People?especially overweight people?consume up to 50% MORE calories when they eat low-fat versions of snack foods than when they eat the regular versions. And dieters want to know: are “trans fats” (whatever they are) really bad for you?

New York City has now banned the use of trans fats in its restaurants, and Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago are considering doing the same thing, but most of us don’t really know what these are. Trans fats are artificially produced when hydrogen is added to vegetable oils, producing hydrogenated oils, in order to extend shelf life and make solid shortenings. Trans fatty acids occur naturally in meat and dairy products, but in small amounts.

Trans fat is a double whammy, because like saturated fat, it raises levels of LDL or “bad cholesterol,” but it also lowers levels of HDL or “good” cholesterol.

Are low fat foods the answer? Many of these low-fat-labeled foods have only about 30% fewer calories than their regular counterparts. When food labels show serving sizes on such packaged low-fat snacks as granola or chocolates, normal-weight people tend not to overeat them while overweight people do. “Often, the fat-free version is not much lower calorie than the regular version,” says nutritionist Brian Wansink. “Low-fat labels trick people into eating more than regular labels. But the cruel twist is that these labels have an even more dramatic impact on those who are overweight. They are at danger for really overindulging when they see something with a low-fat label. If we are looking for an excuse to eat, low-fat labels give it to us.”

Science to the rescue! Food scientists Andrew Proctor and Vishal Jain have produced soy oil that’s rich in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which helps the immune system and helps to reduce the risks of cancer and diabetes. Proctor says that studies also have shown that humans eating diets rich in CLA reduced their body fat and waist size.

They’ve used CLA to create a healthy potato chip. Their next goal is produce of high-CLA salad oils and dressings.

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