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Trans fat: still under cover. (Special Feature).

Trans fat is hiding in your food, and the government and the food industry want to keep it that way.

Manufacturers create trans fat when they partially hydrogenate oils to make them more solid. There's no doubt that trans raises the risk of heart disease at least as much as saturated fat does (see "Face the Fats," p.1).

So eight years ago, we asked the Food and Drug Administration to require Nutrition Facts labels on food packages to list trans fat. ("We" means the Center for Science in the Public Interest, publisher of Nutrition Action Healthletter.) In 1999, the FDA proposed doing just that.

But earlier this year, the FDA scrapped its plans, thanks to pressure from the edible-oil industry and industry-friendly government officials. So, while the FDA takes months, years, or possibly decades to mull over the issue, you're stuck in the supermarket, trying to guess how much trans your food contains.

To show how tricky those guesses can be, we sent a handful of foods to an independent laboratory to be analyzed for trans fat. If some of the trans numbers look low, keep in mind that a few grams of trans can make a big difference. In some studies, people who ate six grams a day of trans had a substantially higher risk of heart disease than people who ate three grams a day.

These items are just a smattering of the hundreds of trans-laden foods you'll find in the supermarket, but they can give you some clues about where trans may be lurking. For example, it may look like we're picking on Entenmann's because it's the only national brand of fresh baked goods. But other brands of crumb cakes, doughnuts, and cinnamon buns probably have as much trans. Then again, they may not. Without labeling, we'll never know.

Sat Fat: 5 g
Trans Fat: 0 g

Sat Fat: 2 1/2 g
Trans Fat: 2 1/2 g

Entenmann's makes an All Butter French Crumb Cake with five grams of saturated fat--a quarter of a day's worth--in one slice. In contrast, its Crumb Coffee Cake looks less damaging, with only 2 1/2 grams of sat fat in a similar serving.

What the label doesn't tell you is that each slice of the Crumb Coffee Cake has an extra 2 1/2 grams of trans fat. Add that to its saturated fat and the total is no different than the five grams in the All Butter French Crumb Cake.

Oh sure. You can see the "partially hydrogenated vegetable shortening" on the Crumb Coffee Cake's ingredient list. But how much trans does that mean? Without trans labeling, you can't tell.

Jolly Time Butter-Licious
Sat Fat: 1 1/2 g
Trans Fat: 3 g

Newman's Own Pop's Corn
Sat Fat: 4 1/2 g
Trans Fat: 0 g

Newman's Own Pop's Corn with Natural Butter Flavor has no butter. Its fat comes from organic palm oil, which is almost as saturated as butter. That's why each serving has 4 1/2 grams of saturated fat, according to the label. That's nearly a quarter of a day's worth--not good for what should be a fat-free snack.

Jolly Time Butter-Licious, in contrast, looks much healthier. It's got only 1 1/2 grams of sat fat in each serving. What the label doesn't tell you is that Jolly Time also has three grams of hidden trans. Add them to the sat fat and you end up with as much heart trouble as Newman's Own. Paul's popcorn isn't great, but at least his label is honest.

Marie Callender's Chicken Pot Pie
Sat Fat: 20 g
Trans Fat: 16 g

Pepperidge Farm Flaky Crust Pot Pie
Sat Fat: 16 g
Trans Fat: 13 g

Pot pies are back in style. The '50s comfort food has moved upscale ... but its ingredients could revive the runaway heart attack death rates of the '60s.

Judging by the label, Pepperidge Farm's Flaky Crust Chicken Pot Pie has 450 calories and eight grams of sat fat. But look again. Those numbers are for half a pie. Eat the entire pie, as most people do, and you're talking 900 calories and 16 grams of sat fat. Then add the 13 grams of hidden trans fat in each pie and you're up to 29 grams of artery-clogging fat.

Marie Callender's Chicken Pot Pie is worse. Each one has 1,080 calories and 20 grams of saturated fat. Add the 16 grams of hidden trans and you're talking 36 grams of artery goop--nearly two days' worth.

"Now! More Chicken & Vegetables," says Marie's label. "Now! More Angioplasties & Coronary Bypasses" would be more accurate.

Entenmann's Ultimate Super Cinnamon
Sat Fat: 7 g
Trans Fat: 6 g

No one would mistake Entenmann's Ultimate Super Cinnamon Buns for a health food. But people who watch their saturated fat might think that the 3 1/2 grams in each serving is a reasonable price to pay.

Here's what most shoppers will miss: According to the label, a serving is half a bun. So people who eat a whole bun--that is, just about everyone--will get seven grams of sat fat (along with 680 calories). And all shoppers will miss the extra three grams of hidden trans fat in each half-bun, since it's not listed on the label. That brings the total heart-threatening fat to 13 grams per bun--two-thirds of a day's worth.

Gorton's Crunchy Golden Fish Sticks
Sat Fat: 4 g
Trans Fat: 3 g

Eating fish can lower the risk of sudden cardiac death. And the back of the Gorton's Crunchy Golden Fish Sticks box urges you to "Make FISH part of your diet!"

That might not convince careful label-readers to bite, since they'd see that a six-stick serving has four grams of saturated fat. But even that's an understatement. If you call the company, they'll tell you that the sticks have another three grams of trans fat. That adds up to seven grams--a third of a day's worth--of artery-clogging fat.

Mrs. Smith's Apple Pie
Sat Fat: 3 1/2 g
Trans Fat: 4 g

Pie crust is a natural hiding place for trans fat. That's because it takes a solid fat to make a crust flaky, and few companies still use lard or butter.

But even if you noticed the "partially hydrogenated vegetable shortening" on the label--you wouldn't know just how much trans a slice of Mrs. Smith's Apple Pie harbored.

Answer: Along with the 3 1/2 grams of saturated fat listed on the label are four grams of trans. That's 7 1/2 grams of blood vessel sludge--a third of a day's worth.

Entenmann's Rich Frosted Donut
Sat Fat: 5 g
Trans Fat: 5 g

One Entenmann's Rich Frosted Donut has 280 calories and a quarter of a day's saturated fat, according to the label. Not what you'd call a healthy snack.

And it's not the whole picture either. Each doughnut really has half a day's damaging fat. The label has to disclose the five grams of sat fat per doughnut, but the five grams of trans can remain in hiding. No doubt the FDA has a really good explanation for why labels don't have to disclose trans. The truth is that the food industry doesn't want to.

Sat Fat: 1 1/2 g
Trans Fat: 0 g

Sat Fat: 1 1/2 g
Trans Fat: 2 g

Oreos are the top-selling cookies in the U.S. And few people would worry too much about their saturated fat--only 1 1/2 grams per serving (three cookies), according to the label. That's no worse than Newman-O's, a look-alike organic sandwich cookie made with palm oil. (Palm oil is naturally saturated, so Paul can turn it into a "creme" filling without hydrogenation.)

But the Newman-O's label says "No trans-fatty acids," while the Oreo label doesn't mention that each serving has two grams of hidden trans fat. That makes them twice as bad for your heart as Newman-O's.

The information for this article was compiled by Tamar Genger.
COPYRIGHT 2002 Center for Science in the Public Interest
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Liebman, Bonnie
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Date:Jul 1, 2002
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