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updated 4/7/2010 8:31:41 AM ET 2010-04-07T12:31:41

By this point, we know trans fats are a no-no. The fats, often found in processed foods, margarine, or shortening, and in fried foods, are commonly added to food products to extend their shelf life. The bad news is, the stuff is doing nothing to extend your own shelf life. In fact, a recent study published in the American Heart Journal found that women living with coronary heart disease who eat trans fats foods are at particular risk of sudden cardiac death.

The details: Harvard researchers studied data collected from more than 86,000 women enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study. While they found no connection between women not affected by heart disease, they discovered that those living with heart disease who ate the most trans fats (2.5 percent of daily calories) were three times more likely to die of sudden cardiac death when compared to the women who ate the least (less than 1.0 percent of daily calories).

What it means: Eating trans fats foods raises your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lowers your good (HDL) levels, increasing your risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. It's best to avoid foods containing these heart damagers altogether. Here's how to do it:

  • Don't be tricked into eating the "lesser" of two evils. As "trans fats" gained a bad rap over the last few years, food manufacturers responded by replacing hydrogenated vegetable oils with tropical oils. The problem? Oils made from palm, coconut, and palm kernel might not be manipulated with hydrogen as trans fats are, but they are still astronomically high in saturated fat, another artery clogger. Perhaps even more alarming, the sudden demand for palm oil is having a devastating effect on the planet. In Southeast Asia, carbon-absorbing forests and peat lands are being leveled, burned, and drained to make room for palm plantations, unleashing stored greenhouse gases back into the atmosphere.
  • Be a label skeptic. The American Heart Association recommends that no more than 1 percent of your total daily calories come from trans fats, which for the average adult means less than about two grams. The easy way to avoid trans fats foods is to give up on processed foods. If you must buy packaged foods, check the ingredient labels and look for those made with canola or other nonhydrogenated vegetable oils, such as soybean oil. Just be sure to buy organic... most conventional canola and soy are grown using genetically modified seeds, which haven't been proven to be safe.

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