Chow line: Eating fewer trans or saturated fats better choice for heart health

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I’m focusing on improving my nutrition as part of my overall health resolutions for this year. Do you have any tips on how to make heart-healthy food choices?

February is a good time to focus on healthy food choices and heart health, as the month was designated American Heart Month by former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1963. As such, health care advocates, including the American Heart Association, take this time every year to promote consumer awareness of hearth health and the impact that foods can have on your health.

This is significant considering that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of American consumers. Limiting unhealthy foods and making wise food choices are important parts of developing and maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle. One way to do that is by realizing that your everyday food choices can make a big difference for your heart, writes Dan Remley, an educator in family and consumer sciences for Ohio State University Extension.

“Heart-healthy eating includes choosing food with less saturated fats and trans fats,” Remley writes in Everyday Food Choices Make a Big Difference for Your Heart, a blog post at Live Healthy Live Well

The site, which can be found at, is a free information resource that offers science-based consumer information and insights. It’s written by OSU Extension educators and specialists in family and consumer sciences who promote health and wellness. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

“Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature and are found mostly in animal products,” Remley writes, noting that “trans fats or trans fatty acids are formed when vegetable oils are made into margarine or shortening.”

For example, the fat in most red meat is more saturated than the fat in chicken, turkey, and fish, he writes. Meanwhile, trans fats are found in foods made with “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” or “vegetable shortening.”

The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) recommends adults eat no more than 22 grams of saturated fat per day for a 2,000-calorie diet. The DRI was developed by the Institute of Medicine and represents the most current scientific knowledge on nutrient needs of healthy populations.

“Buying leaner cuts of meat and removing the skin from poultry can help reduce fat content,” Remley writes. “Read labels to check for trans fats, but be aware that food manufacturers can indicate that there are 0 grams of trans fats if their product has less than .5 grams per serving.”

The American Heart Association recommends these other tips to lower your saturated and trans fats intakes:

  • Eat a diet that focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish and nuts, while limiting red meat and sugary foods and beverages.
  • Choose naturally occurring unhydrogenated vegetable oils such as canola, safflower, sunflower, or olive oil.
  • Look for processed foods made with unhydrogenated oil rather than saturated fat or hydrogenated (or partially hydrogenated) vegetable oils.
  • Use soft margarine as a substitute for butter, and choose soft margarines (liquid or tub varieties) over harder stick forms. Look for “0 g trans fat” on the Nutrition Facts label.
  • Limit your intake of doughnuts, cookies, crackers, muffins, pies, and cakes, which are examples of foods high in trans fats.
  • Limit commercially fried foods and baked goods made with shortening or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. These foods are very high in fat, and that fat is likely to be trans fat.
  • Limit fried fast food. Commercial shortening and deep-frying fats are still made by hydrogenation and contain saturated and trans fats.

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line writer Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or

Editor: This column was reviewed by Dan Remley, field specialist in food, nutrition, and wellness for OSU Extension

Tracy Turner
For more information, contact: 

Dan Remley
Food, Nutrition, and Wellness
OSU Extension