Q. Which is associated with more health problems, saturated fat or trans fat?
A. Health experts say that trans fat is the worst type of fat for your health. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has instructed food manufacturers to remove all industrially-produced trans fat from processed foods by the summer of 2018.
Trans fat is formed when oils undergo a process called partial hydrogenation, which makes the oil less likely to spoil and enhances taste and texture. Trans fat is often found in stick margarines and vegetable shortenings that are solid at room temperature, as well as ready-to-use frostings, refrigerated dough products, and coffee creamers. To avoid trans fat, check the ingredients list and bypass any foods that contain partially hydrogenated oil.
Research also indicates that a diet high in saturated fat raises LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels, which raises the risk for heart and artery diseases and heart attack. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise limiting saturated fat intake to 10 percent or less of your daily calories. If you consume 1,600 calories per day, that’s 16 grams of saturated fat. Foods high in saturated fat include fatty red meat, many processed meats, such bacon, sausage, and lunch meats, and full-fat dairy foods, including butter, milk, and cheese. Plant foods high in saturated fat include palm, palm kernel, and coconut oils.
However, diets that contain plant foods that are rich in unsaturated (mono- and polyunsaturated) fats have been linked with many health benefits, including lower risks of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Vegetable oils, avocados, nuts, and seeds are good sources of unsaturated fat.
Q. I was recently diagnosed with high blood pressure, and my doctor has said I need to reduce the amount of salt in my diet. Might I need to take an iodine supplement?
A. Since iodine is present in many foods, as well as in iodized salt, most people get enough iodine regardless of how much salt they consume.
Most of the earth’s iodine is found in oceans, so ocean-caught or ocean-farmed fish and shellfish tend to be rich in iodine. Some vegetables, including potatoes and beans, are good sources of iodine if they are grown in iodine-rich soil, which is found primarily in coastal areas. Milk and yogurt contain iodine if they are made from cows whose feed is iodine-fortified. Also, if you take a multivitamin/mineral supplement, it probably contains iodine.
Iodine is needed for proper thyroid function, and iodine deficiency can cause underactive or enlarged thyroid. Deficiency in a pregnant woman’s diet or during infancy can interfere with normal brain development. To prevent deficiency, iodine has been added to table salt since the 1920s.
If you think you may be deficient in iodine, discuss it with your doctor. Your iodine level can be measured with a blood test, and your doctor can recommend an appropriate supplement if it’s needed.
-Orli R. Etingin, M.D., Editor-in-Chief
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