Hidden Dangers In The Supermarket


Hidden Dangers In The Supermarket

Bradley A. Radwaner, M.D., F.A.C.C.

As we walk through the aisles of the supermarket making selections for meals with family members returning from school or on vacation, we are bombarded with screaming labels: LOW CHOLESTEROL, CHOLESTEROL LITE, NO CHOLESTEROL. Assured that we have once again saved our families and ourselves from a future of certain hardened arteries, strokes and heart attacks, we confidently reach for these products. Some of us, still suspicious, turn the package over to look at the labels. Schooled in the post-Watergate era of seeing is believing, we adjust our glasses, or toy with bifocals to read labels clearly written for Lilliputians. Aha! There is it: 0 mg cholesterol. Once again assured that we have triumphed over evil cholesterol, we place the food in our supermarket cart and move on. We have provided our family with food low in cholesterol, confident that years of clean arteries lie ahead? But do they?


Although Madison Avenue has created a boon for new labels regarding the cholesterol content of food, little if any attention is paid to a far worse enemy: saturated fat. Gram for gram, the serum cholesterol will rise more from the ingestion of saturated fat than it will from an equal amount of cholesterol. More people will develop hardening of the coronary arteries, coronary atherosclerosis, from diets unknowingly filled with saturated fats, and increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. While eating a diet high in saturated fats will raise your serum cholesterol greatly and put you at risk for heart disease, a diet high in polyunsaturated fats will lower cholesterol and reduce your risk.


Saturated fats are a type of fat different from cholesterol that is naturally found in animal fat and certain vegetable products. Saturated fats harden and solidify at room temperature, while unsaturated fats are liquid. The difference, chemically, is that saturated fats contain more hydrogen molecules than unsaturated fats. Which foods contain saturated fats? Dairy (milk-based) products such as cream and butter, generally contain saturated fats. Beef, lamb and porkt have a higher percentage of saturated fats than veal, chicken or turkey (except for the poultry's skin). Coconut, palm and palm kernel oil also have a larger amount of saturated fats than many others; moreover, many processed foods used these vegetable oils to provide a palatable taste and longer shelf life. On the other hand, olive oil is monosaturated, and corn, safflower and sunflower oils are primarily polyunsaturated. Fish, which can contain anywhere from 1 to 20 percent fat, is also predominantly unsaturated.


The problem is not only that fat is pervasive is in our diet, but it is often what makes our food seem tasty. Indeed, a frankfurter gets 80 percent of its calories from mostly saturated fat, and a donut get about 60 percent of its calories from fat, mainly in the form of saturated vegetable oil. So, how do we stop eating this fat? Well, picture the white layer of a fat on top of gravy or stew after it has been refrigerated. Then picture this within your coronary arteries, which are only one-quarter-inch wide to begin with.


Now that you know that saturated fat is the enemy, you can enter the supermarket as an informed, intelligent consumer. Processed and canned foods should have their labels scrutinized for the total fat content and the amount of saturated versus polyunsaturated fat. As you read the label, fat should be listed as one of the last ingredients: If it is among the first three, then the product is probably high in saturated fat. As a general goal, you should reduce the amount of fat in your diet to about 30 percent of your daily calories (for example, if you eat 1800 calories, you should have no more than 60 grams of fat); of that amount, only one-third (in our example, 20 grams) should be saturated fats. Someday, hopefully, you may be able to enter the supermarket and see labels screaming: NO SATURATED FATS, LOW IN SATURATED FATS. Until then, you must be on your guard to protect you and your family from the unseen dangers of saturated fats.

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