Understanding Trans Fats
The Meaning of Zero Trans Fat continued...
2. Get in the habit of reading nutrition labels, the ones headed "Nutrition Facts." Look at all the fats listed there. Keep in mind that saturated fat is also unhealthy. If the label lists Trans Fat as 0 g, look at the Ingredients List for the words "partially hydrogenated." Any oil that is partially hydrogenated is a trans fat. So a single serving of cookies could have as much as a half gram of trans fat and be labeled "0 Trans Fats." Be aware, too, that often a "single serving" is often less than an average person eats.
Bottom line: When choosing foods with "0 grams trans fats," evaluate the total fat content including the amount of saturated fat. Choose foods that have the least amount of saturated fat and that use healthy fats such as canola oil in the product.
Here are some examples from the Nutrition Facts on food labels:
Food Trans fats in a single serving
Cake mix 0.5 g
Frozen chicken and noodles 0.5 g
Blueberry muffin mix 1.5 g
Refrigerated crescent rolls 1.5 g
Stick margarine (1T) 1.5 g
Frozen beef pot pie 2 g
Microwave popcorn 6 g
The following are some examples of foods that list 0 g trans fats but contain partially hydrogenated oils, such as soybean or cottonseed oil:
- Corn muffin mix
- Cookies, including some cartoon-licensed brands
The Costs of Trans Fat-Free Products
Budget-conscious shoppers might be tempted to buy the cheapest brand of pastry, pot pie, or microwave popcorn. But don't make that decision at the expense of nutrition. Reformulating foods to reduce or eliminate trans fats costs manufacturers money. Some "0 trans fats" foods may cost more, although not all do. Again, be sure to read the nutrition label carefully so you know if you're buying a healthier version of the snack, cookie, cracker, or cake.
There's also concern that some food processors will remove trans fats only to substitute low-cost saturated fats -- another contributor to heart disease. But a 2006 marketplace survey published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association showed that had not occurred except in one category: microwave popcorn.
Better Alternatives in Snack Food
While the FDA's labeling rule has made consumers aware of a hidden danger and has motivated food manufacturers to reduce or eliminate trans fats, health experts say even the reformulated snack food products rarely deliver good nutrition. Most are loaded with empty calories and should be avoided anyway.
The American Heart Association advocates a diet containing a variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains, especially whole-grain products; fat-free and low-fat dairy products; legumes, poultry, and lean meats; and fish, preferably oily fish like salmon, at least twice a week.