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Physiologist David Baer sorts vials of plasma.

New Margarines Go Softer on the Heart

By Judy McBride
September 22, 1998

New margarines hardened without partial hydrogenation are likely to be easier on the human heart than conventional spreads containing trans fatty acids. The new spreads evolved from findings by scientists with the Agricultural Research Service and others.

Results of the study led by Joseph Judd and David Baer are in the September issue of ARS' Agricultural Research magazine. ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's principal research agency. The technical report will appear in October's American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The researchers looked at effects of butter and two margarines on blood lipids of 46 volunteers in a 15-week study. Butter evoked the highest total cholesterol and artery- damaging LDL cholesterol levels.

After 5 weeks of consuming a margarine containing trans fats, the volunteers' total cholesterol was 3.5 percent lower--and LDL was 5.4 percent lower--than with butter. Five weeks with a margarine made without trans fats made a bigger dent in blood lipids. Compared to butter, total cholesterol and LDL were 4.7 and 6.7 percent lower, respectively. The changes were

larger than could normally be expected, because the volunteers consumed three to four times more of the spreads than the average American.

Trans fats make up an estimated 2 to 3 percent of total calories in the U.S. diet. Most trans fats come from partially hydrogenated oils in margarines, shortening in baked goods, and restaurant fried foods.

The researchers' conclusion: People would be wise to limit trans fats wherever they can--so long as they don't replace these with saturated fats.

The study's trans-fat-free margarine had 21 percent saturated fat, compared to 16 percent for typical margarine and 53 percent for butter. More than half the saturated fat in the trans-fat- free margarine, however, was stearic acid, which doesn't raise blood lipids.

The Agricultural Research story is on the World Wide Web at:


Scientific contacts: Joseph Judd or David Baer, ARS Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, Beltsville, Md., (301) 504-9014, fax (301) 504-9098,;

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