Fat free falsehoods

By Robyn McGlohn – bio | email

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF)-  In the battle of the bulge, every gram of fat counts, especially when its saturated or trans fats.

There's a loophole, however, that allows food companies to label their product as having zero grams of trans fat, when it actually does have it.

Linda Steakley is a registered dietician so she knows her fats. Steakley said poly-unsaturated and mono-unsaturated fats are the good fats.

She also know which ones are the bad ones and should be avoided.

"The trans fats are probably the worst thing you can put in your mouth," she said.

Dieticians everywhere say trans fats should be the focus of your eating habits.

At the supermarket, it's hard to pass up the cheese crackers, chips and sweets.  They're tempting, convenient and they taste good, but those snacks contain a dangerous fat that can be costly.

Trans fat is a chemically altered fat, and in your body, it increases the bad cholesterol (LDL) and decreases the good cholesterol (HDL).  It's mainly found in baked goods, margarines, and snack foods.  It also helps food last longer.

Trans fat is bad for you, so how can you avoid it?

It's hard, especially when zero doesn't mean zero.

According to the FDA, a company can put zero grams of trans fat on the label if there is less than 0.5 grams in the product.

Companies also can round down their fat measurements to 0.5 as long as they're not off by more than 20%.

Registered dietician Beth Mcilwain said it's deceiving.  "It's a shame it isn't more clear to the consumer and easier for the consumer to get the info they're looking for," she said.

Mcilwain and Steakley both say it's up to you to research the information beyond the label.

"When you pick the bag up and look at the ingredient list, you have partially hydrogenated soybean oil, which is a clue there's probably going to be some trans fats," said Steakley.

She suggests looking for words like "partially hydrogenated": that means there is less than .5 grams of trans fat per serving.

It doesn't seem like much, but it adds up, especially when you're only supposed to have 2 grams a day.

"A) It's almost possible; B) It is necessary, that's why the recommended dosage is 2 grams of fat a day...because it is such a bad fat," said Steakley.

Health experts say having too much trans fat in your diet increases your risk for heart disease by 25%.

In regard to the so called "loophole", the FDA said it is a "guidance" for food companies.

However, they said, "Because congress gave the FDA the authority and responsibility to ensure that food labels have proper nutrition labeling, they believe the proliferation of these symbols, and necessitate our exercising that responsibility to look carefully at how the fronts of food packages are being used."

They said they will re-examine front labels, draft new regulations, and conduct a consumer research program.

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