Don’t have a coronary

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Would you like some artery-clogging fries with that veggie burger? Although Portland is one of the leading vegetarian-friendly cities, the city has fallen behind in the health race to ban trans fats from its restaurants.

Trans fats are known as the worst type of fat. According to the Food and Drug Administration, “consumption of saturated fat, trans fat, and dietary cholesterol raises low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad cholesterol,” levels, which increases the risk of coronary heart disease.” According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, “more than 12.5 million Americans have coronary heart disease, resulting in more than 500,000 deaths each year. That makes coronary heart disease one of the leading causes of death in the United States.”

Trans fats are also believed to cause insulin resistance, contributing to type 2 diabetes, as well as causing cancer, liver dysfunction, infertility, obesity and other health problems. It is important that people eliminate trans fats from their diets by replacing them with healthy alternatives such as monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fats to less than 7 percent and trans fats to less than 1 percent of total daily calories.

New York City mandated that by July 2007 restaurants must stop using oils, shortening and margarine containing artificial trans fats that have more than 0.5 percent trans fat per serving. By inspecting their restaurants, they boast a 94 percent success rate. Violators have received hefty fines. For the next phase, New York City restaurants must eliminate artificial trans fats from yeast dough and cake batter as well by July 2008.

Philadelphia, Baltimore, Montgomery County, Westchester County and more have been inspired to implement similar bans. About 16 states claim to be considering the ban, but none have passed bills yet. Washington’s King County plans to implement a trans-fat ban in February 2009. News agencies are buzzing with local governments taking the initiative to ban trans fats, but the only news piece for Portland was from January 2007, when local broadcasting station KGW reported that, “According to City Commissioner Randy Leonard, Portland is looking very seriously at banning trans fats this year.”

There has not been a trans-fat ban implemented for Portland, leaving it up to individuals to ask the restaurant what type of oils they use to cook their foods. Many restaurants are voluntarily switching to healthier oils, while others are still resisting the added expense and different flavor. Yet, there should be no price on good health, and there are plenty of good-tasting, healthier oils.

Processed foods such as bread, cakes, crackers and cookies often contain trans fats to increase shelf life. Check the labels for artificial trans fats, which usually come in the form of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, hydrogenated vegetable oils and shortening. There haven’t been any bills proposed to ban trans fats from packaged foods yet, but many companies have begun transitioning to canola oil.

Monounsaturated fat found in olive oil, peanut oil and canola oil is nutritionally beneficial, as is polyunsaturated fat found in corn oil, cottonseed oil, safflower oil, soybean oil and sunflower oil. FDA supports scientific evidence that polyunsaturated fats contain omega-3 fatty acids that may reduce coronary heart disease.

Concerned with animal rights and environment preservation, Portland should be one of the leaders of the trans-fat bans to boost citizens’ health. Ultimately, however, it is the individual’s responsibility to know what he or she is filling their arteries with. Check labels and restaurants to ensure that you’re following an ideal diet of replacing bad fats with good ones.

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