Hydrogenated oils threaten the heart

Published Dec. 16, 1997|Updated Oct. 2, 2005

Question: I heard on the radio that "trans fats" are bad for your heart. The experts said to look for the word "hydrogenated" on the label.

When I checked my refrigerator and pantry, I was shocked to find that many of the foods we have contain hydrogenated oils: Oriental noodle soups, cream cheese, margarine, dinner rolls, whole wheat bread, cake mix, cookies, graham crackers and other crackers.

If we eliminate all these foods, there isn't much left. How dangerous is it to eat these trans fats?

Answer: The Nurses Health Study has followed more than 80,000 women for over 14 years. The most recent analysis was just published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and the results confirm that trans fatty acids dramatically increase the risk of heart disease.

When liquid vegetable oil is hydrogenated to make it solid and easier to spread and store, a chemical transformation takes place. The trans fatty acids that are created appear to raise triglycerides and bad LDL cholesterol, lower good HDL cholesterol and interfere with the body's normal handling of fats.

While hydrogenated vegetable oils are found in many processed foods, it is possible to find substitutes. Whole grain crackers and fat-free cookies are available. Keep reading labels to find foods that do not contain hydrogenated oils.

Grapefruit can affect medications

Question: I have been following a grapefruit diet program for years to control my weight. I eat half a grapefruit at each meal, which curbs my appetite.

When the doctor prescribed Procardia XL, he said I should not eat grapefruit within two hours of the medication. I understand that something in grapefruit intensifies the effect of the drug.

When I got the prescription filled, I asked the pharmacist whether the slow release means I should avoid grapefruit all day. She checked the label and said there was nothing about grapefruit affecting the medicine. Now I'm confused. Can you clear up the mystery?

Answer: Grapefruit contains ingredients that can affect the metabolism of many medicines. The impact of grapefruit is long lasting and builds up from day to day.

Drug companies and the FDA have not been quick to investigate this interaction or to change drug labels. Only recently was a grapefruit warning added to the information on Seldane (terfenadine), although this interaction is potentially fatal.

We are sending you our Guide to Food, Drug and Grapefruit Interactions, which lists the medications that are affected by grapefruit. Anyone else who would like a copy may send $2 with a long (No. 10) stamped, self-addressed envelope to Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. FJ-798, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027.

Blood levels of certain hypertension pills (Adalat, Calan, Plendil, Procardia, Sular and Verelan) are boosted by grapefruit. This could increase the risk of side effects.

Ginseng differs by country

Question: What is the difference between Chinese, Siberian and American ginseng?

Answer: We turned to herbal expert James Duke, Ph.D., for help on your question. Chinese ginseng is Panax ginseng, while American ginseng is Panax quinquefolius, a different species.

Siberian ginseng is a different genus altogether, Eleutherococcus senticosus, even though it is used for the same sort of problems. If you buy ginseng, look for a product that has a standardized level of ginsenosides so you won't be wasting your money.

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Teresa Graedon holds a doctorate in medical anthropology and is a nutrition expert. They can be reached by e-mail at or in care of the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.