People may be consuming more trans fat than they think, as a result of misleading food labels, according to a study from the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Researchers examined 4,340 top-selling packaged foods and found that 9 percent contained partially hydrogenated oils, the main source of trans fat. But of those foods, 84 percent claimed on their packaging to have “0 grams” of trans fat.
The amount of trans fat in these products varied from small traces to almost 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, the researchers said.
Under the rules of the Food and Drug Administration, foods that contain less than 0.5 g of trans fat per serving must be labeled with “0 g” of trans fat.
“This labeling is cause for concern because consumers, seeing the 0 g trans fat on the nutrition facts label, are probably unaware that they are consuming trans fat,” the researchers wrote in their study, published in the in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.
Trans fat is a specific type of fat that is formed when hydrogen is added to liquid oils to turn them into solid fats. The FDA has tentatively determined that partially hydrogenated oils are not “generally recognized as safe” for consumption. If the FDA makes a final determination, trans fat would become an illegal food additive.
People who consume trans fat may be at higher risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes, studies have suggested.
The food products examined in the study ranged from cookies to salad dressing and canned soup.
“Our analysis demonstrates that industrial trans fat is still common in U.S. packaged foods, particularly in some food categories,” the researchers said.
For example, half of the foods in the potato chips category, and 35 percent of cookies contained trans fat, according to the report.
FoodFacts.com has been reporting on this phenomenon for years. Long story short — only educated and nutritionally aware consumers understand that 0 trans fat doesn’t always equal 0. As long as the product in question contains less than .5 grams, the manufacturer is permitted to list trans fat content as 0. The concern of course, is that if the consumer eats more than a single serving of that product, the trans fat can quickly add up. Take cookies for example, which were included in this research. An average serving size of cookies as listed on most packaging is three cookies. If you eat six cookies that contain .5 grams of trans fat per serving of three, you’ve consumed one gram of trans fat. Throw some canned soup in the mix for the day and maybe some potato chips and it’s really difficult to know exactly how much trans fat you’ve consumed in that 24 hour period.
This is a great reminder for those who already understand the facts about trans fat — and a great learning opportunity for those who didn’t yet understand — that just because you think it doesn’t contain trans fat, doesn’t mean that’s the case. We’re crossing our fingers that the proposed trans fat ban does become reality. In the meantime, let’s all remember that when it comes to nutrition labels, not every 0 represents the same thing.