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Identifying Transgressing Trans Fats

Eating for good health just got a whole lot easier now that food manufacturers are required to list trans fats on nutrition labels.

Many manufacturers reformulated products to reduce or eliminate these fats, which are implicated in heart disease. Consequently, there have been some big changes since the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHSS) released its top 10 trans fat foods in its 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

There's no official recommended daily allowance (RDA) for trans fats, but eat just half a doughnut, and you've hit the 2-gram daily limit, according to Carlos Camargo, MD, DrPH, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and member of the 2005 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. That's not hard to do when about 40 percent of products in your supermarket contain trans fats, and many restaurants and fast-food chains, which are not required to provide nutrition information, fry with partially hydrogenated oils.

WebMD can help you become a trans fat detective. It's not simply a matter of grabbing products with the alluring come-on: "no trans fats."

"Be aware that the FDA allows food manufacturers to label any product that has less than half a gram of trans fat per serving as zero," says Cindy Moore, MS, RD, director of nutrition therapy at The Cleveland Clinic. "You could be getting up to 0.49 grams of trans fat in a serving and not know it. It quickly adds up."

For example, the package of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter says "No Trans Fat," and the Nutrition Facts label lists the value for trans fats per serving as zero. Read on. In the ingredients list are the words "partially hydrogenated vegetable oils." "Partially hydrogenated" is the clue to hidden trans fats.

The List

Following are the top 10 categories of foods that made the "most unwanted list." Some formerly bad characters have cleaned up their act. Values listed for trans fats are per serving.

1. Spreads. Margarine continues to be a major culprit. Stick margarine is worse than soft margarine.

  • Blue Bonnet stick margarine — 1.5 grams
  • Fleischmann's stick margarine — 2 grams
  • Land O'Lakes stick margarine — 2.5 grams
  • Smart Balance tub margarine — 0
  • Smucker's Natural Peanut Butter — 0
Tip: Dip bread in flavored olive oil instead of slathering it with butter.

2. Packaged Foods. Enter the aisles of quick mixes as though you're going into a dangerous neighborhood. Good news for parents, though: Kraft has reformulated most of its products, and Easy Mac now has no trans fats.

  • Bisquick Lite — 0
  • Betty Crocker, Duncan Hines, and Pillsbury cake mixes — from 0.5 to 1.5 grams
  • Duncan Hines Classic Vanilla Frosting — 1.5 grams
  • Betty Crocker Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting — 1.5 grams
  • Krusteaz Key Lime Bars — 1 gram
  • Ghirardelli Triple Chocolate Brownies — 1 gram
  • Keebler Ready Crust, Graham — 2 grams
  • Lipton Pasta Sides — 0 grams
  • Kraft Easy Mac — 0 grams
  • Old El Paso Taco Shells — 2.5 grams
Tip: Moore suggests baking cakes from scratch and making frosting with fat-free cream cheese drizzled with melted chocolate. Or replace frosting with jelly or powdered sugar.

3. Soups. Ramen noodles, once a source of trans fats, now have none. Many soups and even soup cups also have none. Check labels nevertheless. Bear Creek Cheddar Broccoli soup mix has 2 grams.

Tip: The words "lite" and "reduced fat" do not necessarily indicate an absence of trans fats.

4. Fast Food. Fast-food and other restaurants are among the major users of partially hydrogenated oils, but they're not required to provide nutrition labels. Still, they're under pressure from public interest groups to reduce or eliminate trans fats. French fries at McDonald's are now trans fat-free, but many breakfast items are loaded. A sausage biscuit has 5 grams of trans fats, a deluxe warm cinnamon roll has 6, and a deluxe breakfast has 11.

KFC's Original Recipe chicken breast has 2.5 grams of trans fat, but its chicken pot pie, which formerly had 14 grams, and Lil' Bucket brownie have none.

If your kid eats four chicken tenders, a small order of fries, and a Hershey's sundae pie at Burger King, that's 6 grams of trans fats.

Tip: Before ordering, ask if trans fats were used in preparing the food.

