Elizabeth S. Reames | 4/19/2005 10:28:32 PM
Food manufacturers have until January 1, 2006, to list trans fat on their nutrition labels, but some manufacturers have already started the practice, according to LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames.
"Diets high in trans fat increase the risk of coronary heart disease by increasing LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol levels," Reames explains, adding that coronary heart disease is a leading cause of death in the United States. Nearly 13 million Americans suffer from coronary heart disease, and more than 500,000 die each year from causes related to coronary heart disease.
"Having the amount of unhealthy trans fatty acids, or trans fat, listed on the label will give consumers better information when choosing their foods," Reames says, noting that trans fat will be listed on food nutrition labels directly under the line for saturated fat.
The FDA regulation will require that manufacturers of most conventional foods and some dietary supplements to list in the Nutrition Facts panel the trans fat content of the product, in addition to the information about its overall fat content and saturated fat content.
Reames explains that trans fat occurs in foods when manufacturers use hydrogenation, a process in which hydrogen is added to vegetable oil, to turn the oil into a more solid fat. Trans fat is often, but not always, found in the same foods as saturated fat, such as vegetable shortening, some margarines, crackers, candies, cookies, snack foods, fried foods, baked goods, salad dressings and other processed foods.
"The information on food labels will now give consumers a more complete picture of fat content in foods," the nutritionist says, adding, "It will allow them to choose foods low in trans fat, saturated fat and cholesterol, all of which are associated with an increased risk of heart disease." Reducing the intake of trans fat and saturated fats is recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
In addition, dietary supplement manufacturers will now need to list trans fat, as well as saturated fat and cholesterol, on the Supplement Facts panel when their products contain more than trace amounts (0.5 gram) of trans fat. Examples of dietary supplements that may contain trans fat are energy and nutrition bars.
Research is under way to determine how much trans fat consumers might safely eat. Current research shows that the less saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol consumed, the better.
According to the Institute of Medicine, there are no data to support a health benefit of trans fat.
All fats are not the same and have different effects on blood cholesterol levels. High blood levels of LDL and total cholesterol are risk factors for heart disease. Eating too many foods high in saturated fat may increase blood levels of LDL and total cholesterol. Eating foods high in monounsaturated fatty acids may help lower LDL cholesterol levels and decrease risk of heart disease.
Reames says eating polyunsaturated fats in place of saturated fats decreases LDL cholesterol levels. Trans fatty acids act like saturated fats and raise LDL cholesterol levels. They also may lower HDL cholesterol in the blood.
Until food labels list trans fat, consumers have to read the ingredients list to learn if an item contains trans fat. If the list includes "shortening," "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil" or "hydrogenated vegetable oil," the food contains trans fat. Because ingredients are listed in descending order of predominance, smaller amounts are present when the ingredient is close to the end of the list.
"Restaurants aren’t required to list the fat content of their foods," Reames notes, adding "So it’s a good idea to always ask which fats are being used to prepare the food you order."
For information on related family and consumer topics, visit the FCS Web site at http://www.lsuagcenter.com/Inst/
Extension/Departments/fcs/ For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.