New Labeling Rules Spur Major Improvements but Pitfalls Remain, Says CSPI’s Nutrition Action Healthletter
February 17, 2006
New trans-fat labeling regulations that went into effect on January 1 have spurred many food processors to dump partially hydrogenated oils in favor of less harmful alternatives. As welcome as those changes are, consumers shouldn’t assume that all food manufacturers have gotten rid of trans, nor should they assume that all foods with “zero grams trans” are zero threat to the arteries, according to an article published in the forthcoming issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter, which is published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
“Many companies have taken the trans out of their foods, but the harmful fat may still lurk in some pies, microwave popcorns, doughnuts, cake frostings, biscuits, stick margarines, frozen French fries, and other trans traps,” said CSPI nutrition director Bonnie Liebman. “If the trans fat line on Nutrition Facts labels is anything but zero, shop for alternatives. But steer clear of foods with more than a gram or two of saturated fat, which is also bad for your heart.”
Some of the “Trans Traps” identified in Nutrition Action include:
* Celeste Vegetable Pizza For One. Most pizza has a lot of saturated fat thanks to the cheese. This single-serve pizza has 4.5 grams of saturated fat and an unexpectedly high 4.5 grams of trans fat. (Some comes from the crust, but most comes from the “cheese substitute” made with partially hydrogenated oil.) A competitor, Lean Cuisine, makes a single-serve vegetable pizza with no trans and just 1.5 grams of saturated fat.
* Pop-Secret Movie Theater Butter microwave popcorn. Many companies claim that a solid fat is required for microwave popcorn. The partially hydrogenated oil used in this one gives it 6 grams of trans. (A Newman’s Own variety has no trans but its palm kernel oil supplies 8 grams of sat fat.) Better brands, like Orville Redenbacher’s Smart Pop and Pop Secret 94% Fat Free, have cut both saturated and trans fat.
* Nestle Crunch Ice Cream Bars. The box boasts “0 g Trans Fat!” But that doesn’t necessarily mean “good for your heart,” says CSPI. The Food and Drug Administration disallows “trans-free” claims, but allows “0 grams trans” on the fronts of packages—even on products like this, which have 11 grams of saturated fat per bar, more than half a day’s worth.
“Don’t assume that a food with ‘0 grams trans' is a gift to your arteries,” said Liebman. “Those claims are misleading on foods that aren’t also low in saturated fat.”
Nutrition Action is urging its 900,000 subscribers to ask Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt to take action on several of CSPI’s trans-fat policy recommendations. CSPI wants the FDA (which is under HHS) to:
* Revoke its approval of partially hydrogenated oils
* Require restaurants that use partially hydrogenated oil to disclose it
* Ban “0 g trans fat” claims on foods with saturated fat, and
* Allow “0 g trans fat” only on foods with less than 0.2 grams of trans, not anything less than half a gram.
Although small amounts of trans fat occur naturally in beef and dairy foods, about 80 percent of the trans fat in Americans’ diets comes from factory-produced partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Partially hydrogenated oils were once thought to be harmless, but in the last 15 years, medical research has proven that trans fat is even more harmful than saturated fat. While both saturated and trans fat raise LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, thereby raising risk of heart disease, only trans fat lowers HDL, the “good” cholesterol that helps guard against heart disease.
CSPI maintains information about trans fat on one of its web sites, www.transfreeamerica.org.