2005-04-15 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer


Audrey PhefferAudrey Pheffer If you have heard it once, you have heard it a thousand times: you are what you eat. Unfortunately, knowing what’s good for you isn’t as easy or as simple as it used to be. The food pyramid is in constant flux; scientists, doctors, and nutritionists are constantly coming up with new nutritional findings from their research, and there is a seemingly endless supply of different diets, diet books, diet gurus, and diet products flooding the market at any one time. Dealing with all of the new information can be both daunting and confusing for the consumer. In order to simplify things and provide consumers with additional information to make healthier food choices, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be updating its food labeling requirements to include trans fats.

Trans fats, also known as trans fatty acids, are a type of fat that is formed when liquid oils are transformed into solid oils such as hard margarine or shortening. This process is known as hydrogenation, and it occurs when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil. Trans fats act similarly to saturated fat. Both trans and saturated fats have been shown to raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, which increases the risk for coronary heart disease. According to the FDA, trans fats are generally found in vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, cookies, snack foods, and other foods made with or fried in partially hydrogenated oils.

The new FDA mandated labels will be required to list the amount of trans fat present in the food item for all food items that contain more than 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving. All foods that have less than 0.5 grams of trans fats will list the amount of trans fats as zero grams per serving. The trans fats listing will be located directly below the saturated fat on the food label. No percentage of daily value will be listed for trans fats because the FDA has not determined the recommended daily value of trans fats.

The FDA requires that all food manufacturers begin adhering to the new guidelines no later than January 1, 2006, but you may find that some manufacturers have begun compliance already. If a particular manufacturer is not yet in compliance with the FDA regulations, a consumer can generally tell if trans fats are in the food by looking for partially hydrogenated vegetable oil in the food’s ingredients. The FDA does not recommend completely eliminating trans fats since this would require the elimination of some healthy foods, such as certain dairy and meat products, in which trans fats occur naturally. The elimination of trans fats could lead to potential nutritional deficiencies. Instead the FDA recommends choosing foods low in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol. Generally, food with less than 5% of the recommended daily value is considered to be low, and foods with 20% or more of the daily value are considered high. Remember, the percentage of daily value does not apply to trans fats. The FDA also recommends choosing monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats over saturated and trans fats as these fats do not raise LDL cholesterol and even yield health benefits when eaten in moderation.

To learn more about trans fats and the new food labels, visit the United States Food and Drug Administration’s website at www.fda.gov or www.nutrition.gov. The FDA can also be contacted at 1-888-INFO-FDA (1-888-463-6332).Your physician or nutritionist may also be able to provide helpful information.

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