You Are What You Eat

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March is National Nutrition Month. Read about a National Center of Environmental Health study that measured trans fatty acids in blood.

CDC study shows notable decrease in the levels of trans-fatty acids in the blood.

To reduce your intake of trans fatty acids, choose foods with either no trans fats or the lowest amounts of trans fats.

As the old saying goes, you are what you eat. The problem is that sometimes the things we eat can increase the levels of trans-fatty acids we have in our bloodstreams. Trans-fatty acids can increase a person’s “bad” cholesterol levels, or LDL. Researchers indicate higher LDL, or “bad” cholesterol can lead to cardiovascular disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed and used a new method to measure the levels of trans-fatty acids in our blood. Dr. Hubert Vesper, a research chemist in CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH), led the development of the new method.

Vesper published results from a study using the new method in the Journal of the American Medical Association in February 2012. In the study, Vesper and his team found a 58% drop from 2000 to 2009 in the trans-fatty acids levels in the blood levels of participants

“It’s the first study of its kind,” Vesper says. Vesper says he and his team measured four types of trans-fatty acids: elaidic acids, vaccenic acids, linoelaidic acids and palmitelaidic acids. He says the results indicate progress that’s been made in recent years to educate the public on the health risks of trans fats.

The new method to measure trans-fatty acids was used in the JAMA-published study of the blood samples of fasting white adults who participated in CDC’s 2000 and 2009 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

Vesper says that state health departments have taken steps to reduce the amount of trans fats in foods and to distribute information on the health risks. These increased efforts coincide with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s 2003 mandate that requires food and dietary supplement manufacturers to list the amount of trans-fatty acids that are in their products on the nutrition information labels.

“The decrease in trans-fatty acids in the blood could be related to the ongoing efforts to educate the public about trans fats,” Vesper says.

Vesper says more trans-fatty acid studies using the new method are coming with participants from other population segments, including ethnic groups, young children, and adolescents.

According to FDA, trans fat is a specific type of fat that is formed when liquid oils are turned into solid fats, such as shortening or stick margarine. During this process—called hydrogenation—manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oil to increase the shelf life and flavor stability of foods. The result of the process is trans fat.

Trans fat can be found in many of the same foods as saturated fat. These can include crackers, cookies, cakes, frozen pies, and other baked goods, snack foods (such as microwave popcorn), frozen pizza, fast food, vegetable shortenings, and stick margarines, coffee creamer, refrigerated dough products (such as biscuits and cinnamon rolls), and ready-to-use frostings.

What can you do to reduce your intake of trans-fatty acids?

  • • Compare food brands when grocery shopping and choose the one with either the lowest amount of trans fat or no trans fat.
  • • Use margarine that contains unsaturated vegetable oil, instead of trans fat.

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Page last reviewed: November 21, 2013
Page last updated: November 21, 2013