In the war against trans fats, Americans have chalked up an important victory. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that blood levels of trans fats in Caucasian adults dropped 58 percent from 2000 to 2009.

Trans fat is a vegetable oil that has been processed to reduce spoilage. It gives packaged snacks a longer shelf life, but also may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease by raising levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol while lowering “good” HDL cholesterol. That can lead to plaque formation on artery walls and result in heart attack or stroke.

People with autoimmune forms of arthritis are already at higher risk of cardiovascular problems and should eliminate trans fats from their diet. These simple steps can help, says CDC senior scientist Jennifer Seymour.

Read between the label lines. Since 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has required food manufacturers to list trans fats on the nutrition label. But if a product contains less than half a gram, it can be listed as zero, and quantities can add up in multiple servings. Read the ingredients: “partially hydrogenated oil” and “shortening” are other ways of saying “trans fat.”

Mind your meat and dairy. Cows produce natural trans fats that get transferred to meat and dairy products. Instead of cutting them out of your diet, opt for skim or low-fat dairy products and lean cuts of beef, Seymour says.

Watch for culprits. Commercial baked goods are among the trans-fat offenders, along with margarine, cake frosting and fast-food fried chicken and pies. Coffee drinkers should watch out for non-dairy creamer, an unexpected source.