Foods that contain trans fats have "partially hydrogenated oil" or "hydrogenated oil" listed in the ingredients. Before
trans fats were required to be listed on nutrition labels, from January 2006, this was our only way of knowing whether
these harmful fats were present. Yet a number of products state "0g Trans Fat" or declare themselves to be trans-fat
free but still have these oils listed in their ingredients. How can this be?
There are two reasons why foods containing hydrogenated oils may be labeled trans-fat free, or list 0g trans fats on the
label. First, items that list partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredients but contain less than 0.5g of trans fats are
considered by the government to be trans-fat free. A good example of this would be commercial peanut butter, which
contains a tiny amount of partially hydrogenated oil to prevent separation. Second, products that contain fully
hydrogenated oils are trans-fat free. Crisco’s trans-fat free shortening, in the green packaging, falls into this category.
Let's take a closer look at hydrogenation.
Hydrogenation is the chemical process by which liquid vegetable oil is turned into solid fat. Partially hydrogenated oils
contain trans fatty acids, or trans fats, which are more harmful than saturated fats.
Trans fats raise levels of bad cholesterol and lower levels of good cholesterol.
When liquid vegetable oil is fully hydrogenated, however, almost no trans fats remain. The resulting fat is even more
solid, taking on a hard, waxy consistency, even at room temperature. Full hydrogenation increases the amount of
saturated fat, although much of it is in the form of stearic acid, which is converted by the body to oleic acid, a
monounsaturated fat, which doesn't raise levels of bad cholesterol. This makes fully hydrogenated fats less harmful than
partially hydrogenated fats.
Crisco’s trans-fat free shortening contains fully hydrogenated cottonseed oil, which is blended with sunflower oil and
soybean oil to soften what would otherwise be a too-hard fat. To be clear; just because it is trans-fat-free doesn’t make
it low fat. One tablespoon of trans-fat free shortening contains 110 calories, 12g of fat, 3g of which is saturated. It is
cholesterol free, however.
Beware: if a package simply lists "hydrogenated oil," without expressly stating whether it is partially or fully
hydrogenated, it may not be trans-fat free. Sometimes the terms "hydrogenated" and "partially hydrogenated" are used
interchangeably. If the package clearly states that it contains fully hydrogenated oil, then it will be trans-fat free. With the
new labeling laws, trans fats are more transparent than they used to be, and many food manufacturers continue to look
for healthier alternatives for their products.
What exactly is meant by low fat? There are so many confusing labels out there. Scan the aisles at the grocery stores
and you’ll see all kinds of claims — lean, light, reduced fat, low cholesterol, low calorie, fat-free, etc. The list seems
endless. Small wonder we throw our hands up in despair. Yet all of these terms are government-regulated and have
specific meanings. But they do not mean the same thing.
Here’s a list of some of the most common claims and what they really mean:
Fat Free - Less than 0.5g of fat per serving
XX% Fat Free - Must also meet the low fat claim (below)
Low Fat - 3g or less per serving; or 3g per 100g for a meal or main dish, and 30% of total calories or less
Reduced Fat - 25% less fat than food it is being compared to
Low Saturated Fat - 1g or less and 15% or less of calories from saturated fat
Light/Lite - 50% less fat or one-third fewer calories than the regular product
Lean - Less than 10g of fat, 4.5g of saturated fat and 95mg of cholesterol per 100g of meat, poultry or seafood
Extra Lean - Less than 5g of fat, 2g of saturated fat and 95mg of cholesterol per serving and per 100g of meat, poultry
Low Cholesterol - 20mg or less per serving and 2g or less saturated fat per serving
Cholesterol Free - Less than 2mg per serving and 2g or less saturated fat per serving
Less Cholesterol - 25% or less than the food it is being compared to, and 2g or less saturated fat per serving
Low Calorie - 40 calories or less per serving
There are other claims for sodium, carbohydrates, sugar and fiber, but for those of us looking specifically at fat intake,
these labels can tell us a lot.
A package of reduced-fat muffins is unlikely to be a low-fat, low-calorie food. If its original fat content per muffin was 20g,
and the fat has been reduced to 15g, it is still five times higher than the 3g per serving that officially qualifies as low fat.
And that jar of light mayonnaise in the refrigerator may indeed be half the calories and fat of regular mayonnaise, but let’
s see what that really means; the regular mayo has 11g of fat and 100 calories per serving; the light mayo has 5g of fat
and 50 calories per serving. Yet the fat calories in the light mayonnaise still account for 45 (or 90%) of those 50 calories.
So if you’re looking for low fat items, make sure it says exactly that on the label. A final note of caution; watch out for
those packages of fat-free cookies. If you eat more than the single serving size, they cease to be a fat-free snack. All
those fractions of a gram add up and count towards your daily fat intake.