Beginning in January 2008, the FDA required that trans fats be included on food labels based on the conclusion of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 2005 that there is no safe level of trans fats in the diet.
Trans fats are a man made, aka factory fat created by the highly industrialized, chemical process of partial hydrogenation. This is why trans fats are sometimes referred to as partially hydrogenated fats.
Trans Fat = Partially Hydrogenated Fat
The list of ailments associated with trans fats are many:
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Auto Immune Disorders
- Degeneration of bones and tendons
- Heart Disease
With the labels of most processed foods now proudly displaying zero trans fats, consumers may think they have now rid themselves of this dangerous fat.
In recent months, the Weston A. Price Foundation contracted with the Burnsides Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois to test various grocery items for trans fat content.
While the results of this testing did indeed indicate that the trans fat content of processed foods is greatly reduced, it is far from gone.
This is because food manufacturers are permitted to put ZERO next to the trans fat line item on the label as long as the food contains .5 grams or less of trans fat per serving.
Food manufacturers work around this requirement by making their serving sizes unnaturally small and not based on the reality of how people actually consume their products.
If an individual eats an entire bag of chips or close to it while watching TV, for instance, quite a bit of trans fats will be consumed. Remember that the NAS said that there is no safe level of trans fat consumption.
The good news is that some of the foods tested, Oreos and Goldfish crackers for example, accurately tested at zero transfats.
This doesn’t mean these foods are actually free from factory fats, however. It just means that they are free of one type of dangerous fat – trans fats.
Interesterified fats are the go to factory fat used in place of trans fats in processed foods nowadays and these fats have their own health concerns as they are very high in cancer causing free radicals due to the high heat processing required to produce them.
So, while Country Crock is labeled “heart healthy” because it is very low in transfats, on the flip side it is very high in delicate omega-6 fats (vegetable oils) that when subjected to the high heat interesterification process required to produce the spread, become dangerous to health and very likely carcinogenic.
Trans Fats in Animal Foods
One last point about trans fats. Don’t fall for the misguided argument that animal foods like butter, cream, and grassfed meat should be avoided as they contain a small amount of naturally occurring trans fat.
Federal labeling for trans fats does not distinguish between naturally occurring trans fat and the artificially created, synthetic kind.
The fact is that the trans fat in animal foods is completely different than the factory produced trans fats in processed foods.
Trans fat in animal foods is actually trans vaccenic acid (VA) and is used by humans to synthesize conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). CLA is highly beneficial for losing weight and building muscle mass.
CLA can reduce risk factors for the Big Three of degenerative disease: obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
So next time you see a ZERO next to the trans fats on your favorite processed food label, know that chances are these dangerous factory fats are still in there. But don’t be put off by trans fat content of natural foods like butter as these trans fats will help keep you slim and healthy!
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
Sources: Trans Fats in the Food Supply, Sally Fallon Morell, Wise Traditions Journal, Winter 2011.