Heart Health

11 February 2010

Protect your heart over Christmas

If you have heart disease, you may have started feeling a little apprehensive as you see the holiday season approaching. Relax and don't panic. Here's how to get through it.

If you have heart disease or any health condition such as high cholesterol or high triglycerides, you may have started feeling a little apprehensive as you see the holiday season approaching.

You are fully aware that plenty of sweets, cookies, pies, cakes and the like are going to be around during the next few weeks and you know that despite the bad press all those goodies have earned over the years, you are going to sink your teeth into them. You also know that when the holidays are over, you’ll feel guilty for having succumbed to temptation.

Relax and don’t panic. Just by taking a couple of preventive steps, you can have your cake and eat it, and by that I mean that you can eat your cakes, pies and cookies, and still protect your arteries.

You simply need to watch out for trans fats and stay away from them as much as possible.

What are trans fats?

Trans fats are the worst of all fats. These fats, which are also called "hydrogenated oils", are produced artificially by inserting molecules of hydrogen in vegetable oils – a process called hydrogenation.

Through this process, the oil, which is liquid at room temperature, changes it original form and becomes solid. In addition, the new fat ends up with an unnatural chemical structure.

Why do you need to stay away from trans fats?

Here's why:

  • Through the manufacturing process, the liquid oil becomes solid or saturated and saturated fat can get stuck in your arteries. In addition, eating too much saturated fat may cause your liver to produce more cholesterol than your body needs.
  • Because of the hydrogenation process, the original oil ends up with a different chemical structure. The unnatural shape of trans fats cause our cells to become malformed and to malfunction. And that includes the cells of the heart and arteries.
  • They raise "bad" LDL cholesterol levels. This is the type of cholesterol responsible for clogging the arteries.
  • They lower "good" HDL cholesterol levels. This is the type of cholesterol you need in abundance to clean your arteries.
  • They damage the lining of the arteries, setting the stage for the formation of plaque. Plaque also clogs your arteries.

Which products should you stay away from?

You've probably guessed by now. During the holiday season (and this also goes for the rest of the year) you need to pay particular attention to commercially baked goods containing high amounts of fat such as cakes, pies, cookies, croissants, doughnuts, ice cream, and the like.

Does this mean you have to go through the holidays without ever having a cookie?

No. What you need to do is minimise the potential harm trans fats can cause. How? By doing the following:

  • When buying commercially baked goods always read the label. If the label indicates the product contains trans fats, don’t buy it. International authorities believe any amount above zero is a risk.
  • Also check the ingredients on the label and look for hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil. Food manufacturers do not have to list the amount of trans fats if the total fat in the food is less than 0,5g per serving. As a safety measure, don’t buy products that list this type of oil as part of the ingredients.
  • Dust off your favourite recipes for cookies, pies, and cakes and do some baking at home. Choose a recipe that uses butter instead of margarine. In the past we assumed that margarine was better for the heart because it’s produced from vegetable oils and has no cholesterol. However, solid margarine is made from hydrogenated oils and contains large amounts of trans fats.
  • E-mail your favourite cookie recipe to those friends and family members who like to show up at your door on Christmas day with commercially baked cookies as a present. They might take the hint.

Health authorities are concerned that the consumption of trans fats might have contributed to the 20th century epidemic of coronary heart disease. But if you follow these few guidelines, you will have taken a big step towards the protection of your heart and arteries. What's even better, you won’t have to deal with a guilty conscience on January the 2nd.

Remember, however, to practice moderation when it comes to amounts and portions. After all, baked goods can be high in calories since they contain large amounts of fat and sugar. – (Emilia Klapp/Health24, November 2007)

[About the Author: Emilia Klapp is a registered dietician and author of "Your Heart Needs the Mediterranean Diet". The book is written in clear language and is an excellent read for anyone interested in dietary means to improve cardiac health. For more information about the author and the book and to get a free list of the 10 top Mediterranean curative foods, visit]


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