Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Trans Fat Labels Arrive. Why?

Starting this year, manufacturers will have to list trans fat on their food labels. This is welcome news for those concerned about heart health.

Trans fat labeling is likely to affect almost every diet-conscious American. Trans fats, like saturated fats, are known to be risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Both types of fat raise LDL "bad" cholesterol levels. But until now, while saturated fats are included in all food labeling, food manufacturers have not been required to identify the amount of trans fats in their products.

The new information, mandated by the Food and Drug Administration, can be used easily to help people eat more wisely by treating trans fats like saturated fats. The fact that trans fats will now be included on labeling means consumers can now just add them to saturated fats to see how close they are to that daily limit. Trans fat does not have to be listed if the total fat in a food is less than 0.5 gram (or 1/2 gram) per serving and no claims are made about fat, fatty acids or cholesterol content. If it is not listed, a footnote will be added stating that the food is "not a significant source of trans fat."

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2000 states "foods high in trans fatty acids tend to raise blood cholesterol. These foods include those high in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, such as many hard margarines and shortenings. Foods with a high amount of these ingredients include some commercially fried foods and some bakery goods." The FDA estimates that the average daily intake of trans fat in the U.S. population is about 5.8 grams or 2.6% of calories per day for individuals 20 years of age and older. On average, Americans consume approximately 4 to 5 times as much saturated fat as trans fat in their diet.

Answers to some questions you may have:

Q. Why is this labeling change a big deal?
A. Because trans fat is in a ton of stuff you buy at the grocery store. The labeling law is expected to affect about 40 percent of the foods on supermarket shelves.

Q. What the heck is trans fat anyway?
A. It's a type of saturated fat made when food manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oil, a process called hydrogenation. This turns liquid vegetable oil into semi-solid shortening. It increases the shelf life of food, stabilizes the flavor of food and makes them creamy.

Q. How much trans fat should I eat?
A. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended limiting trans fat to about 2 grams, including the naturally occurring trans fat in meat and dairy foods, for the entire day. That's not much. So try not to eat foods with lots of trans fat.

Q.If a package says "O grams trans fat" can I can eat more of those foods?
A. Not so fast. It may say "0 percent trans fat" on the package, but food makers are allowed to make the zero claim if one serving contains less than half a gram. But if you're like most people and eat more than a serving in a sitting, then suddenly you're downing some serious trans fat. Also consider this: Some foods with trans fat removed now have more saturated fat and/or sugar. The old Girl Scout Thin Mints, for instance, had 4 grams of saturated fat, 1 gram of trans fat and 10 grams of sugars per four-cookie serving, according to the nutrition label. The new Thin Mints, sans trans fat, have 6 grams of saturated fat and 11 grams of sugars per serving. OUCH!

What's so fascinating about this is that manufacturers rushed to remove this nasty fat before the new year so it wouldn't have to be listed on product labels.

Since the Food and Drug Administration announced the new labeling requirements in July 2003, many food makers have chosen to take out the trans fats rather than list any amount of what scientists consider the most dangerous dietary fat.

And, guess who played a significant role in "encouaging" food manufacturers to remove the dreaded fat? You did! In May 2003, the consumer advocacy group Ban Trans Fat sued Kraft Foods, demanding that the comestibles giant stop selling its Oreo cookies in California. While most people felt the suit was frivolous, the public and government began to focus intensely on the deleterious health issues associated with these processed fats. Just two months later, Kraft announced it would begin to cut trans fats out of its many snack products, and shortly afterwards, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began requiring manufacturers to list trans fat content on nutrition-fact labels. During the months before and after the suit was filed, a word-of-mouth marketing research firm called BuzzMetrics tracked more than 2.6 million comments about trans fats in various online forums, discussion groups and blogs from more than 120,000 people.

The public clearly linked the dangers of consuming processed oils with the company and one of its most famous products. Nice job!

In summary,

  1. Read your labels. (This is a nice, clickable tutorial.)
  2. Consume no more than 2 grams of trans fat per day.
  3. Consume no more than 10% of calories as saturated fat per day. (That's 20 grams on a 2000 calorie diet. Lower is preferable.)
  4. Don't worry about naturally occuring trans fats in animals. "Available data suggest that ruminant (hooved animals) trans fatty acids, especially concerning the effect on cardiovascular risk, do not possess the same unfavourable effects as industrially produced trans fatty acids. The content of trans fatty acids in industrially hydrogenated fats may reach 60 percent of the fatty acids. The equivalent number for ruminant fat is 2-5 percent."

Here's a short, very interesting video from CBS NEWS on trans fat. (Scroll to the January 02, 2006 entry and click the video button.)


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3 Comments:

At 8:15 AM, January 06, 2006, Blogger molly magee said...

We encouraged folks to write to Little Brownie Bakers (Girl Scout cookie makers) last year to remove trans fats. Did we do any good????

Molly

 
At 9:05 AM, January 06, 2006, Blogger Marcia Van Horn said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 9:14 AM, January 06, 2006, Blogger Marcia Van Horn said...

You did!
A statment from Little Brownie:

"Little Brownie Bakers, one of two licensed Girl Scout Cookie Bakers, is aware of the health concerns regarding trans fats. To this end, we will be transitioning two zero trans fat varieties into the product line during the current 2006 Girl Scout Cookie Season. Zero trans fat Tagalongs® and reduced fat Lemon Coolers® give our council customers new alternatives this Cookie Season that better address the health benefits at the center of consumer concerns.

They then stated:
"Girl Scout Cookies® consumed in a balanced way, with their limited availability through the year, continue to make it an indulgent treat consumers can enjoy as part of a healthy and nutritious lifestyle."

And, the national office of the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. stated cookies are looked at as treats and shouldn't be a major part of anyone's diet. The office further explained that the main point is not the cookies, but rather their sale, which helps troops raise money and teaches girls life skills such as goal setting and entrepreneurship.

So, they felt the pressure, made the changes, then said maybe you shouldn't really be focusing on the nutritional value. Well, if you're a health-conscious consumer and your daughters want to feel good about what they're selling, then you certainly had a right to start a campaign.

And, it's working, because of people like you.

You can view all of the cookie food labels at these two sites:

http://www.littlebrowniebakers.com/cookies/cookies.html

http://www.girlscoutcookiesabc.com/atc/default.asp

However, as stated in my post, we need to focus on trans fat AND saturated fat.

A four-cookie, 33-gram serving of Thin Mints manufactured by ABC Bakers used to contain 4 grams of saturated fat and 1 gram of trans fat, but now contains 6 grams of saturated fat. Little Brownie Bakers, the other official Girl Scout baker, produces SMALLER Thin Mints that contain 4 grams of saturated fat, 1 gram of trans fat.

You almost have to be a detective, don't you.

 

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