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Americans Wise Up to Trans Fats -- Sort Of

Quick: Name three foods that contain trans fats.

If you can do so, you're ahead of most Americans, a new study suggests. Reporting in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers from four universities working with the American Heart Association found that while 92 percent of 1,000 respondents questioned in 2007 were aware of trans fats as a substance that may contribute to cardiovascular disease, only 17 percent could name three foods that contain the bad fats.

Even so, 37 percent of respondents said they'd changed their purchasing and eating behaviors to avoid trans fats, seeking products that were labeled "zero trans fat," for instance.

The authors note that when they asked about trans fats in 2006 -- a few months after the FDA started requiring manufacturers to list trans fats as a separate item on the Nutrition Facts panel -- 84 percent of respondents were aware of them. They give some credit for the uptick in knowledge to increased news coverage and public-awareness campaigns, pointing out that the number of media stories they counted about trans fats doubled in a year (from 516 in May 2006 to 1,138 in May 2007).

Part of the difficulty in naming sources of trans fats (which are thought to clog arteries if eaten in excess) may be that the landscape is shifting -- for the better. Whereas Oreo cookies and McDonald's french fries were once major culprits, their manufacturers have responded to public concern by altering their recipes to eliminate trans fats.

But trans fats still lurk in many baked goods, snack crackers and even salad dressings and microwave popcorn. Try this: Next time you grocery shop, take an extra few minutes to study the nutrition data on the packaged foods you pick up. Please tell us about any trans fats surprises you turn up.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  February 18, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Nutrition and Fitness  
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Saltine Crackers have both partially hydrogenated oil and high fructose corn syrup, amazingly enough. I discovered this when I had the flu and could only digest completely bland foods -- what a disappointment!

Posted by: EWP1124 | February 18, 2009 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Frozen biscuits have 3.5 grams of trans fat per biscuit!

Posted by: nthwoods | February 18, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, EWP1124, I was really disappointed about Saltines, too! They always seemed so wholesome to me....

Posted by: Jennifer LaRue Huget | February 18, 2009 12:06 PM | Report abuse

You may want to clarify that your article is speaking of ARTIFICIAL trans fats. Products like Beef and Dairy contain naturally occurring trans fats.

Posted by: amr2 | February 18, 2009 12:07 PM | Report abuse

One of the biggest surprise sources is products that are labeled "zero grams trans fat." Most brands of margarine fall into this category. Since manufacturers are able to round any ingredient to the nearest whole number, they can manipulate portion size and the amount of trans fat added to get to the coveted "zero," even though the product contains a substantial amount. For example, a product containing .49 grams of trans fat per serving can be labeled as containing "zero grams," even though it is essentially one-half of the maximum dietary recommendation of one gram per day. Obviously, with something like margarine that someone might use on toast, sandwiches and vegetables throughout the day, it is very easy to eat substantial amounts from a "zero grams" product.

The best thing to do is to look for "partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil" in the list of ingredients. If it contains this, it contains trans-fats and should be avoided.

Posted by: rashomon | February 18, 2009 1:08 PM | Report abuse

Margerine! I have to buy butter at 3X the cost

I thought that all trans fats are artificial. The fatty acid chains in trans fats have a different structure than that found in nature: natural fats may be "saturated" or "unsaturated", which means fully or partially hydrogenated, respectively. But the chemical bonds in natural partially hydrogenated (or unsaturated) fats will be in the CIS conformation.

The chemical bonds in TRANS conformation are more stable and do not fit well with the body's metabolism machinery, making them more difficult to break down.

Posted by: em2008 | February 18, 2009 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Trans fats are now most commonly found in old-fashioned stick margarines. Makers of baked goods are starting to phase them out.

Posted by: dhavron1 | February 19, 2009 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Last I checked, Ghiradelli chocolate mint squares contained trans fats. Surprising and gross! I agree, if you can avoid buying products with partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated oils, you're better off. I believe Kashi, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods etc. make crackers without hydrogenated oils, to replace those saltines.

Posted by: shantybird | February 20, 2009 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Dr. Robert Carl Parisien says: I wont eat or serve Gharelli chocolates to anyone because of the transfat issue.

Posted by: DrRobertCarlParisien | February 21, 2009 2:39 PM | Report abuse

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