February 8/New York/USA Today-- Years of warnings about the dangers of artery-clogging trans fats that Americans get in their foods seem to be paying off: The amount of trans fats in the blood of white adults in the U.S. dropped a "dramatic" 58% from 2000 to 2009, a government study shows.

"This indicates substantial progress that should help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease in the U.S.," says Hubert Vesper, a chemist and lead author of the study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "We are encouraged by this."

Trans fats increase bad (LDL) cholesterol and decrease good (HDL) cholesterol, so the consumption of these fats increases one's risk of heart disease, he says.

Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer group, says, "The dramatic decline in blood levels of trans fats represents a major public health advance that is likely preventing thousands of fatal heart attacks each year."

The new government data are based on blood samples from 229 white adults in 2000 and 292 in 2009. Other research is underway to examine the trans fats in the blood of people of other ethnic groups as well as children and adolescents, Vesper says.

Trans fats occur naturally in foods such as milk, butter, cheese and beef, but most are found in the form of partially hydrogenated oils. They are created by a process that adds hydrogen molecules to vegetable oils, creating a more stable oil that is useful for food processing and cooking. These oils help create a special texture, firmness and longer shelf life for many products.

In recent years, many food companies have taken trans fats out of their products, and many big chain restaurants have switched to healthier oils. A government regulation requires food manufacturers to list the amount of trans fats on the nutrition facts panel of the food labels.

Some communities and state health departments have taken steps to reduce trans fats in foods, and there has been increased education on the health risks, Vesper says. "These efforts seemed to have had an effect."

Jacobson says there is still room for improvement. There are still trans fats in some restaurant foods, including fast foods, and processed foods, such as some brands of microwave popcorn and some packaged pies and pie crusts, he says.

 From the February 9, 2012, Prepared Foods' Daily News.