Prepared Foods September 19, 2005 eNewsletter

A new study gives the "thumbs up" to soft, trans fat-free margarines in terms of foods that can help reduce the risk of heart disease.

This particular study, similar to numerous studies published over the last few years, documents the benefits of soft, trans-free margarine in a heart-healthy diet. The new study is published in the British Medical Journal. The researchers found that reduced risk for coronary heart disease (CHD) was more closely associated with an increased consumption of polyunsaturated fats (e.g., soft, trans fat-free margarines made from soybean and canola oil).

In fact, an increase in polyunsaturated fat consumption is found to have a greater reduction in CHD risk than increased fruit intake or reduced smoking.

The research paper, coauthored by Walter Willett, MD, chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, states, "The experience of Poland [the focus of this study] is consistent with epidemiological and clinical evidence indicating that mortality due to coronary heart disease can be reduced by partly replacing dietary saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats while maintaining a low intake of trans fatty acids."

The researchers also note, "Increased intakes of polyunsaturated fat also probably explain most of the major declines in coronary mortality in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia over several decades."

Earlier this year, soft and liquid margarine spreads were included as part of an overall healthful diet when the government's 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPyramid food guidance system were issued. For the first time, liquid oils and soft, trans fat-free soft margarine spreads were elevated in importance in that they "help meet essential fatty acid needs and also contribute toward vitamin E needs" states the 2005 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report.

"In the past, added fats, even those that are the healthier unsaturated fats, had been relegated to 'use as little as possible,'" said Richard Cristol, president of the National Association of Margarine Manufacturers (NAMM). He notes that many studies find that reducing the amount of saturated fat by replacing it with unsaturated fat is a key factor in reducing heart disease risk.

The totality of the research on dietary fats is one of the reasons the American Heart Association continues to confirm that lifestyle changes, including changes in diet, can help reduce risk for CHD, the number one killer of American males and females.

"Margarine manufacturers have been leaders in the food industry in removing trans fats from their products and will continue to innovate to meet the health, taste and convenience requirements of consumers," said Cristol.