The health news this week is all about Kentucky Fried Chicken cutting its use of trans fats in response to customer demand (uh, they were being sued). A representative of the company said they were making the change in the expectation that regulations on trans fats are only a matter of time all across North America.

The times, they are a-changin’!

I know that my beloved Lay’s potato chips went transfat-free a while back, and splashed the word all over their re-dsigned packaging. While that doesn’t make this favourite snack any less fattening (rats!), it does mean that they are somewhat less bad for the heart and circulation. And that’s reassuring, since I can’t seem to ditch the potato chips habit!

So, what does it all matter?

Well, we’ve all read and heard about the sky-rocketing levels of obesity in North America (and see the evidence all around us). With poor diets and high fat intake, there’s a greatly increased risk of diabetes and other health problems, including heart disease.

And heart disease is not just about fat old businesssmen having a stroke on the squash court. It’s about premature aging, memory problems, circulation problems, a reduced quality of life… and it can affect people at any age. In fact, one of my cousins’ kids has been on cholesterol-lowering medication since he was in grade school.

While heart disease has a strong genetic component to it, doctors and research scientists are very clear about the big role played by diet, too.

It’s estimated that replacing trans fats in our diets with non-hydrogenated, transfat-free alternatives could cut the incidence of heart disease by 55 percent. That’s because trans fats raise the levels of bad cholesterol in the body (the stuff that clogs your arteries) and decreases the level of good cholesterol that keep blood flowing smoothly.

While we’re at it, it’s wise to limit your intake of saturated fats, which include all the fats from animal sources and tropical oils like palm oil and coconut oil.

Not all fats are bad for your health, however, the experts say. The fatty acids in fish oils (such as salmon) actually lower cholesterol levels and keep our arteries working as they should. When choosing foods with an eye to heart health, the key lies in emphasizing vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and choosing fish and lean cuts of meat (or beans and soy) more often.

What gets me wondering about the KFC announcement is the company’s statement that the taste of the food is not going to change as a result of the switch in cooking fat. Okay. So… If trans fats add nothing to the flavor of the food, and it’s no big whoop to substitute a less deadly alternative, then why do so many food manufacturers use trans fats in their products in the first place? (Seriously, I’d like to know!)

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