Food labels declaring "No trans fat" fill the grocery store, so many consumers may think they've eliminated trans fat from their diets. Think again.
A new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raises concerns that trans fat still lurks in American foods. Researchers examined 4,340 top-selling packaged foods and found that about 9% contained partially hydrogenated oils, the main source of trans fat. But 84% of those products stated on the packaging that they contained no trans fat.
How are they able to get away with misleading labels? The Food and Drug Administration allows manufacturers to state on a label that a product has zero grams of trans fat even if the item contains up to 0.5 grams.
The problem is that "eating several servings of various foods that contain less than 0.5 grams trans fat will simply add up," says Anandh Velayutham, PhD, an assistant professor of nutrition at the University of Utah.
The biggest offenders are packaged snacks like cookies and crackers. Other food products that contain partially hydrogenated oils are frozen entrees, breakfast cereals and potato chips.
Trans fats are a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. "They increase bad (LDL) cholesterol and decrease good (HDL) cholesterol," Velayutham says, "which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Eliminating trans fat from the diet can prevent the development of heart disease."
To reduce your consumption of trans fat, cook with oils such as olive, sunflower, sesame and canola instead of partially hydrogenated oil. When dining out, ask whether the chef prepares food with partially hydrogenated oil. But most important, check the fine print on food packaging.
Don't rely on "No trans fat" labels. "People should look for 'partially hydrogenated oil' in the ingredients list to avoid trans fat in their diet," Velayutham says.