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Reading Exercise: Trans Fats

level: upper-intermediate

Do you know about the dangers of trans fats? Find out why health professionals want us to eliminate this type of fat from our diets in the reading practice exercise below. You can find the meaning of the words in bold in the vocabulary list under the text, and you can check your understanding by doing the Trans Fats Comprehension Quiz.

typical trans fats foodsDoes your mouth water when you think of cookies, donuts, burgers and French fries? Many people prefer junk food like this to healthy food because they develop a taste for it. Processed, baked, and fried foods often contain a high amount of trans fats.

Trans fats raise bad cholesterol and lower the good cholesterol that your body needs. Fatty foods do more than cause obesity. Trans fats build up in the body and block blood flow to the heart. People whose diet contains a high percentage of trans fats are at risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke.

Trans fat is a semi-solid type of oil. It is made by adding hydrogen to liquid oil. Food companies and restaurants choose to use trans fat oils because they're cheap and they make food like crackers and baked goods last longer. They also improve the taste and texture of food. Trans fats became very popular in the second half of the 20th century. This is around the time butter got a bad name for its cholesterol levels. People were told to use margarine containing trans fats instead because it was "healthier", but we now know that butter is actually the healthier option.

Today doctors know how dangerous processed foods like margarine can be. In countries such as the US and Canada there are new government restrictions on food production. Food and beverage makers must attach a Nutrition Fact label to their products. These list daily recommendations and detail all the ingredients in a product, including trans fats if they're used. In 2007 New York City banned trans fats from all restaurants, and according to recent studies this has prevented hundreds of heart attacks and strokes. Even fast food chains such as McDonalds are being forced to change their recipes as people become more health-conscious. In Europe, food manufacturers have voluntarily started using labels that clearly show how healthy each product is according to a simple rating system.

We all need some fat in our diet. There are three different types of fats: saturated fats, unsaturated fats and trans fats. Doctors recommend that we get most of our fatty calories from unsaturated fats. Neither butter nor margarine fit this category, though other spreads like peanut butter do. Reading the list of ingredients on the label is a good way of avoiding dangerous ingredients like trans fats. Another way is to avoid eating out, especially in fast food restaurants. Also, when shopping try to buy the majority of your food in the fresh-food section and limit the amount of processed and packaged food you buy. You might not think this is important if you're young, but the choices you make now will affect you for the rest of your life. The healthier your diet is now, the longer and healthier your life will be.


Word Meaning
avoid verb to not use, or to stay away from something
ban verb to not allow something
cholesterol noun a substance present in animal fat and tissues; too much can lead to heart disease
detail verb to describe in full
diet noun all the foods a person normally eats
hydrogen noun a colourless gas that burns easily
ingredients noun all of the foods that go into a meal or food product
junk food noun unhealthy food, esp. snacks and take-away or take-out food
majority noun most of the people or things in a group
make sb's mouth water idiom to make someone want to eat a certain food, esp. after smelling or seeing it
obesity noun the condition of being very overweight
process verb to make something with technology and machines in a factory
restriction noun a rule or regulation that limits what someone can do
saturated fat noun a type of fat, esp. found in foods like butter, cheese, red meat, etc.
stroke noun the sudden bursting of a blood vessel in the brain that can cause serious illness or death
texture noun the way food feels in your mouth, eg. soft, smooth, rough, crunchy, etc.
trans fats (or trans fatty acids) noun artificial fats that make food last longer and taste better but are bad for health
voluntarily adverb without being required or forced, or without wanting payment