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CDC study finds trans fat food labeling misleading to consumers

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, trans fat consumption in the U.S. is on the decline. But labels can be misleading, and many processed food stating zero trans fats on the label actually do contain them.

What you may not know is that zero plus zero doesn’t always equal...zero.

There's no shortage of healthy food choices here on the Suncoast. “Well, of course the one thing I like to look for is organic,” says Sarasota resident Mark Pelz.

He says he reads labels, stays away from GMO's, and eats foods with good fats in them. “Well, if it's got any trans fats in it, I just put it down. It's not a product that I would use.”

But what about if it says zero trans fats? “I'm fine with that.”

Belkis Silva of Bradenton knows how much trans fat is in her peanut butter. “Zero…because I can see here,” she says, pointing to the food label.

Pelts and Silva are among the many who take zero at face value. But a new study finds labels are misleading; and few know how to read between the lines...or the omissions.

When it says zero trans fats, it does mean that there can actually be small trace amounts of trans fats…somewhere in the lines of less than half a gram.

Products containing 0.5 trans fats per serving are currently allowed to put “zero” trans fats on labels.

The American Heart Association says you shouldn't consume more than two grams of trans fats in your diet per day, and when you eat more than one serving of a food per day containing the half gram of trans fats, it quickly adds up.

But there is one way to make sure there really is no trans fats in your food.

“When it says absolutely nothing about trans fats on the label it’s a pretty safe bet there's no trans fats in it.” Jake Loomis, store manager of Richard's Foodporium, says labels can be misleading. “People come in a little confused, and that's why we're here. We can help guide people along.”

In may not be long before those labels saying zero trans fats may actually mean there are none. “I really do think the FDA is trying to move forward and to make more steps towards providing information for the customer, for the consumer so that they're more knowledgeable when they buy things.”

Loomis says they try to keep up to date on the labeling and provide the most information available to the customer, and that clearer labels will help.

The most important thing you should know about trans fat is that it raises LDL, or bad cholesterol. An elevated LDL blood cholesterol level increases your risk of developing heart disease, which is the leading killer of both men and women in the U.S.

Trans fat is formed during food processing; it’s created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil (a process called hydrogenation) to make it more solid. Partially hydrogenated oils are used by food manufacturers to improve the texture, shelf life, and flavor stability of foods.

Trans fat can be found in many of the same foods as saturated fat. These can include:

  • Crackers, cookies, cakes, frozen pies and other baked goods
  • Snack foods (such as microwave popcorn)
  • Frozen pizza
  • Fast food
  • Vegetable shortenings and stick margarines
  • Coffee creamer
  • Refrigerated dough products (such as biscuits and cinnamon rolls)
  • Ready-to-use frostings