Trans Fatty Acids on Food Labels: A Big Help For Consumers

July 2003 - The announcement Wednesday, July 8, by the Food and Drug Administration that it will require nutrition labels to include the amounts of trans fatty acids contained in packaged foods should help millions of people make healthy food choices and lower their cholesterol, according to the American Dietetic Association.

"The most important thing consumers should do is be sure to read the package label and use the information it contains in planning meals and maintaining good health," said registered dietitian and ADA spokesperson Cindy Moore.

"In the body, trans fatty acids act like saturated fats and tend to raise blood cholesterol levels. It's wise to be prudent in how much you consume, especially if you have high cholesterol levels already. You don't need trans fatty acids for normal health," Moore said.

What types of foods contain trans fatty acids? Moore advises checking the label for the phrase "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil," which is found in stick margarine, vegetable shortening and some prepared foods like cakes, cookies, crackers and commercially fried foods.

According to ADA's Complete Food and Nutrition Guide (Wiley 2002, 2nd edition), trans fatty acids, also known as trans fats, are found naturally in small quantities in some foods, including beef, pork, lamb, butter and milk. But most trans fatty acids in the diet come from hydrogenated foods. Oils are hydrogenated to give a more desirable quality to food or make foods last longer. Hydrogenation enables some types of peanut butter to have a creamier consistency and is used to make stick margarine from vegetable oil.

"Although people do need some fat in their diet, it's important to distinguish between types of fat," Moore said. "Research has shown that trans fatty acids have the potential to raise your LDL or 'bad' cholesterol while decreasing HDL, or 'good' cholesterol. "

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Moore notes that "not all fats are created equal." She suggests looking on the label for the phrases "polyunsaturated fats," which are found in safflower, sunflower, corn and soybean oils, and "monounsaturated fats," which are found mainly in oils such as canola, olive and peanut oils.

Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats can result in less LDL ("bad") and more HDL ("good") production in the body, Moore said.

Source: American Dietetic Association