The “Zero Trans Fats” Food Label Scam

When you see the phrase “contains zero trans fats” on a food product label, you would think that item doesn’t contain any trans fats – pretty safe assumption, right?  Well . . . think again.  Thanks to certain loopholes in food labeling requirements, you may be getting more than what you bargained for when it comes to trans fat content in your foods – and that’s not a good thing!

 

What Are Trans Fats and Why Are They Bad For You?

Trans FatsTrans fats are chemically altered fats designed to improve the taste, texture and shelf life of certain food products – the ultimate trifecta for food manufacturers.  Trans fats are formed as a result of an industrial food preparation process known as hydrogenation.  This process involves bubbling hydrogen through liquid vegetable oils, making them more solid at room temperature.  Some commonly known food products resulting from hydrogenation include vegetable shortening, stick margarine and regular peanut butter.  So what’s the problem with trans fats?

 

For starters, high trans fat intakes have been shown to increase LDL (bad cholesterol) and lower HDL (good cholesterol). They’re also associated with multiple diseases including heart disease, diabetes, obesity and certain cancers.  In fact, in November 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made a preliminary determination that the major dietary source of trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils) are no longer designated as “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) in human food.  How’s that for a red flag?

Note:  There are small amounts of trans fats that occur naturally in some animal-based foods such as milk and meat products.  As of now, those aren’t drawing much attention in terms of health concerns.  It’s the artificial trans fats formed through the hydrogenation process that have been setting off the alarms.

 

What’s a Safe Amount of Trans Fats to Consume?

This is where things get a little murky – there doesn’t seem to be much of a consensus out there when it comes to safe trans fat consumption levels.  Even Nutrition Facts labels don’t list a Percent Daily Value for them.  However, the American Heart Association recommends limiting your trans fat intake to less than 1% of your daily total calorie intake.  For example, if you consume 2,000 calories per day, less than 20 calories should come from trans fats.  Since there are about 9 calories in each gram of fat, you’re looking at limiting your daily trans fat intake to just slightly over 2 grams – that’s not much folks!

  

So What’s the “Zero Trans Fats” Food Label Scam?

In the beginning of 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required that trans fat content be listed on Nutrition Facts labels.  So just by checking the label, you can see if a particular food item contains trans fats – pretty straightforward, right?  Of course it isn’t.  That’s because the FDA also decided that a food product can be labeled as having 0 grams of trans fats if it contains less than .5 grams of trans fats per servingTrans fats labelleaving the door wide open for crafty food manufacturers to mislead consumers about the amount of trans fats in their products.  Let me explain:

 

It’s actually quite simple (and legal!) how they do it.  They simply reduce the serving size amount of the product until it contains just slightly less than .5 grams of trans fats – that’s it!  Pretty slick, huh?  They get to claim “0 trans fats” per serving on the Nutrition Facts label, when it may actually be closer to .5 grams per serving – there’s the scam!  And since some of these reduced serving sizes wouldn’t satisfy most baby birds, one can easily end up eating multiple servings, exceeding the recommended daily limits for trans fats.

 

How To Limit Your Trans Fat Intake

Your first line of defense against trans fats is the Nutrition Facts label.  If you see a value for trans fats other than 0, rest assured the product contains them.  If there is a value of 0 on the Nutrition Facts label for trans fats, scan down to the ingredients list and look for “partially hydrogenated (vegetable) oil” or “hydrogenated oil.”  If you spot either of those two ingredients (see label above), you’ve got trans fats.  Be sure to read through the whole list – they tend to bury all the bad stuff towards the end.

 

Although food manufacturers are producing fewer foods containing trans fats these days, they’re still out there hiding in a lot of products.  Pies, doughnuts, crackers, muffins, biscuits, French fries, stick margarines and other spreads, frozen pizza and cookies are all common breeding grounds for trans fats.  Hopefully you took notice that these are all highly processed foods – crap you shouldn’t be eating in the first place!

 

 

Now that you’re aware of the “labeling scam” when it comes to information about trans fats on Nutrition Facts labels, you should be able to spot them much more easily.  Just be sure to check the Nutrition Facts label first and then go to the ingredients list to see if they’re hiding.  If you detect even a small hint of trans fats in a product, my advice is to put it down and choose something else that doesn’t contain them – they’re bad news and not worth the risk.

 

I hope that helps,

Paul

P.S. Please leave a comment below – all opinions, questions and rants are welcome!

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4 Responses to The “Zero Trans Fats” Food Label Scam

  1. Jenn July 31, 2014 at 2:50 PM #

    Very interesting and informative! The explanation of what trams fats actually are was particularly useful.
    Thank you!!

    • Paul Thomas
      Paul Thomas July 31, 2014 at 9:54 PM #

      I’m glad you liked it Jenn. You definitely want to keep a sharp eye out for those when choosing food products.

  2. Jim July 31, 2014 at 1:40 PM #

    Great information! Another reason to always read food labels.

    • Paul Thomas
      Paul Thomas July 31, 2014 at 9:23 PM #

      Thanks Jim. Unfortunately, it’s one of many reasons. That certainly won’t be my last post about deceptive information on food labels.

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