - mostly fats from animal sources, like meat and butter - raise levels of bad cholesterol in the blood. Monounsaturated fats - such as olive oil - help lower bad cholesterol.

But nutrition experts at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say there's another kind of fat to look out for, and it may not be on food labels. Trans-fatty acids may be just as bad as - if not worse than - saturated fats. They not only raise levels of bad cholesterol, they also lower levels of good cholesterol. These fats are created when vegetable oils are processed to make them solid or to give foods made with them a longer shelf life. Trans-fatty acids are generally found in foods like manufactured cookies and crackers.

Beginning in 2006, the government will require that food labels show the amount of trans-fatty acids in a product. Some food manufacturers are already including this information or are taking steps to eliminate or reduce trans-fatty acids from their products.

Dr. Jo Ann Carson, a UT Southwestern dietitian and nutrition expert, says you can find the total amount of bad fat in a product by adding the amounts of saturated fat and trans-fatty acids. That can help you better compare products. One good way to avoid trans-fatty acids is to avoid store-bought baked goods and instead make these foods yourself at home, using heart-healthy oils like corn or canola oil.


May 2004