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Trans Fat Sneaks Back Into American Diets
New labeling regulation doesn't tell whole story
Jeff Leach (zinjboss)     Email Article  Print Article 
Published 2006-01-20 12:28 (KST)   
With much fanfare over the last year, food manufactures were required by the US Food and Drug Administration to list the amount of unhealthy trans fatty acids ("trans fat") on nutritional labels by Jan. 1, 2006.

Hailed as a victory for consumers, the move to "advertise" the presence and amount of these "bad" fats, which have been linked to elevated levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and increased risk of coronary heart disease, would finally provide consumers with the information needed to make healthier food choices about fats.

However, a loophole in the new law has been created for those wanting to state "zero" trans fats on food packages. That's because newly implemented USDA rules on labeling allow foods with less than 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving to claim "zero" grams of trans fats on their labels.

The problem is that 0.5 grams can add up. Americans who consume three or four servings of a food with 0.49 grams of trans fats in a day will have unknowingly eaten an extra gram or two of trans fats.

Trans fats are found in foods such as vegetable shortening, some margarines, crackers, candies, baked goods, cookies, snack foods, fried foods, salad dressings, and many processed foods. Currently, the FDA estimates that Americans consume an average 5.8 grams of trans fats per day.

Barbara Schneeman, director of the Office of Nutritional Products, Labeling and Dietary Supplements for the FDA said the "reason the FDA is allowing foods under 0.5 grams of trans fats to be rounded down to zero is that current detection methods for trans fats aren't very reliable below 0.5 grams."

So if "zero" trans fat might mean that a product actually has 0.49 grams per serving, how is the average consumer going to manage these bad fats in their diet?

The best way is to check the ingredients of the products you buy and look for words like "shortening" and "partially hydrogenated" -- red flag ingredients meaning "trans fats within."

Trans fats are created when liquid oils are transformed into solids, a process called hydrogenation. They're prevalent in many processed foods because they add to a product's shelf life and increase flavor stability.

Keep in mind that the new labeling requirements do not include restaurants, where Americans currently consume nearly fifty percent of their meals.

©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Jeff Leach

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