For decades, as fast food and highly processed packaged foods have become increasingly popular, the converted fat these foods contain, known as transfat, has become commonplace in the American diet.
Transfat is formed in a chemical process that makes vegetable oils more solid. It gives fast food its taste and allows for a longer shelf for packaged snacks like popcorn, cakes and cookies.
Now transfat (blamed for raising levels of unhealthy cholesterol in the blood) is on its way out. New York and other U.S. cities and states have recently enacted laws to ban it from restaurants and school cafeterias.
Medical doctor and immediate past president of the American Heart Association Robert Eckel applauds such efforts. "What has been shown, particularly in the last 10 to 15 years [is] that these transfats ultimately appear to cause as much if not more harmful effects on bad cholesterol." Bad cholesterol he says can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Mega fast-food giant McDonalds says it will comply with the ban. It is testing a substitute blend of canola, corn and soy based oils, which it expects to have in place at all the company's 13,700 U.S. restaurants by early 2008.
American Heart Association's Robert Eckel says dropping transfats is an important first step toward a heart-healthy diet. "A heart-healthy diet is one that has been proven for decades of observation to be one that is high in fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, less processed grains and diets that are high in lean meats and fish."
Eckel says this diet reduces the risk not only of heart disease and stroke, but also of cancer and diabetes.