Uncovering Hidden Trans Fat

Uncovering Hidden Trans Fat

Trans fat could be hiding in your trans fat-free snacks, no matter what the packaging says.

According to research by Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine student Eric Brandt, current FDA regulations allow for less-than-truthful labeling when it comes to the dangerous diet-buster, which has been linked to elevated cholesterol and an increased risk of coronary artery disease, diabetes and sudden cardiac death.

Companies are allowed to round down when reporting trace amounts of trans fat, touting foods containing less than 0.5 grams as trans fat-free, meaning consumers could easily exceed the daily recommended value of 1.11 grams despite their best efforts to avoid them. Just three servings of deceptively labeled foods with 0.49 grams of trans fat would put a consumer over the recommended limit.

While 1.11 grams may seem like a minute amount, research has shown that increasing daily trans fat consumption from 0.9 percent to 2.1 percent, or from 2 grams to 4.67 grams, will increase a person's risk of cardiovascular disease by 30 percent.

Trans fat is a relatively new development on the nutritional landscape, Brandt says, so getting the substance labeled at all was an accomplishment. He says there simply hasn't been a sizable push for more accurate labeling yet, from consumers or the research and scientific communities. "Food companies would prefer their products to look healthier than they are," he says. "And a revision to the law has yet to be suggested."

A more truthful reporting and labeling system would help the public get the accurate, science-based information it needs to make the best decisions about diet management and overall health, Brandt says.

In his article, published in the American Journal of Health Promotion, he recommends reporting trans fat in smaller increments that more accurately reflect the food's content.