Some Fats Deserve Change of Heart

FRIDAY May 30, 2008 -- Fewer than half of Americans realize there are two types of dietary fat that actually help their hearts, a new survey shows.

So, while many have heeded the warnings about the cardiovascular dangers of trans fats and saturated fats, the American Heart Association (AHA) now thinks people need to pay more attention to the cardiovascular benefits conferred by polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.

As a result of its recent survey, the AHA's new Face the Fats campaign has harnessed the power of the Internet to encourage people to view these lesser known fats with new respect.

"We're trying to take education to the next level and say when you have the opportunity to choose, choose the better fat, not the bad fat," said Dr. Clyde W. Yancy, the association's president-elect.

The campaign's Web page presents information at varying levels of sophistication. The pages include an interactive quiz on fats, menus, recipes and a Fats 101 course. A Fats Translator calculates a body-mass index from the input of height, weight, age and level of activity. The index is a scale ranging from under weight to obesity.

The AHA decided to go digital in this phase of its campaign because "the Web really is becoming the world's premier information source, so we have to be there," Yancy added.

"When we have lots of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats in our diet, our HDL cholesterol goes up and helps protect our arteries from clogging up and hardening," explained Lona Sandon, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern. "HDL kind of acts like a broom and sweeps up the artery-damaging molecules and takes them away."

Trans fats and saturated fats are more able to stick to blood vessel walls and harden arteries, Yancy added. This process can lead to the rupture of an artery or obstructed blood vessels that can cause heart attacks, strokes or blood vessel disease.

Sandon supported the idea of greater education on the different forms of dietary fat. "I think it's still very confusing for people," she said. "They don't know if they should be eating low fat, what kind of fat." She also advised moderation in consumption of any kind of fat. All fats have 9 calories per gram, she explained, so even too much of the better fats can lead to weight gain. "They're healthy, but you can't go wild with them," she said.

The Face the Fats campaign is funded by $7 million received from McDonalds USA as part of the settlement of a California class action lawsuit brought by a consumer advocacy group, bantransfat.com, according to the AHA. McDonald's recently announced that it has eliminated trans fats from its fried foods by changing to a canola-based cooking oil.

More information

For more on the Face the Fats campaign, go to the American Heart Association.

Posted: May 2008


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