Think you can eat all those "trans fat free" cookies and doughnuts to your heart's content? Think again. Besides the hefty dose of calories and other fats these products typically contain, they also have a moderate amount of, yes, heart-damaging trans fats.
That's the contention of a paper published in the American Journal of Health Promotion by a Case Western Reserve graduate student, Eric Brandt. He complains that the Food and Drug Administration is allowing food manufacturers to engage in "deception" by labeling foods trans fat free as long as they have less than 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving.
But that means you can still eat a few grams a day if you're not careful with the processed foods. "This labeling is misguiding the public by allowing foods to be labeled as ‘trans fat free' when they are, in fact, not," writes Brandt.
Trans fats are considered by many nutrition researchers to be the worst kind of dietary fat. They raise our "bad" LDL cholesterol while lowering our "good" HDL levels. They increase inflammation, which has been linked to heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
One landmark 2006 study found that increasing your intake of trans fatty acids from about one percent of your caloric intake to two percent -- equivalent to going from about two grams of trans fats a day to about four grams -- will increase your risk of developing heart disease by 30 percent.
Brandt would like the FDA to force food manufacturers to list the trans fat content in 0.1 gram increments, so consumers can calculate how many grams they're actually eating in those zero trans fat Krispy Kremes.
"It’s a sound argument that he’s making," says Dr. Caroline Apovian, director of the nutrition and weight management center at Boston Medical Center. "But you can say that for all lot of food labels." Calorie-free cooking sprays, for example, have no calories in a one-quarter second spray, but Apovian says most people spray for a few seconds which can deliver a few calories.
A "sugar free" chocolate bar means it has less than 0.5 gram of sugar per serving. And "low carb" on the label can mean anything since the FDA doesn't have a standard definition for that term. (Check out this helpful food label guide from Real Simple.)
All in all, Apovian says, consumers shouldn't be fooled into thinking that "trans fat free" means that doughnut or muffin is less harmful for your waistline. "Sometimes there's a big media blitz when products remove their trans fats," adds Apovian who also serves as a paid nutrition consultant to Dunkin Donuts and other food manufacturers. "But that trans fat free muffin can still have 550 calories and a 60 percent fat content."
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