In 2003, the government announced that it would require Nutrition Facts labels on packaged foods to disclose trans fat. That was 10 years after the Center for Science in the Public Interest (publisher of Nutrition Action Healthletter) first asked for trans labeling. Then the food industry got another three years to analyze foods for trans and print new labels.
Finally, as of January 1, 2006, trans numbers are here. And the good news is: most of them are zero. Many companies have gone out of their way to get rid of trans fat, which is even worse for your heart than saturated fat.
But that doesn't automatically make trans-free foods a gift to your arteries. Many are still high in saturated fat. And restaurant foods are often high in both bad fats ... with no labels to warn you.
Here are a few trans traps that may be skulking around your local supermarket. Some others to watch out for: stick margarine, biscuits, cake frosting, and frozen french fries.
It looks so harmless. Celeste frozen Vegetable Pizza for One is a mere seven inches across smaller than a Frisbee. While you'd expect some saturated fat (and no trans fat) from the cheese, this pizza, with its green and red peppers, mushrooms, onions, and olives, ought to be better than most.
But 4 1/2 grams of sat fat plus 4 1/2 grams of trans (half a day's bad fat) in each six-ounce, 380-calorie, single-serve pizza? That's bad enough, even without the 1,060 mg of sodium--two-thirds of a day's max.
In contrast, Lean Cuisine Roasted Vegetable Pizza, which weighs the same and also serves one, goes easy on the cheese, so it ends up with no trans and just 1 1/2 grams of sat fat.
(Caution: on other pizzas, zero trans may not mean zero damage. A six-ounce serving of trans-free DiGiorno Rising Crust Vegetable Pizza. for example, contains 5 grams of saturated fat--a quarter of a day's worth.)
Where does Celeste get all of its trans fat? Some comes from the partially hydrogenated vegetable oil in the crust, but most is tucked into the "low-moisture part-skim mozzarella cheese substitute," which consists largely of water, casein (a milk protein), and partially hydrogenated soybean oil.
Sounds like Vegetable Pizza for No One.
Plain old popcorn is high in fiber and low in calories, fat, and salt. So what makes Pop Secret Movie Theater Butter microwave popcorn so bad?
Pop Secret adds enough partially hydrogenated soybean oil (to its natural and artificial butter flavor) to supply 6 grams of trans fat (and 4 grams of saturated fat) to each six-cup "snack size" bag.
Why so much? Companies say that they need a solid (saturated or partially hydrogenated) fat, because an unsaturated one (like ordinary canola oil) would seep through the bags as they sit on the grocery store shelf.
In other words, if the trans fat doesn't get you, the sat fat will. Newman's Own Pop's Corn may have zero trans, but its palm kernel oil gives each six-cup serving 8 grams of saturated fat.
Of course, companies have already figured out how to cut the sat and the trans: low-fat microwave popcorn. Both Orville Redenbacher's Smart Pop and Pop Secret 94% Fat Free Butter popcorn need no trans and virtually no sat fat to please die-hard popcorn fans.
Is the fatty popcorn for that vast number of Americans who need to put on weight or who are itching to take cholesterol-lowering drugs? Or is it for those who simply don't know any better?
Going to Pot
"Pepperidge Farm Roasted Turkey Premium Pot Pie brings an entirely new level of superb flavor and texture to one of America's favorite classics," says the label, which boasts about the "large chunks of roasted white meat turkey and generous amounts of carrots, corn, peas and celery, in rich, smooth gravy all inside a flaky crust that bakes to golden perfection ..."
Not a word about the partially hydrogenated vegetable shortening and the 9 grams of trans fat, 10 grams of saturated fat, and 890 milligrams of sodium in each 500-calorie serving ... half a pie.
Instead of trans-laden shortening, Amy's pot pies contain butter and Boston Market's and Stouffer's rely on lard. So with or without trans fat, most pot pies are good for little more than obstructing the arteries that run beneath your pot belly.
Doughnut lovers are between a rock and a hard place. Doughnuts are typically fried, and are sometimes coated with frostings made with oils that are either saturated (like palm) or trans-laden (partially hydrogenated).
A single (200-calorie) Krispy Kreme Original Glazed Doughnut, for example, serves up 4 grams of trans fat and 3 grams of saturated fat. That's a third of a day's worth of bad fat.
Worse yet, each Krispy Kreme Chocolate Iced Kreme Filled Doughnut deposits 6 grams of trans plus 5 grams of sat fat into your artery walls and 350 calories into your storage tank. Not a pretty picture.
Tastykake Donuts are also trans traps. And while Entenmann's has dumped the trans from all of its doughnuts, each of its chocolate-frosted doughnuts still has 13 grams of saturated fat--two-thirds of a day's worth
Bottom line: have a biscotti (and not a coated one) with your cup of Joe.
Life of Pie
Many frozen pies and cheesecakes from Mrs. Smith's, Sara Lee, Marie Callender's, and other companies still have trans fat. But when it comes to bad fat, Edwards Chocolate Cheesecake takes the you-know-what.
According to the big print, it's a "Velvety Smooth Cheesecake in a Chocolate Cookie Crust Made With Hershey's." But the small print reveals a mixture of sugar, cream cheese, partially hydrogenated vegetable shortening (made of soybean, palm kernel, and coconut oils), water, flour, milk, cocoa, margarine (made of partially hydrogenated soybean oil and water), and a couple of dozen gums, flavorings, and preservatives.
If that doesn't dampen your appetite, how do 510 calories, 7 grams of trans fat, and 13 grams of saturated fat per slice sound? Maybe like a full day's worth of bad fat in a fifth of a pie?
But trans-free pies and cakes can also be heart hazards. Wholly Healthy New York Style Cheesecake has no trans, but each slice is teeming with 14 grams of sat fat, thanks to butter in the crumb crust and cream cheese, sour cream, and cream in the filling. Mrs. Smith's fruit pies have no trans either, but they still deliver some 7 grams of saturated fat per slice.
Solution for pie lovers: make your own (see Jan./Feb. 2006, p.12, for recipes)
"0 g Trans Fat!" says the label of Nestle Crunch Ice Cream Bars. Sounds like zero threat to the arteries, no?
No. Each bar has 11 grams (half a day's worth) of sat fat.
To avoid tricking consumers who might assume that any trans-free food is good for their hearts, the Food and Drug Administration considered placing limits on the saturated fat in products that make "trans-free" claims.
Thanks in part to industry opposition, the agency never reached a decision. So "trans-free" is illegal on food labels until the FDA defines the claim.
But "0 grams trans fat" is perfectly fine, say the feds. Talk about loopholes.
It's not just Nestle Crunch. You'll find "0 grams trans!" claims on dozens of foods that aren't low in sat fat, like Mrs. Smith's Apple Pie (7 grams of sat), Mrs. Paul's Crunchy Fish Fillets (5 grams), Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough (3 grams), and Land O'Lakes Margarine (3 grams).
Another FDA blunder: if the label says "0 grams trans," a serving of the food may have as much as 0.49 grams of trans fat, which isn't trivial.