Integrative Nutrition Blog

Trans Fat Scam: When “Zero” Doesn’t Mean Zero

May 20, 2012

Everyone agrees that trans fat is terrible for you. So why are so many Americans falling victim to the trans fat scam—a hoax that’s leading them to unknowingly consume this harmful substance?

Unfortunately, a deceptive labeling loophole approved by the U.S. government allows many companies to market their products fraudulently as “trans fat-free.” The truth? These products are actually anything but.

What’s So Bad About Trans Fat, Anyway?

Made by an industrial process that forcibly adds hydrogen molecules to liquid vegetable oils, trans fats are solid at room temperature and don’t spoil as quickly as natural fats like olive oil or butter. These processed, altered fats have been widely used in everything from pre-packaged baked goods to deep-fried foods.

The problem with trans fats is that they interfere with the human body on a cellular level. They’ve been proven to raise bad cholesterol as well as lower good cholesterol, leading to coronary heart disease. There is a strong body of evidence that further links trans fats to cancer, diabetes, liver dysfunction, infertility in women, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Trans Fat Fraud: When “Zero” Doesn’t Mean Zero

As evidence about the damaging effects of trans fats began to surface, many manufacturers eliminated them (including partially hydrogenated oils) from their products. Governments around the world also made strides to reduce trans fat consumption. 

The U.S. did its part, and in 2006, the FDA required all labels to list the trans fat content of their products. These efforts have been both commendable and effective – the American Medical Association reported a 58% decline in trans fats in American blood between 2000 and 2009.

Yet the FDA also gave food producers considerable wiggle room in their labeling, giving rise to what many would call a scam. Current law says that any food containing less than .5 grams of trans fat can “round down” and indicate trans fat content as 0 grams.

In essence, zero doesn’t always have to actually mean zero, and an item that is advertised “trans-fat free” might just be almost trans-fat free.

How to Avoid the “Zero Trans Fat” Scam

For those people who consume these foods throughout the day, trans fat intake can add up quickly without them even knowing it. At best, this loophole is simply misleading; at worst, it’s a deceptive lie that tricks consumers into eating a harmful substance.

The easiest way to avoid the “zero trans fat” labeling scam is to read the ingredient list and avoid anything that contains partially hydrogenated oils. Of course, another easy rule of thumb is to stick to whole, fresh foods that have no label at all!

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