Do food labels reveal trans-fats?

Ask Peggy

Ask Peggy

DEAR PEGGY: How will the new government-required food labeling help consumers understand why seemingly low-fat foods might still contain trans-fat? —R.W., Brownstown, Michigan

Trans-fat is an unsaturated fat that raises LDL (bad) blood cholesterol. Many think that trans-fat predominately comes from margarine, but margarine accounts for less than 20% of the trans-fat in the average American diet.

Most of the fat comes from commercially baked goods such as cakes, cookies, doughnuts and crackers. The trans-fats in these foods can largely be attributed to partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.

As of January 2006, the trans-fat content will have to be listed on Nutrition Facts panels if a standard serving has more than 0.5 g total fat.

At that time, you may be surprised to find partially hydrogenated oils on ingredients lists even though the Nutrition Facts panels indicate no trans-fat.

In these cases, it will be important to remember that, as with other nutrients, the trans-fat is listed as zero whenever it's under 0.5g per serving. In other words, there may be a trace of trans-fat in a single serving, but the amount is considered nutritionally insignificant.

In addition to reading nutrition panels and ingredients lists, savvy shoppers should also pay attention to the claims listed on packaged foods.

Foods that advertise that they help reduce the risk of cancer need to be low in total fat. Claims to reduce the risk of heart disease can only appear on items with little cholesterol that are low in saturated and total fats.

Neither of these claims mean that the product is low in trans-fat. So even if you see one of these health claims, you'll need to check the trans-fat content on the Nutrition Facts panel.