Trans-Fat-Free Food: What's the Truth?
The skinny on labels, calories, and what trans fat means to your diet.
The Real Meaning of 'Zero Trans Fats'
In any grocery, you'll see many products boasting "zero trans fats."
Yet this does not necessarily mean there is absolutely no trans fat in the
"Even though the label states "zero trans fats," one serving of
the food can contain up to 0.5 grams of trans fat, according to the law, and
still be labeled trans-fat-free," explains Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD.
The same guideline exists for saturated fats. Only when the food label
states "no trans fats" does it really mean there are none.
The problem is that small amounts of these artery-clogging fats can add up
quickly, especially if you eat several servings each day of foods that contain
up to 0.5 grams per serving.
For example, popcorn can be an excellent source of fiber, is a whole grain,
and can be low in calories. But if you eat several cups of microwave popcorn,
the trans fat can really add up.
"Most people eat three cups at a sitting, which is three times the
serving size and can have as much as 1.5 grams of trans fats," says Ward,
author of The Pocket Idiot's Guide to the New Food Pyramids. "The
same goes for trans-fat-free cookies that are easy to eat by the handful and
add up quickly."
How to Find Trans Fats on Labels
The only way to be sure you're getting a truly trans-fat-free food is to
check the list of ingredients on the label. Avoid products containing
"partially hydrogenated fats or oils" (the main source of trans fats)
or "shortening." Also keep in mind that some manufacturers are listing
components of food ingredients separately so they can move trans fats lower on
the list of ingredients.
Michael Jacobson, executive director for the watchdog group Center for
Science in the Public Interest, suggests looking beyond trans fats when you're
"There is a frozen ice cream snack that claims zero trans fat, yet has
20 grams of saturated fat in one serving," he says. "So even though it
has no trans fats, it contains a day's worth of saturated fat and is anything
"Trans fats are the worst fats, even more so than saturated fats, but
you must evaluate a food on the entire profile, including calories, total fat,
saturated fat, vitamins, mineral, sodium, sugar, and fiber."
Trans Fat Substitutes
If a label says trans-fat-free, what else might the food item have in
it? Food chemists are experimenting with different fats and oils that are
suitable replacements and don't alter taste or texture.
"Most of the fast-food restaurants have done a very good job switching
to a vegetable oil like soybean oil to deep-fry their foods," says