You’ve been seeing the labels in the grocery store, “Contains Zero Trans Fat”, or “0 Trans Fat”. Have you also noticed that these labels state “per serving“? Those words might not always be in the same font size, but if the label states “0 Trans Fat Per Serving”, you might not be getting a product that is actually free of trans fat.

This is another example of creative labeling that is allowed by the FDA. With all of the talk about how unhealthy trans fats are for you, the food manufacturers have had to make some changes in order to meet the demands of an increasingly health conscious public. However, they have a little caveat that the FDA is providing them: as long as the product contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, it is legal to label the product as “containing 0 trans fat”. That might not sound like a lot, however if you are a person that is watching what you eat, not only for weight issues but also for health, and you want to avoid trans fats altogether, you aren’t necessarily getting away from them!

One tricky part about this is that fully hydrogenated oils do not contain trans fat. Rather, it is partially hydrogenated oil that is the cause of blocked arteries and heart disease. There are some food manufacturers however, that list only “hydrogenated oil” in their ingredients, leaving off the all-important “fully” or “partially” in their listing.

So how do you know if a food product contains trans fat if it’s labeled “Contains 0 Trans Fat” and has listed simply “hydrogenated oils” in the ingredients? Well, if you want to avoid trans fats completely and be certain that you are not purchasing products that contain them, here is what you need to do (I have simplified the following points; read this for a fully detailed guide):

  • Read the list of ingredients. You must read that list of ingredients (not the nutrition guide panel), even if the product states on the front that it “contains zero trans fat”. If it lists any of the following in the ingredients, it contains trans fat: hydrogenated oil, partially hydrogenated oil, or shortening.
  • If the ingredient list states that it contains fully hydrogenated oil and none of the 3 ingredients listed above, then that product truly is free of trans fat.
  • If you are purchasing items from a bakery or eating out, ask them if they use partially hydrogenated oil or shortening. If they say they use vegetable oil, ask if it is partially hydrogenated.
  • If you purchase baked or fried foods that don’t list the ingredients, whether in the U.S. or outside of the country, assume that it contains partially hydrogenated oil.

It is possible that a product could be free of trans fat even though it lists simply “hydrogenated oil” in the ingredients, but without qualifying that ingredient with either “fully” or “partially”, the majority of the time it is partially hydrogenated oil.

If you are more interested in limiting your trans fat intake rather than eliminating it completely, it is suggested that you keep all “bad fats” (both trans and saturated) to less than 4 grams per serving, and less than 20 grams per day. The problem is that all products might not list exactly how much trans fat they contain per serving, so again you will have to read your labels. Following is an example using Crisco:

Crisco is being sold with the front banner label “0 Grams Trans Fat Per Serving”. The “per serving” alert you because you think that statement might fall under the FDA guidelines. When you read the list of ingredients you find that it contains:

  • Soybean Oil
  • Fully Hydrogenated Cotton Seed Oil
  • Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed and Soybean Oils
  • Monoacid Diglycerides
  • TBHQ and Citric Acid (Antioxidants)

If you want to completely avoid trans fat, you can see here that the 3rd ingredient is your trans fat, so this product would be out. If it only contained fully hydrogenated oils, then you’d be all set, but that’s not the case.

Then, if you keep combing the label, you’ll find a little part that compares the saturated fat in Crisco with that in butter:

  • 3 grams saturated fat per tbsp in Crisco
  • 7 grams saturated fat per tbsp in butter

This information is beyond the trans fat issue, and now you know that Crisco contains both of the unhealthy “bad” fats. I didn’t see that they listed how many grams of trans fat it contains per serving (their serving size is a tbsp, you usually use at least 1/2 cup of Crisco in baking, depending on the recipe), but we know that it contains trans fat after finding “partially hydrogenated oils” the list of ingredients.

You kind of have to be a super sleuth to break down all of these labeling guidelines, and if you didn’t even know that the FDA allowed processed food manufacturers to state that their product contained zero trans fat per serving as long as it contains less than .5 grams per serving, how would you know that you were still getting trans fat in your diet when you consume these products?

This is all very interesting to me, and important information that I think everyone needs to know. This post was inspired by Angelyn, yet another smart reader of Fearless Fat Loss who contacted me after she noticed that the Crisco she bought (labeled 0 Grams Trans Fat Per Serving) had almost exactly the same ingredients as the former Crisco without that labeling. Thank you for asking me this Angelyn, I learned so more about this topic than I knew before you asked me; I love getting questions from my readers, either through comments or my contact form, keep them coming! 🙂

This post has been entered in the “How To” group writing project that Sarah is sponsoring. If you are a blogger and would like to participate in this fun project, she is taking submissions until September 18, 2007 at 12 midnight PST.