Artificial trans fat -- the kind that comes from partially hydrogenated oil -- has been called a "metabolic poison" and the "most dangerous fat in the food supply." It promotes heart disease by raising one's "bad" cholesterol (LDL), which clogs arteries, and lowering one's "good" cholesterol (HDL), the kind that guards against heart disease. According to the Institute of Medicine, there is no safe level for trans fat intake, and the American Heart Association recommends limiting it to less than 2 percent of calories per day. That's about two grams. Unless you're a vegan, that's about as much as you can expect to get from the smaller amounts of naturally-occurring trans fat in milk and meat. In other words? There's no room in your diet for anything partially hydrogenated.
Since 2006, when the federal government required trans fat to be listed on nutrition facts labels, most responsible manufacturers of processed foods began reformulating their product lines to get rid of artificial trans fat. (And fortunately, these reformulated products typically end up lower in saturated fat as well as trans fat.) But as a new paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Preventing Chronic Disease (I'm a co-author) shows, some stubborn manufacturers are still sticking with this discredited industrial ingredient despite the consensus that it is dangerous and unnecessary.
What's a shopper to do? If you see anything but "0" in the trans fat line on a nutrition facts label, put the product back on the shelf. And don't stop there. If you see partially hydrogenated oil on the ingredients list, try to find a similar product without it. Those products might have up to half a gram per serving -- something that can add up to dangerous levels over the course of a day.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest is renewing its call to the Food and Drug Administration to ban the use of partially hydrogenated oil altogether. In the meantime, here are some trans fat traps that our investigators found on a recent tour of the supermarket. I'd avoid them all.
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