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Trans fats: your health and your wallet
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What he means is, diets rich in omega-3 fats help keep inflammation in check. Unfortunately, we have an abundance of omega-6 fats in our diet, which promote inflammation. Sources of omega-3 fats "are much harder to come by. They occur in low concentrations in leafy greens, a few seeds and nuts (walnuts, flax, hemp), a few vegetable oils (soy, canola), sea vegetables and oily fish from cold waters (salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, black cod [sablefish], bluefish)."

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Dr. Weil goes on to say that while American diets are lopsided, Japanese and Mediterranean diets have a favorable omega-3-to-omega-6 ratio.

The ratio, he says, is not the whole story. "Some fats are distinctly pro-inflammatory and, in my view, have no place in any diet intended to promote healthy aging. They are the artificially hardened fats: margarine, vegetable shortening and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. The process that turns liquid oils into semisolid fats deforms them chemically, resulting in products that directly increase inflammation and may over time push the body into a pro-inflammatory state."

Sudden behavioral change
Most people's awareness of trans fats likely increased at the beginning of this year, when the FDA forced food manufacturers to disclose trans-fat content on their product labels.

Did you notice that suddenly so many foods prominently displayed "No trans fats" in large type on their product packaging? Do you believe all these products were always so untainted? Wrong.

Many food manufacturers scurried to reformulate their products in preparation for that moment of truth in January. And they came out smelling like -- well, they didn't smell like rancid oil, anyway.

In other words, though you'll still find plenty of items on the grocery store shelves listing partially hydrogenated oils among their ingredients, a lot of manufacturers came up with alternative ways to sell healthier products when push came to shove.

So how can we solve the problem of not knowing what we're being served up in our nation's restaurants? Maybe an all-out ban isn't necessary. In response to the NYC health department's threat of a citywide trans-fat ban, the executive vice president of the New York City chapter of the New York State Restaurant Association was quoted as saying, "Labeling is one thing, but when they totally ban a product, it goes well beyond what we think is prudent and acceptable."

I think he has a point. Labeling would help patrons make informed decisions about the foods on the menu. Because of the increased public awareness of this important health issue, I bet it would also provide the impetus for change at many restaurants. Suddenly, we'll find signs on their windows proclaiming they've seen the trans-fat-free light.

Longtime financial journalist Barbara Mlotek Whelehan earned a certificate of specialization in financial planning. If you have a comment or suggestion about this column, write to Boomer Bucks.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy -- Posted: Oct. 11, 2006
 
 
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