Big Food Math: “Zero Trans Fats” Does NOT Mean Zero

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The concept of a zero is a constant in mathematics, but much less so in nutrition labelling. A new study conducted by the CDC found that an alarming amount of processed foods with “0 grams” for trans fats reported on their nutrition labels, actually contained trace amounts of the stuff. In a study of over 4,000 commonly consumed packaged foods, 9% contained trans fats, and 84% of that 9% indicated no trans fats on their nutrition labels. Here’s the explanation:

Although some foods contain naturally occurring trans fat derived from small amounts in the byproducts of ruminant animals, most dietary trans fat comes from PHOs [partially hydrogenated oils]. Because manufacturers are permitted to label products containing between 0 and 0.5 g of trans fat per serving as “0 grams” in the United States, we identified products that contained PHOs by the presence of the words “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredient list."

A half of a gram may not seem like a lot, but it’s important to remember that nutrition labels give facts by serving size, meaning that there could be large amounts of trans fats hidden in these packages. Some of the major culprits were seasoned grain mixes, seasoned processed potatoes and salsas. The study also indicated through product comparison that  it is completely possible to actually make these food with zero grams of trans fats. Appealing to government oversight, the study concluded that we have more work to do to get these risky ingredients out of our food stream.

Eliminating trans fat from US foods is possible, but removal has not been achieved through labeling requirements for packaged food: almost 1 in 10 products we examined contained PHOs. Although restricting the use of PHOs in packaged food would benefit consumers preparing foods at home, an FDA ruling would also help ensure that restaurant customers are protected from unknowingly consuming industrial trans fat."

PHOTO: via flickr

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Read all articles by Juniper Briggs

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