Trans Fat Trickery: When Zero Doesn’t Mean Zero

Riddle me this, readers: When does zero not mean zero?

Well, thanks to labeling trickery and governmental loopholes, zero doesn’t necessarily mean zero when you’re talking about the amount of artery-clogging trans fats in a food product!

Case in point: Quaker Chewy Chocolate Chip Granola Bars

Ingredients: Granola (whole grain rolled oats, brown sugar, crisp rice [rice flour, sugar, salt, malted barley extract], whole grain rolled wheat, partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oils* with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness and/or sunflower oil with natural tocopherol added to preserve freshness, dried coconut, whole wheat flour, sodium bicarbonate, soy lecithin, caramel color, nonfat dry milk), semisweet chocolate chips (sugar, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla extract), crisp rice (rice, sugar, salt, barley malt), high fructose corn syrup, sugar, corn syrup solids, glycerin, partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oil*, sorbitol, calcium carbonate, salt, water, soy lecithin, molasses, natural and artificial flavors, BHT (a preservative), citric acid.

*Adds a dietarily insignificant amount of trans fat

Decoding the Fine Print

The front label clearly states 0% trans fat. However, when you look on the ingredients list, you will see “partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oils” prominently listed as the third ingredient and then again as the 15th ingredient.
Guess what? When you see the term “partially hydrogenated” oils listed on the ingredients label, this is code for trans fat!

Now, check out the Nutrition Facts label, it states again that this product has zero trans fats. We bet you’re wondering how food manufacturers can get away with this. Read on to get the 411.

According to the Food and Drug Administration and its labeling regulation, a food product can be made to appear free of trans fat even if it contains small amounts of it. Yep, the Nutrition Facts label of a food that contains trans fat in an amount less than 0.5 g per serving may legally claim “zero trans fat” or it may omit a trans fat listing on the Nutrition Facts label, but include a footnote that reads, “Not a significant source of trans fat.”

Fun fact: The FDA is also the same agency that just a few years back took the position that “intake of trans fats should be as low as possible” and refused to set a maximum recommended daily allowance, because they stated that the only safe level is ZERO!

Don’t you feel a little dazed, confused, and sort of cheated? Our food sleuths sure did.

Reality check

There’s no question that trans fat – in any amount – is harmful. It raises your LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, and lowers your HDL, or “good” cholesterol. It also increases inflammation which is a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other serious medical conditions.

When it comes to this form of fat – a fat that has been outlawed in New York – you and I should be eating nada, zilch, zip, none…ABSOLUTE ZERO amounts of trans fat.

Now that you know any amount of trans fat is bad, read on for BrandAid tips on how wannabe savvy shoppers can avoid buying products with hidden trans fat.

BrandAid Tips for Avoiding Trans Fats

  • Bypass the front label…even if it states 0% trans fat.bestbrands_graphic
  • Bypass the Nutrition Facts label…even if it states trans fat 0g.
  • Go directly to the ingredients list. Check for the terms “partially hydrogenated,” “shortening” and “hydrogenated.” These are your clues that the product contains some trans fat.
  • Put the product back on the shelf and look for a healthier choice.

Bottom line: it’s hard to trust a food manufacturer that would slip any amount of trans fat into their product, knowing its harmful effects. And, to then claim 0% trans fat on the label seems extra sneaky.

Hey, FDA and all you major food makers, can’t we just agree that zero should mean nothing more than zero?

Remember, when you’re armed with a little eBrandAid know-how, you’re in control at the grocery store.

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In Our Opinion: The information contained in the eBrandAid e-newsletters is strictly based on the opinions of the eBrand Doctors. We have created a set of guidelines that we believe will help shoppers to better understand and decode food labels on products found in most grocery stores. Our mission is to help shoppers find the healthier brands that have the least amount of chemicals and other junk ingredients.

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