Consumers who choose foods labeled ‘zero trans fats’ could still surpass their recommended daily limit due to FDA rules that allow up to 0.49g of trans fat per serving to be rounded to zero, says spread company Smart Balance.
The World Health Organization has recommended an upper level of one percent of a person’s energy to come from trans fat – which has been shown to cause coronary heart disease – and the American Heart Association recommends consumption of no more than two grams of trans fat a day.
According to a new survey from market researchers Greenfield Online, 72 percent of Americans said they read nutrition labels and facts panels in an effort to make healthy choices when grocery shopping. And 61 percent said they considered ‘zero grams of trans fats
per serving’ to be the most important claim for heart health.
Smart Balance, which commissioned the survey, is using the claim to market its own product. But Steve Hughes, the company’s CEO, said that even if consumers are looking out for zero trans fats, they “could exceed the daily [2g] limit before they even sit down to dinner” due to the FDA rules.
He said: “It’s time consumers know the truth about trans fat and time the FDA takes action to protect their health by simply banning partially hydrogenated oil. Partially hydrogenated oil
has no nutritional value and poses a real health risk.”
Trans fat labeling
Hughes is concerned that the 0.49g per serving limit raises the possibility of people eating more than the specified serving size in the belief that they are consuming no trans fats. However, partially hydrogenated oil must be listed on the ingredients list even if the label designates a product as trans fat free under the rules.
Registered dietitian Alyse Levine said: “The good news is Americans are making healthier food choices a priority and they clearly recognize the dangers of trans fat. But unfortunately reading the fine print is necessary to ensure they’re not getting more trans fat and putting their health at greater risk than they bargained for.”
Trans fat in the form of partially hydrogenated oil is most common in baked and fried foods, in which it can count for up to 45 percent of total fat content. It is cheaper to produce than healthier oils like canola or olive oil, provides food manufacturers with greater processing stability and gives foods a longer shelf life.
Trans fat bans already in force in places like New York City, Philadelphia and the state of California refer to these artificial trans fats, but there are also naturally occurring sources of trans fat. It makes up two to five percent of total fat content in dairy products and beef, for example.
Denmark was the first country to set an upper limit on trans fats as a percentage of total fat content in a food item – and set it at two percent in 2003.