5. Frozen Food. This is a category where convenience often comes with a risk of clogged arteries.
  • Sara Lee Butter Streusel Coffee Cake — 0.5 grams
  • Pepperidge Farm Three-Layer Cake-Chocolate Fudge — 3.5 grams
  • Kid Cuisine All American Fried Chicken — 1.5 grams
  • Stouffer's Lasagna With Meat and Sauce — 0.5 grams
  • Betty Crocker Hamburger Helper mixes — from 0 to 0.5 grams
  • Betty Crocker Complete Meals Chicken and Buttermilk Biscuits — 2.5 grams
  • DiGiorno Microwave Rising Crust Pizza — 1.5 grams
  • Tombstone Original Pizza — 0
  • Freschetta Four-Cheese Pizza — 0.5 grams
  • Gorton's fish products — 0
  • Green Giant Pasta, Broccoli and Alfredo Sauce — 0.5 grams
Tip: Moore suggests making your own pizza, as that's where the trans fats often lurk in prepared pizzas. "It's easy. Mix some yeast, flour, salt, and liquid, and give it time to rise. Or use pita bread as a pizza platform."

Chips, Breakfast Cereals, And More

6. Baked Goods. Icings, fillings, and doughnut frying oils are among the most difficult to make without trans fats. What about your favorite bakery for ordering specialty birthday cakes? Ask them what kinds of oils and shortening they use in their cakes and frostings.

  • Betty Crocker Warm Delights, Cinnamon — 2 grams
  • Pillsbury Ready To Bake Sugar Cookies — 1.5 grams
  • Nestle Toll House refrigerated dough — 0 grams
Tip: Try baking at home, even if you don't know how. Moore says there are many excellent cookbooks that will help you with basic cooking skills.

7. Chips And Crackers. Frito-Lay took the lead and reformulated its line of chips to eliminate trans fats long before the labeling requirement went into effect. Others followed suit.

  • Fritos — 0 grams
  • Lay's Potato Chips — 0 grams
  • Tostitos — 0 grams
  • Nabisco Ritz — 0 grams
  • Nabisco Wheat Thins — 0 grams
  • Nabisco Triscuit — 0 grams
  • Keebler Club — 0 grams
  • Cheese Nips — 0 grams
  • Pepperidge Farm Goldfish — 0 grams
Tip: Whole Foods stores do not carry products containing trans fats. Urge your grocery store to do the same.

8. Breakfast Food. The cereal and breakfast bar aisle isn't without its perils, but it's far safer than it used to be.

  • Cap'n Crunch — 0 grams
  • Kellogg's Corn Flakes — 0 grams
  • Total Raisin Bran — 0 grams
  • Kellogg Pop-Tarts — 0 grams
  • Quaker Breakfast Bites — 0.5 grams
  • Trix Milk 'n Cereal Bars — 1 gram
Tip: Even though the deadline for new labels was Jan. 1, 2006, manufacturers have been allowed to use up existing inventories so some products do not yet carry the new labels.

9. Cookies And Candy. Cookies and candies have been reformulated as well. Nabisco Chips Ahoy! Real Chocolate Chip Cookies used to have 1.5 grams of trans fats in a serving of three cookies. Now the value is listed as none, although the product does contain partially hydrogenated oils.

  • Oreo cookies — 0 grams
  • Lil' Debbie Fudge Brownies — 0.5 grams
  • Nestle candies — 0 grams
Tip: Cookies and candy are nothing but empty calories. Satisfy your sweet tooth with an apple, banana, or pear.

10. Toppings And Dips. This category includes nondairy creamers, flavored coffees, whipped toppings, bean dips, gravy mixes, and salad dressings. Most salad dressings today are trans fat-free, and you'll find a number of the other products in this category without trans fats as well.

  • Coffee-Mate — 0 grams
  • General Foods International Flavored Coffees — 0 grams
  • Cool Whip — 0 grams
  • Old El Paso Bean Dip — 0 grams
Tip: Remember to read labels so you can avoid saturated fats, too. And take your reading glasses to the supermarket. You'll need them to read many products' ingredients lists.

Sources: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans." Cindy Moore, MS, RD, director of nutrition therapy, The Cleveland Clinic. Consumer Reports: "Bad fats in Common Foods." FDA: "Questions and Answers about Trans Fat Nutrition Labeling."

By Leanna Skarnulis
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD
© 2006, WebMD Inc. All rights reserved

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