So, I don’t know how else to say this, but, food companies are lying to you. Yes, YOU. The really strange part is that they are actually allowed to lie to you… by law.
I’m not even joking. It’s plain old crazy.
The lying takes place on the nutrition facts label of whatever kind of box or package or container your food came in. You know, where the ingredients are listed, along with other nutritional information like how many calories or carbs there are per serving. All of that information is usually true and accurate. However, when you get to trans fat, that all changes.
First and foremost, for anyone who doesn’t know what trans fat is, let me give you a very quick and simple description. It’s one of the “bad” types of fat. In fact, trans fat is the baddest of them all, and that’s “horrible” bad, not “hip and cool” bad. How bad? Well, think of a health problem someone could have. Go ahead, any health problem. Got it? Ok. There is a very good chance that whatever you thought of is one of the many health problems and diseases caused by eating a diet high in trans fat.
But, most people are already aware of how terrible trans fat is for you. Most of these people became aware of this around January 1, 2006, which is the date that the FDA started requiring that trans fat content be included on the nutrition facts label of all foods. Yup, they meant business. Trans fat is borderline poison, and now we can feel safe knowing that all we need to do is take a peek at the nutrition facts label of our food to make sure we aren’t eating any of it.
Well, not quite. This is where the lying is happening.
See, there is a largely unknown loophole in the FDA’s trans fat requirement. Instead of telling you what this loophole is, I’ll let the FDA explain it for me. Here is a direct quote from a “question and answer” page on the official web site of the Food and Drug Administration.
Q: How will the nutrition label be different?
A: The FDA final rule on trans fatty acids (also called “trans fat”) requires that the amount of trans fat in a serving be listed on a separate line under saturated fat on the Nutrition Facts panel (see figure). However, 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.
Get all that? I bolded the important part for you. Basically, here’s what they’re saying. If a food has 1 gram of trans fat per serving, it will say “Trans Fat: 1 gram” on the nutrition facts label of that food. If that food has 0 grams of trans fat per serving, it will say “Trans Fat: 0 grams” on the label. However, if a food has exactly 0.49 grams of trans fat per serving, it will say “Trans Fat: 0 grams” on the label.
Let that one sink in for a second. Food companies are allowed by law to tell you that there is “0 grams” of trans fat in the food you are eating even though there actually IS trans fat in that food. Insane, isn’t it?
So now, the food you eat will mention trans fat ONLY if there is more than 0.5 grams of it per serving. If there are 0.1, 0.2, 0.3, 0.4, or 0.49999999 grams, it will still say there is no trans fat in the food. There’s really no other way to look at that… it’s a lie. Plain and simple.
There is of course an excuse for this insanity. The FDA claims that anything below 0.5 grams is considered a “very small amount” of trans fat. So, by that logic, if a certain amount of poison will kill me, I’ll be just fine consuming 0.4 grams since that would be a “very small amount” of poison. Mmmm, fantastic.
ANY trans fat is too much trans fat, no matter what the amount. It’s one of the worst possible things you can possibly put into your body. 0.4 grams, 0.5 grams, or 10 grams, I don’t care. I don’t want any of it, and anyone who cares at all about their health shouldn’t want ANY of it either. Unfortunately though, food companies are telling you that you aren’t eating any, even though you are.
Another key thing to keep in mind here is the term “serving size.” Food companies only need to report how much trans fat there is in one serving of there food. Did you ever pay attention to what “one serving” of most foods is? For example, for most cereals, one serving is usually 3/4 of a cup. Chances are there is at least double that amount in one average sized bowl of cereal. Another serving size might be “3 crackers.” How many people only eat exactly 3 crackers? Not many.
My point here is that most people eat more than “one serving” of most foods. And since trans fat only needs to be mentioned on food labels if there is 0.5 grams or more trans fat per serving, that means that if the food contained 0.4 grams, and you eat 4 servings of it, there’s 1.6 grams of trans fat. 1.6 is well above 0.5, yet the label will still only say 0 grams per serving. And, if you eat 4 servings of that food, 4 x 0 still equals 0 grams of trans fat. You continue to think you didn’t eat any, when in reality you ate 1.6 grams. How wonderful.
And don’t think food companies don’t take complete advantage of this loophole. I’m sure there are plenty of foods that are now purposely made with exactly 0.49 grams of trans fat per serving for the sole purpose of being allowed to put “Trans Fat: 0 grams” on their nutrition facts label. I’m also sure plenty of foods have seen a reduction in their serving size. If one serving used to be 1 full cup, and that contained 0.8 grams, all they need to do is change their serving size to half a cup, and the trans fat per serving drops down to magic number 0.4, which to them translates into “Trans Fat: 0 grams.”
Now that you fully understand this nonsense, let me show you how to spot it on your foods so you can avoid being tricked, and avoid eating that food. I actually mentioned this briefly when explaining another lie, 100% whole wheat bread. The key to finding out for sure if there is any trans fat in your food even when the label reads “Trans Fat: 0 grams” is by reading through the list of ingredients of that food.
The keywords you are looking for in those ingredients are “shortening” and the MUCH more common “hydrogenated.” If you see either of those words used in any way, there is trans fat in your food. Hydrogenated is used to describe an oil, as in “hydrongenated soybean oil” or “hydrogenated vegetable oil.” A lot of times it may use the words “partially hydrogenated.” As in, “partially hydrogenated soybean oil.” Partially hydrogenated or not, it’s still trans fat just the same.
Oh, and in case anyone thinks I’m making this stuff up, here’s another quote from the FDA web site:
Q: Is it possible for a food product to list the amount of trans fat as 0 g on the Nutrition Facts panel if the ingredient list indicates that it contains “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil?”
A: Yes. Food manufacturers are allowed to list amounts of trans fat with less than 0.5 gram (1/2 g) as 0 (zero) on the Nutrition Facts panel. As a result, consumers may see a few products that list 0 gram trans fat on the label, while the ingredient list will have “shortening” or “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” on it. This means the food contains very small amounts (less than 0.5 g) of trans fat per serving.
If any of those words I mentioned above make an appearance in your food’s ingredient list, then it contains some amount of trans fat.
So, there you go. You’ll still be lied to about the trans fat in your food, only now you’ll be able to catch it and avoid it.