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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 01/ 7/2011

Does "no trans fats" mean no trans fats?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget

When you pick up a box of, say, crackers whose Nutrition Facts panel asserts that the contents contain no trans fats, you should be able to enjoy the snack without worrying about consuming any artery-clogging trans fatty acids, right?

Not necessarily.

As many nutrition watchdogs have noted, the FDA's rules for labeling trans fat content allow for some wiggle room: If a serving contains .5 grams of fat or less, the manufacturer is to claim it has zero grams of trans fat per serving. Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine medical student Eric J. Brandt revisits the matter in a short article in the January/February issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion.

As Brandt observes, it's not hard to imagine consuming multiple grams of trans fat in a day simply by eating more of those crackers than constitute an official serving size, for instance, or by combining those crackers with a snack of packaged cookies later in the day. All the while, he says, a consumer could go on believing he was consuming no trans fats at all

Why does this matter? Because, as Brandt explains, science has shown that even small amounts of trans fats can wreak havoc with your health. Trans fat consumption has been linked to cardiovascular disease, among other ills.

Brandt points out that savvy shoppers can look for terms on ingredient lists that signal the presence of trans fats: partially hydrogenated oils and elaidic acid are chief among them. But you can't tell from the ingredient list exactly how much of each ingredient is included in a serving.

Brandt calls for new standards for labeling trans-fat content under which manufacturers would report that content in .1-gram increments. "This," he writes, "would enable consumers to know when [trans fat] content in a food is significant, and it would allow one to manage [trans fat] intake and avoid deleterious affects.

Would such a labeling-rule change make any difference to you? Do you check for trans-fat content -- or the presence of partially hydrogenated oils -- on food packages?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  | January 7, 2011; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  FDA, Is That Right?, Nutrition and Fitness  
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