Myth-Busting: "Trans Fat Free"

[Editor’s note: since the original writing of this post, trans fats have been removed from the generally recognized as safe (GRAS) list. However, the information below is still accurate and worth reviewing.]

The nutrition label on foods is - in general - a great thing. But I have found many people remain confused, or even tricked, by information they find on the label. One of those areas is trans fats. There has been a lot of media hype around trans fats, and I wanted to break down the truth on the subject, especially when it comes to how to find them on the nutrition label.

What are trans fats? 

While some trans fats occur in animal foods naturally, MOST trans fats in our diets come from a process called hydrogenation. Say what? Basically, it is a process where more hydrogen atoms are added to the chemical structure of a fat. This process takes liquid fats (like oil) and makes them more solid (like shortening), which makes them more stable over time. And if your food is going to be sitting on a shelf for awhile before you eat it, you'll appreciate it if the fat hasn't gone rancid before you open it up! 

What foods have trans fats in them?

Margarine, shortening, cookies, crackers, and other snack foods are common foods that have trans fats. But remember that brands will differ.

Why are trans fats bad?

Research has shown trans fats play a role in increasing our LDL or bad cholesterol, and that they play a role in increasing our risk for heart disease.

So it would be smart to buy foods that are labeled "trans fat free", right?

You would think that it would be that easy, but it's not! According to the FDA guidelines, products can claim 0 grams of trans fat as long as they have less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving.

In addition to looking at the "trans fat" line on the nutrition label, give the ingredients a quick read. You want to avoid items that have hydrogenated oils, which would mean the product does have trans fats in it.

In this case, "0g" does not mean "no trans fat".

In this case, "0g" does not mean "no trans fat".

Now you know! 

Take time to read the label on foods in your pantry and when you're shopping. It takes a little extra time, but it's worth it to make the best choices for you and your family.


Katie Goldberg

Katie Goldberg, MCN, RDN, LDN, has been a registered dietitian since 2013, but has always had a passion for good food and a healthy lifestyle. Katie earned her Master’s of Clinical Nutrition from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and has worked in private practice, higher education, in a clinical setting, and as an in-house dietitian for a food company. Whether it's at through large groups or one-on-one, Katie enjoys connecting people with easy and practical solutions for better health.