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Trans Fat Trickery

Trans Fat Trickery

How can some food labels proclaim “0 grams trans fat” on the package and still list hydrogenated oils in the ingredients? This is a great question, and one that confuses many people. If a food lists “partially hydrogenated” or “fully hydrogenated” oils in its ingredients, then it definitely contains trans fats, despite the “0 grams trans fat” claim.

Trans fat is created when food manufacturers make liquid vegetable oils solid by adding hydrogen (hence the name hydrogenated oil). They do this to increase the shelf life of the product, because trans fat takes longer than vegetable oil to spoil. Unfortunately, this process changes the natural structure of the oil, making it harmful to our bodies. A wealth of research has shown that consuming trans fat significantly increases your risk of cardiovascular disease by raising your total and LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), and possibly decreasing your HDL cholesterol (the good kind). Eating trans fat-loaded foods also increases belly fat, a sign of metabolic syndrome.

So how can labels promise “0 grams trans fat” when the food has hydrogenated oils? The reason lies in the rules set forth by the FDA. When a product contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, the number on the nutrition label can be rounded down to zero. But this doesn’t make the product free of trans fat. That half gram per serving is still there. If you eat just one serving, even the FDA would have to admit you’re consuming trans fat. Couple that little sleight of hand with the fact that most Americans routinely eat more than the suggested serving size, and you’ve got two important reasons to choose your foods wisely.

Your best bet is to avoid trans fat altogether. It most commonly hides in cookies, crackers, microwave popcorn, margarine, and other processed foods. The next time you see a product boasting “0 grams trans fat,” check for hydrogenated oils in the ingredients. If they’re listed, steer clear of the food, and remember the old adage: caveat emptor, let the buyer beware.

What to Do?

1. When buying a new food, look at the Nutrition Facts box. Under “Total Fat,” you’ll see a listing for trans fat. If the number is greater than 0–be it 1 gram, 2 grams, or 20 grams–go to step three.

2. Now read the Ingredients box (usually below the Nutrition Facts box). If you find “hydrogenated oils,” “partially hydrogenated oils,” or “fully hydrogenated oils,” go to step three. If you don�t see these listed, the product is free of trans fat and fine to eat.

3. Don’t eat this food–it has trans fat. Check out organic or natural-food alternatives; they usually taste better, too!

Lisa Lanzano, RD, of Boulder, Colorado, offers consultations, phone coaching, and cooking classes

Natural Solutions: Vibrant Health, Balanced Living offers its readers the latest news on health conditions, herbs and supplements, natural beauty products, healing foods and conscious living. Click here for a free sample issue.

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By Lisa Lanzano, RD, Natural Solutions

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Natural Solutions: Vibrant Health, Balanced Living offers its readers the latest news on health conditions, herbs and supplements, natural beauty products, healing foods and conscious living.


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1:55PM PST on Nov 23, 2010


11:11AM PDT on Apr 13, 2010

Noted with thanks

11:10AM PDT on Apr 13, 2010

Noted with thanks

9:36AM PDT on Mar 14, 2010

Thank you!

11:11AM PST on Jan 31, 2010

We are deceived again, with the blessings of the FDA, Tell me again, what purpose does the FDA serve?

10:47PM PST on Jan 28, 2010

i didn`t know this, thanks for the article,very interesting

6:16PM PDT on Jul 27, 2009

Hope this post makes more people aware that hydrogenated oil is just another name for trans fat since they both undergo the same chemical process.
Manufacturers prefer using hydrogenated oil instead of real butter because it costs much lower and food stays longer on the shelf without getting spoiled. In effect, it makes their profit margin bigger.

2:18PM PDT on Jun 23, 2009

We need a petition to tell the FDA that ANY trans fat MUST be listed as Not zero. Or better still to BAN trans fats completely!
This is the food corporation lobbyists at the worst!

10:16AM PDT on Jun 14, 2009


7:17AM PDT on Jun 11, 2009

From what I understand, and it has been quite some time since my college bio class where we first covered trans fats, unsaturated fatty acids need only have one such bond to be classified as trans fats. As this particular article is stating that even 0.5 grams of trans fat is excessive because none is acceptable then it's probably worth talking about the 1.33 gr in a quarter pound of ground beef, 0.24 in a cup of milk, etc. I did manage to find one study that advocates a difference between how the body handles natural versus processed trans fat (, but there really hasn't been tons of research on this.

I think on some levels we agree more than disagree. Small amounts of toxins do get worked through the system. See also, one serving of chips with less than 0.5 grams of trans fat (the complaint of this article). The issue here comes down to quantity. Less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving probably doesn't matter if you don't sit down and eat a family-sized bag of processed food a day. I just think that processed food is an easy target because people tend to agree that it is not needed at all even if they consume it, whereas clearly there are nutrients to be had in beef and dairy so people have more at stake in fighting for their exclusion from the ban.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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