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The big fat truth about fats
White House seeks to draw lines between good, bad fats
By Emily Gersema ~ The Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- There may be a new food pyramid coming that will suggest people eat more fish and other foods with healthy fats but cut back on foods such as potato chips that have harmful trans fats.
The White House Office of Management and Budget wrote the Agriculture and Health and Human Services departments Wednesday urging them to revise current guidelines to distinguish between harmful trans fats that increase the risk of heart disease and beneficial fats such as omega-3 that can lower the risk.
"The current dietary guidelines target only the reduction of saturated fat and cholesterol, with only a a brief reference to the risks from trans fatty acids and benefits of omega-3 fatty acids," said John D. Graham, the Bush administration's chief regulatory watchdog as head of OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.
The recommendation comes just as officials at HHS and the Agriculture Department prepare to start writing new food nutrition guidelines to be issued in 2005. The guidelines, revised every five years, are the basis for food labeling and a reference for meal planning at schools in the federal lunch program, which feeds more than 28 million low-income children every school day.
The Food Guide Pyramid, on the other hand, has not been updated since 1992. Graham called for updating it, too.
Alisa Harrison, spokeswoman for the Agriculture Department, said it is too soon to tell whether OMB's recommendations will be included in the revisions. The government still is selecting experts for an advisory panel to help write the changes.
"They will consider evidence not only for the relationships between diet and cardiovascular disease but for all aspects of health," Harrison said.
HHS already has heard many suggestions for the guidelines, but department spokesman Bill Pierce said OMB's recommendations will be considered along with all the other suggestions the panel receives.
Concerns about trans fatty acids, or trans fats, have increased in recent years as more studies show that they increase the risk of heart disease by lowering level of good cholesterol, or HDL, while raising level of bad cholesterol, LDL.
Trans fats form when vegetable oil is heated in the presence of hydrogen. Hydrogenation hardens them at room temperature and makes products such as grease and shortening -- ingredients for frying and baking.
Unlike other fats, trans fat is a hidden fat because it is not labeled on food packages. That may be changed soon by the Food and Drug Administration. Under pressure from the White House, the agency has a proposal to require companies to list the amount of the harmful fat in their products.
The FDA also is looking at putting a warning on foods that have trans fat -- a move that consumer groups support but the food industry opposes. Manufacturers argue that a warning would confuse consumers and cause them eat more saturated fat, which also is unhealthy.
Dr. Marvin Lipman, chief medical adviser for Consumers Union, welcomed OMB's recommendations for changing the dietary guidelines.
"I think there is emerging evidence that omega-3 fatty acids help the heart, and I think the recommendation which is forthcoming from Health and Human Services, from the FDA, is that omega-3 fatty acids can help prevent a second heart attack," he said.