Q: I'm glad that trans fats are being removed from our food supply, but what are they being replaced with? – Carole J., Richmond, Va.
A: When trans fats, which come from partially hydrogenated oils and vegetable shortening, were first introduced, they were supposed to be a great substitute for saturated fats. But it turned out they not only UP your lousy LDL cholesterol levels and LOWER your good HDL levels, but they also increase inflammation and damage the lining of your blood vessels! Removing them from food is a very good step.
But you're right to ask what food manufacturers and bakers are going to use in place of them, because as trans fats proved, sometimes the substitute can be as bad as or worse than the original. Fortunately, this time around, fast-food restaurants, manufacturers of cookies, cakes, crackers and frozen breakfast products, and butter-substitute companies have come up with some (but not all) healthier alternatives.
Liquid oils: Deep-fry alternatives range from soybean to canola and sunflower oil or blends. These monounsaturated and polyunsaturated vegetable oils can help lower LDL! Canola is packed with healthful omega-3's, and some of these substitute oils even have healthful omega-7 and omega-9 fatty acids. But beware of the use of tropical oils, such as palm (50 percent saturated fat) and coconut (90 percent saturated fat).
Off-the-shelf partially hydrogenated treats: In the past, snackin' favorites used trans fats to keep them from spoiling. But it turns out replacing them with highly saturated palm and coconut oils works just as well. Those fats may be a tiny bit better than trans fats (coconut oil may raise good HDL cholesterol), but our advice is read the labels and stay away from these oils too.
Solid oils: Manufacturers are switching to fully hydrogenated, fractionated (concentrating the saturated fats in them) and inter-esterifacted (molecular modification to improve texture) oils, instead of the old partially hydrogenated ones, because they solidify without producing trans fats. But these oils still aren't as good for you as unsaturated and mono-unsaturated oils, so when you're buying potato chips, peanut butter, doughnuts, cookies and biscuits, again, read the labels and dodge these harmful fats.
Q: I have tried to quit smoking three times. I'm not giving up, but I could use some advice on what will really work. – Steve M., Chicago
A: Congratulations on your determination – that's what it takes. Most people who quit for good report succeeding on their second, third, fourth, fifth or even sixth time trying! So let's look at some new info that may make it easier for you to quit.
Stay away from smokers. If you have another smoker at home, establish firm rules: No smoking in the house. A new study finds that it will help you to quit, and the others, too.
Avoid potentially harmful, unregulated, electronic cigs. They don't break the habit of smoking something!
Signing up for an in-person or online quit-smoking support group or counseling program often is very effective. Dr. Mike notes that "support buddy" programs work really well at his Wellness Institute. Combined with using a nicotine patch, you'll triple your chances of success, according to a large new study.
If you start smoking after age 18 and stop before you're 40, you avoid more than 90 percent of the health risks; stopping at 50 avoids 50 percent. But everyone, at any age, immediately sees blood pressure and blood oxygen levels improve. By two weeks to three months after stopping, your heart-attack risk drops, and in five years, your risk of stroke may be the same as a non-smoker.
Last fun fact: China is the smokingest country in the world, with around 350 million puffers. But now government officials are forbidden from smoking in public or using cigarettes as gifts – there are special cigarettes, some made with added fungus and herbs, that only government members can buy, and they use them for "favors." If they can change their smoking habits, we have no doubt you can, too!