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Replacements for Partially Hydrogenated Oils

Now that partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats) have been removed from many processed foods, which substitutes are acceptable and which should be avoided? Most of the foods previously made with trans fats now use saturated fats from palm, palm kernel and coconut oils. As far as I know, these tropical oils have not been shown to cause heart attacks or other health issues in any large population studies. However, they raise levels of the bad LDL cholesterol, while Canola oil (high in monounsaturated fat) and soybean oil (high in polyunsaturated fat) do not (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, July 2006). I believe that they are more healtful than saturated fats from animal sources, and certainly better than the trans fats they have replaced.

Fats in nature are always a combination of saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. They are classified by their dominant fat. For example, most of the fat in meat and tropical oils is saturated, while the fats in most vegetables are primarily polyunsaturated. Here are my recommendations:

• Look for foods made with monounsaturated or polyunsaturated vegetable oils. Many food manufacturers now use trans fat-free oil from sunflower, soy, and cottonseed oils. (Wendy's switched to non-hydrogenated corn and soy oil in 2006. McDonald's now uses trans-fat free canola and soybean oils).
• Olive oil is high in healthful monounsaturated fats and is an excellent choice for salad dressings and low-temperature stir-frying.
• Saturated fats from plants (tropical oils) appear to be more healthful than animal saturated fats, as far as we know today.
• Avoid prepared foods that contain ANY partially hydrogenated or trans fats; always read the list of ingredients.
• Limit or avoid foods prepared with saturated animal fats such as lard and butter.
• French fries should be freshly sliced and cooked with a vegetable oil such as canola. (Many frozen french fries still contain partially hydrogenated oils).
• Make your own snacks using vegetable, nut or seed oils.

Always read the list of ingredients to make sure there are NO partially hydrogenated oils. Many products labeled "zero trans fats" contain up to a half gram of trans fats per serving because the FDA allows them to do this. Partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats) raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol. Just five grams of trans fat a day can increase risk of heart disease by 25 percent. They are also associated with increased risk for breast (American Journal of Epidemiology, November 2008) and prostate cancers (Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention, January 2008).

Overall, snack foods and prepared foods should be a very small portion of your diet. Most of the food you eat should be vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and other seeds.

More on tropical oils
More on trans fats

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Is it safe to live in a home that was previously inhabited by heavy smokers?

It may not be. Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory showed that nicotine in tobacco smoke settles on indoor surfaces, such as furniture, carpeting and clothing, where it can combine with nitrous acid commonly emitted by household appliances and automobile exhausts to form two known and potent nitrosamines that cause cancers in humans and animals (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, February 2010).

Air conditioners, fans and open windows cannot remove chemicals from cigarette smoke that have already settled on and been absorbed by walls, rugs and furniture. The carcinogens continue to accumulate over time to become even more toxic. Nobody knows how much harm these chemicals actually cause or how long it takes to get them out of the environment.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Why would sugared drinks increase cancer risk?

A study followed 60,000 people in Singapore for 14 years and found that those who drank two or more sweetened soft drinks per week had an 87 percent higher risk of pancreatic cancer than those who drank less (Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, February 2010). Fruit juice drinkers also were at increased risk for pancreatic cancers, while other studies show that whole-fruit eaters have reduced risk.

All sugared drinks are associated with increased risk for diabetes and certain cancers, presumably because they cause a high rise in blood sugar. All solid foods that you eat cause the pyloric sphincter at the end of your stomach to close and keep food in your stomach for about four hours, until the solids are turned into a liquid soup. Only liquids are allowed to pass into your intestines. On the other hand, sugared liquids pass directly into your intestines where they are absorbed rapidly to cause a high rise in blood sugar.

When your blood sugar level rises too high, your pancreas releases large amounts of insulin. Insulin is a cell growth promoter, causing cells to grow and divide, which increases cancer risk. High levels of insulin are associated with several types of cancers.

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Recipe of the Week:

Sweet Potato Salad with Pineapple

You'll find lots of recipes and helpful tips in The Good Food Book - it's FREE

June 21st, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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