Labeling Series Part 2: Finding Hidden Trans Fats
For part 2 of our labeling series, we’re talking trans fats! Did you know that a food manufacturer can boldly claim that a food is “trans fat free” if it contains fewer than 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving? It may not seem like much, but it adds up pretty quickly.
Before we get into deciphering the label, let’s talk a little bit about trans fats and why you want to avoid them.
Most of the fats that were demonized in the low-fat diet craze of the 1990s have been exonerated, but most health professionals still stand behind the fact that trans fats are no good for you. You have two types of cholesterol in your blood – LDL, often referred to as “bad” cholesterol and HDL, often referred to as “good cholesterol”. HIGH levels of LDL and LOW levels of HDL are associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Trans fat, which is a synthetic fat made in a laboratory actually increases your LDL levels, while simultaneously decreasing your HDL levels – a double whammy when it comes to heart disease.
The USDA currently recommends that you get no more than 1 percent of your calories from trans fats. So if you’re following a standard 2,000 calorie diet, this means that you shouldn’t be eating any more than 2 grams of trans fats per day. Even in these small amounts, trans fats can significantly affect your health. In a study of 120,000 female nurses, researchers found that replacing JUST 2 percent of their calories with trans fat DOUBLED their risk of heart disease!
So let’s say, for example, that you’re at the grocery store and you pick up some creamer for your coffee, a box of crackers, and some flavored yogurt — all which claim to be trans fat free, but really aren’t. The next day, you put two tablespoons of creamer in your coffee in the morning, eat 10 crackers as a mid-morning snack, and have the flavored yogurt with lunch. You’ve already eaten FIVE SERVINGS of foods that could potentially add up to 2.5 grams of trans fats and you haven’t even had dinner yet! See how easy it is to go over your limit for the day without even knowing it?
So here’s what you do: never, ever rely on outright claims — like “trans fat free!” on a label; take the numbers on the nutritional label with a grain of salt; and go right to the ingredient list. If the ingredient list contains the words “hydrogenated”, “partially-hydrogenated”, “interesterified”, or “shortening”, it’s pretty safe to assume it has trans fats even if the nutritional label says zero grams.