Stealth Fat Lurks in Favorite Foods
Many 'Healthy Foods' Full of Unlabeled Trans Fats
"Trans fat increases 'bad' LDL cholesterol -- in some studies more than saturated fat," Lipman says. "It also has a tendency to reduce 'good' HDL cholesterol, which saturated fat doesn't do. They work together as a pretty formidable instigator of clogged arteries and heart disease."
That's not all. Trans fat also increases blood levels of two other bad actors. One is the kind of fat called triglycerides. The other is a particle called lipoprotein(a), which promotes clogged arteries.
Since 1999, the FDA has tried to get manufacturers to label foods for trans fats. The food industry strenuously objected. But a recent report from the prestigious Institute of Medicine now points to trans fats as a health hazard. The result: The FDA will act in March, an FDA spokesperson tells WebMD. Once it does, food manufacturers will have one year to comply.
"Trans fats may be hidden, but they are no worse than other fats," Gene Grabowski, spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturers of America Inc., tells WebMD. "Singling out any kind of fat as being worse than any other is not supported by science."
"Any amount of trans fat is bad," Lipman says. "Nobody knows how much trans fat is too much."
Public awareness of trans fats already is making a difference. Frito-Lay tells Consumer Reports that it plans to eliminate trans fat from Cheetos, Doritos, and Tostitos. And McDonald's says it will cut out nearly half the trans fat in its french fries -- although fast-food fries will never be healthy food.
Here's Consumer Reports' advice on how to look out for trans fat:
- Read the list of ingredients. If you see "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil" or "partially hydrogenated vegetable shortening" near the top, you can bet on a lot of trans fat. If this is near the bottom of the list, however, the amount of trans fat may be small.
- Suspect trans fat in margarines and shortenings; deep-fried fast and snack foods; and commercial baked goods such as pies, cookies, and crackers.
- Don't be fooled by serving size. A small amount of trans fat in a tiny serving becomes a lot of trans fat in a normal serving. For example, most popcorn "serving sizes" are only a cupful. That's far less than the big bowls most people gobble.
- Do label math. A few products list saturated, monosaturated, and polyunsaturated fats. If they don't add up to the total fats, the missing number is probably trans fat.
- Products low in total fat likely are low in trans fat.
- Beware of products that claim to have "low saturated fat" or "extra lean." They may still have lots of trans fat.
- Labels that say "saturated fat free" have less than 0.5 grams of trans fat and less than 0.5 grams of saturated fat per serving.
- Look for soft or liquid margarines instead of hard margarines.