The Deadly Trans-Fat Deception

There is increasinly more evidence that some fats are not only healthy, but extremely good for people.

We’ll address that in another post soon, but today I’d like too look at the other side of the fat issue, namely how some fats can kill you and how you can avoid them. It may be more difficult to avoid these than you think.

The Background

If you’ve paid attention to the news over the past couple of years, you’ve seen many reports of foods containing trans-fats. These processed and unnatural fats wreak havoc with your health. They lead to high levels of inflammation as well as heart attacks, strokes and other health problems. They’re like rubbing sandpaper over your organs and tissues inside your body.

In fact, as far back as 1994, the Harvard School of Public Health published a report that estimated there were 30,000 cases of premature death due to heart attacks because of people eating foods with trans-fats in them.

Foods that typically have high amounts of trans-fatty acids include:

  • most margarines
  • vegetable shortening
  • partially hydrogenated vegetable oil
  • deep-fried chips
  • many fast foods
  • most commercial baked goods

As an example, if you ate just one doughnut and one order of french fries in a day, you’d consume about 10 grams of trans-fats. That’s a very large amount.

Compare that to the recommendation of the Institute of Medicine, which was unable to find any safe amount of trans-fat in food. In other words, the only safe amount of trans-fats is zero.

With the spotlight on them, companies have started working to reduce the levels of trans-fats in their foods. For example, fast food companies in New York had to find ways to remove them after a law was passed prohibiting selling foods with trans-fats in them.

Even the federal government jumped into the act in January, 2006, requiring companies to list the amount of trans-fats their products contain. But here’s were it gets odd…

The Big Lie

When the federal regulations were put in place, they played fast and loose with the meaning of the word “zero” (are we surprised?)

In this case, the new regulations say that you can claim a food has “zero trans-fats” so long as it has less than 0.5 grams of trans-fat per serving.

On the surface this almost sounds reasonable. But it leaves a big, gaping hole that allows companies to sell foods claiming to be free of this deadly fat when in fact it’s loaded with it.


They can do this by reducing the ‘serving size’ to a level where the amount of trans-fat in each serving falls within the guidelines. For example, if trans-fats are in cookies, they could theoretically claim that the serving size is one cookie and therefore there are “zero trans-fats” in it. Do you know anyone who eats just one cookie at a time?

Another way is to reduce the overall trans-fats in the product so that whatever serving size they list falls within the 0.5 gram limit. Sneaky, isn’t it?

If you believe these claims of “zero” trans-fats, you should also be ready to believe the following math:

1/2 + 1/2 + 1/2 + 1/2 + 1/2 + 1/2 + 1/2 + 1/2 = 0?

Do you see what’s wrong with the math here? If you have 8 cookies from a package claiming “zero trans-fats” you’d actually be getting 4 grams of these deadly fats, not “zero”. And, when you remember that no amount of trans-fat is healthy this is a real problem.

Do You Want To Volunteer As An Experimental Subject?

In another twist on the story, some companies are switching to another type of processed fat called “interesterified fat” to replace trans-fats. The early evidence suggests that interesterified fats are as bad, or worse for your health.

Of course it could be many years before these new fats are limited in any way, making anyone who eat foods containing them a kind of involuntary experimental subject.

If you’re willing to be a voluntary guinea pig, raise your hand.

What You Can Do

The very best way to avoid trans-fats is to avoid all processed foods, particularly deep fried and baked foods. Whether you get them from your pantry or order them when you eat out, just staying away from them will go a long way towards improving your health.

However, if you still plan to eat any of these, there is a way to tell when you’re being lied to. If the food is labeled or advertised as “Zero Trans-fats,” look for the words, “Per Serving” nearby. If these words are present, that means there are, in fact, trans-fats in the food, just not enough to label. Only foods that are labeled “Zero Trans-Fats” without the ‘per serving’ disclaimer might actually have no trans-fats in them.

Also, if you can look at labels, anything that lists “hydrogenated,” “partially hydrogenated,” or “shortening” is loaded with trans-fats regardless of what the claims of “zero trans-fats” say.

Personally, I’m sorry that some people will be fooled by the misleading claims of “zero” trans-fatty acids in foods. I just don’t want you to be among them…

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