Wednesday, July 15, 2009

When is zero not really zero? When it describes your food.

I’m going to just say this: I’m a bit anal when it comes to my food.

I’m not perfect, but I make a real effort to eat healthy. My husband does too. We do it for ourselves but more importantly, we do it for our children.

Mark has a relatively blemish-free family medical history (you may recall that his grandfather lived to be 103.)

Mine however, reads like the warning label on a pack of cigarettes (unfiltered ones at that):
• Cancer
• Diabetes
• High blood pressure
• Heart attack

As a result of my wonderful genetics, I have high cholesterol.

How high is it?

High. 'Nuff said.

It is why I don’t’ “just “ exercise: I do triathlons. It is why I watch what I eat. It is why, most especially, I avoid trans fat like the plague.

You see, trans fat is the worst kind of fat to eat because it:
• Increases “bad” LDL cholesterol
• Decreases “good” HDL cholesterol
• Causes heart disease and stroke
• Contributes to diabetes and obesity

It negatively impacts your health even when eaten in small amounts. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, adding just 4 grams of trans fat to your diet each day—which represents just 2% of your daily calories in a 2,000-calorie diet—increases your risk of heart disease by 23%!

As a result, the American Heart Association recommends that the average person eat less than 2 grams of trans fat each day. However, it goes on to note that there is enough naturally occurring trans fat in some meat and dairy products that most people reach the maximum 2 grams without the additional consumption of the man-made trans fat found in many popular foods.

There’s no question about it: Trans fats are horrible for you. Even if your cholesterol is 78, like my husbands (OK, maybe it isn’t that low, but it is LOW), you still shouldn’t be eating them.

Avoiding trans fat should be easy, right? Just look at the handy-dandy nutrition panel on the packaging of any food product and find the row devoted to trans fats. If it reads “0g” then you’re good to go, right?


A few years ago the FDA, that fantastic government agency put in place to cater to food industry lobbyists protect consumers, established some guidelines for food companies to follow when listing the trans fat content of their food on the nutrition panel.

Are you ready for this?

So long as a food has less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, it can list the trans fat content as ZERO on the nutrition panel.


The problem with this is clear:

First, companies identify unreasonably small serving sizes for their products. The serving size for Fruit Loops is one cup, but the average bowl easily holds more than that.

Second, there are tons and tons of foods on the market with ‘trace amounts’ (under 0.5 grams per serving) of trans fats. Just look at these pictures. The nutrition panel on ALL of these foods claim zero trans fat, but they all have trans fat in them*:






So, let’s say you have a bowl of Fruit Loops for breakfast. At lunch, maybe you have a handful of Baked Doritos. Later in the day, you’re hungry, so you grab a Quaker granola bar. After dinner, you have a couple of Whole Wheat Fig Newtons (because hey! Whole wheat is healthy, right?) Later watching TV, you have a couple of crackers (Ritz, Saltines, or maybe even Wheatsworth) with a little Skippy peanut butter slathered on them.

Since all of those products have trans fat, you’ve just EASILY exceeded the 2 daily grams that the AHA recommends. In fact, you’ve probably consumed at least six, and maybe more, grams of trans fat.

And you didn’t even know it.

So how can you tell if a product has trans fat? You have to look beyond the nutrition panel and study the list of ingredients.

If anywhere in the ingredient list you see the words “partially hydrogenated,” “hydrogenated vegetable oil,” and/or “shortening,” then the product has trans fat.


The thing that particularly galls me about this is that many foods print “0g Trans Fat!” right on the front of their packaging in big, bold letters:



And we wonder why American's are 1. so confused about food and 2. so unhealthy.

These labels are there to deceive you by saying, “WOW! Aren’t we just the best? We are so healthy and responsible,” when in reality, they’ve probably tweaked their serving size just enough so it contains under 0.5 grams. It’s sneaky. And it sucks. And our government allows it, probably because enough food industry lobbyists greased the pockets of enough people in the FDA.

But you know who pays the ultimate price? People who eat this garbage, thinking they’re doing the right thing when in reality they are seriously damaging their health.

*This food is not from our pantry. Rather, Mark purchased it to use as a prop for a Toastmasters speech he recently delivered on this very topic. All of it was returned, unopened, to the supermarket following the speech.

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Blogger Momisodes said...

That is frightening.

It is so wrong to mislead consumers this way. It's hard to decipher what is truly healthy these days.

10:28 PM  
Blogger Lady M said...

Yuck. I definitely need to improve my eating. It's pretty good when I'm home, because I need to set a good example for the kids, but late at night, I'll admit to snacking.

I was wondering about those pictures - clever!

12:07 AM  
Anonymous Alex B. said...

Thanks for revealing the truth. Those stinkin bastards...
P.S. Why is Mark taking Toastmaster's?? He doesn't need any training in that area!

8:09 AM  
Blogger alejna said...

What a great, informative post! Thanks so much for laying all this out so clearly.

And argh. How infuriating that the system allows--even facilitates-- this sort of deception.

9:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That really pisses me off and scares me.

I eat a lot of saltines..
I had no idea.


10:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's why it's just best to avoid processed foods altogether. Eating foods in their most natural state is the only way to be more or less sure of what you're getting. I say more or less because we can't always be sure about how things were grown and what sort of crap was added to the stuff back on the Frankenfarm. Buying organic and local is best...scary stuff.. and they wonder why there's so much cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, etc., etc.

2:03 PM  
Anonymous Casey said...

Incredibly enlightening article!

11:15 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

Wow. Thanks for sharing this.. I too suffer from high cholesterol and I try to eat healthy as well because of it..

11:40 AM  
Blogger Maureen said...

It is total BS!

And, I must say I was surprised at first that all those foods would come out of your cabinet!

3:21 PM  
Blogger Kimberly said...

I know, people, I know. It is crazy. I'm still dumfounded trying to figure out what the FDA was thinking.

XUP - you are so right. We do a make a real effort to eat organic/local. But then sometimes you're out running and you need to just grab something. That's where you've got to read those labels.

9:07 PM  
Blogger katogill said...

I guess I just don't get it. I have basically some of the same crummy genes as you and I have low cholesterol. And you're the one that is exercising and in good shape and eating all of the right foods. My doctor who takes the heart disease in my mother's side of family very seriously, wants me to take a stress test in the fall for preventative measures and as a baseline for the future. Thanks for all of the informative food information. Great stuff.
Aunt Kath

1:41 PM  
Blogger Eva said...

Yeah, that's why I read the ingredients list and not the nutrition info, and try to avoid things in a box! I have horrible genes but good eating habits, which my GP said she can just tell from the numbers.

9:26 PM  
Anonymous amanda said...

So, so frustrating. Good for you for being vigilant, I hope it pays off 103 times ;)

PS Just voted for you!

3:23 PM  
Blogger Magpie said...

This is infuriating. I hope that the government gets some spine, and improves food labeling.

2:15 PM  

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