Trans Fat Food Labels May Need a Second Look

Trans fat servings on nutrition labels may not accurately reflect presence of partially hydrogenated oils

(RxWiki News) Consumers may check for trans fats on nutrition labels, but a new study suggests that these labels may not tell the full trans-fat story.

The study analyzed nutrition labels on a large number of popular packaged foods in the US.

The authors found that, while some products were labeled as having 0 grams of trans fat per serving, they did contain some trans fats in the form of partially hydrogenated oils.

"Try to include more fresh fruits and veggies in your meals."

Trans fats, most commonly found in the form of partially hydrogenated oils, raise cholesterol levels and contribute to an increased risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes, explained the American Heart Association on its website.

And, according to the authors of this new study, which was led by Jenifer Clapp, MPA, of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, US manufacturers are allowed to label products that contain between 0 and 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving as having 0 grams per serving.

"We have long known two things about trans fats: first that unnatural trans fats (there are some natural trans fats in butter and other natural sources) are hazardous to our health in many ways," explained Deborah Gordon, MD, a nutrition expert based in Ashland, Oregon, in an interview with dailyRx News. "And secondly, that ever since labeling was required, portions have been adjusted to allow manufacturers to claim 'No trans fats' because the described serving size has been unrealistically small."

The study authors wanted to explore how many of the top-selling packaged foods in the US contained partially hydrogenated oils.

To do so, Clapp and team used the National Salt Reduction Initiative Packaged Food Database, which had information on a wide variety of food products in the US, including frozen foods, snacks and baked goods.

The authors looked at nutrition labels and ingredient information for 4,340 packaged foods from the database.

Clapp and team found that, although 84 percent of the products were labeled as having 0 grams of trans fats per serving, 9 percent contained partially hydrogenated oils on their ingredient lists.

"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 study authors wrote.

"Who ever eats one cracker or 2 tablespoons of potato chips? The study points out that the actual amount of trans fats normally consumed could be up to 0.5 grams per serving, even when the product is advertised as 0 grams per serving on the Nutrition Facts label," said Dr. Gordon.

"Consumers have two choices. Someone well-versed in the realities of 'grams per serving' could actually limit their consumption to the serving size listed on the package," said Dr. Gordon. She stressed, however, that her advice would be to avoid foods that come in packages.

"For a crunchy snack, choose apples or carrots instead of potato chips," suggested Dr. Gordon. "For a sweet treat, choose fruit — fresh, dried, or grilled!"

The study was published online Aug. 28 in Preventing Chronic Disease.

A number of sources funded the database the study authors used, including WK Kellogg and the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Review Date: 
August 26, 2014