Sign up for Your
FREE Subscription
Your First Name:
Your E-mail:

Those Sneaky Trans Fats - Now You See 'Em, Now You Don't!


By Nurse Mark

Trans fats – despite the hype, they really haven’t gone away…

We hear it almost daily – this food maker, that restaurant chain, even entire cities claiming “No trans fats!” and “0 grams trans fats!” This really should be reason to celebrate, given the toxic nature of trans fats, right? Yeah, right!

Perhaps the most important thing to note when reading the label claims for these trans-fat-free foods is what they are claiming for a “serving size” – is it something like a half-dozen potato chips, a tablespoon of salad dressing, or one piece of fried food? C’mon folks, let’s get real – can you stop at 6 potato chips? I know that I can’t, if I let myself get started… (Yes, I confess: I do sometimes allow myself the sinful indulgence of some of these greasy, salty, acrylamide-laden, trans-fat bombs… we’re all human, after all!)

Major Food Sources of Trans Fat for American Adults

(Average Daily Trans Fat Intake is 5.8 Grams or 2.6 Percent of Calories)

40% cakes, cookies, crackers, pies, bread, etc.

21% animal products

17% margarine

8% fried potatoes

5% potato chips, corn chips, popcorn

4% household shortening

3% salad dressing

1% breakfast cereal

1% candy

Data based on FDA’s economic analysis for the final trans fatty acid labeling rule, "Trans Fatty Acids in Nutrition Labeling, Nutrient Content Claims, and Health Claims" (July 11, 2003)

The reason that this is important has to do with the regulations that our mighty FDA has set forth for food makers when it comes to trans fats. You see, in the eyes of the FDA, anything less than 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving is irrelevant and can be called zero!

Now, the measurement of 0.5 grams is a little hard for many of us to grasp. I know it is for me, anyway, and I’m from Canada, where the metric system of measures was “adopted” (some say it was more like “forced on them” – but that’s another story…) many years ago. So I sat down and tried to find some frame of reference that I could wrap my brain around and make some sense of.

First I thought, what are trans fats? They are simply fatty acids – oils – that have been modified by the addition of hydrogen molecules, usually on purpose in order to solidify liquid oil into margarine or shortening. Sometimes fats are damaged by processing or heat, and can become trans too. This process is called hydrogenation – it basically takes a less dense liquid oil and alters it so that its molecules can “pack together” more tightly, hence becoming more solid.

OK, enough of the science – my eyes were beginning to glaze over just trying to explain it. In practical terms, what I was after was some sort of understandable reference to help me get a grok on just how much is a half a gram of fat – trans or otherwise. So I got out my trusty Lyman electronic scale, which measures in those esoteric gram units, and I measured some stuff. Like coconut oil, which is a saturated fat, and similar in some ways to those trans fats in that it is fairly solid at room temperature. It turns out that when coconut oil is fully warm and liquid, a half a gram of it is just less than a quarter teaspoon full. When it is cold and hard or solid, like margarine, it is about half that volume – it “packs together” into about one-eighth of a teaspoon. Put another way, a 0.5 gram bit of solid fat, which is pretty much what trans fat is, is a chunk about the size of my thumbnail – and I have big, “guy-size” fingers.

So, the bottom line here is that the FDA says that as long as someone doesn’t put more than about an eighth of a teaspoonful of trans fats into a single serving of a food then they get to make that coveted “Zero Grams of Trans Fat!” claim. Wow! Seems to me there might be a little bit of “slack” in all this for the food manufacturers…
Think about it: you’re a food manufacturer of, say potato chips – nice, greasy, salty potato chips. You sell them by the “family size” bag, though you know that one of those bags is about what the average American junk-food junkie will eat in a single sitting. Your analysis comes back with the results that there is a gram of trans fat in, say, thirty of your chips. Hmmm… Not looking good… But wait! Here’s an idea: let’s call the “serving size” 15 chips. No, make it 12 chips, just to be safe. Now you get to put a big, exciting notice on your bag of greasy chips: “0 Grams Trans-Fats!” and crow about how healthy they are! And it’s all FDA approved!

Folks, maybe it’s time we held our food industry and our FDA – and yes, it is
our FDA – to a little bit higher standard. Zero means zero. No means no. None means none. It doesn’t mean “just a little bit”, or “maybe just a smidge” or “well, not really enough to be bad for you, we think.”

I recall a 2002 report from a National Academy of Sciences panel that sought to set a safe intake level for trans-fatty acids. That panel's conclusion was: "The only safe intake of trans-fat is zero."

Sounds pretty straight-forward to me – how ‘bout you?



Inside HealthBeat

Meet Our Team
Contact Us
Readers Rants


DISCLAIMER: Consuming the information provided in HealthBeat may cause reduced side-effects, increased knowledge, improved health and well-being and the potential for enhanced common-sense. Use at your own risk. These statements have not been evaluated or blessed by the FDA, The Big Drug Companies, or Big Medicine and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or medical condition. None of the suggestions made herein are intended to take the place of your personal physician, shaman, chiropractor or other healthcare provider. Please be aware that statements made herein could result in a loss of profits to the FDA, Big Pharma and Big Medicine and should be used cautiously with this in mind. These statements contain no appreciable amounts of calories, carbohydrates, sodium or cholesterol and are certified to be free of all trans-fats.