Trans Fat Hides in at Least a Quarter of Supermarket Foods
Hidden In Plain Sight: Trans Fats Hidden in Many Foods
Trans fats are everywhere in the grocery store
Table 1. Worst 16 Food Categories for Trans Fat
|Food Type||Average trans fat content per serving (grams)|
|Frosting and Icing||0.75|
|Eclairs and other snack cakes||0.65|
|Frozen Mini Burgers||0.47|
|Canned Chili without beans||0.36|
|Ready to heat potatoes||0.33|
|Beef in a can||0.32|
Table 2 shows food categories that are the worst at disclosing trans fat. Foods marketed to children dominate these categories. Children’s lower calorie needs and lower trans fat limits make the lack of disclosure of trans fat content even worse.
Table 2. Worst Categories* for Trans Fat Disclosure
|Food Type||Percentage of foods labeled "Trans Fat 0 g" but contain partially hydrogenated oils|
|Granola & Trail Mix Bars||100%|
|Breads & Buns - Other Bread||100%|
|Kids Fruit Snack Candy||100%|
|Cupcakes, Finger Cakes, Cake Snack Bars||100%|
|Ice Cream Cones||100%|
* Categories with 25 or more products containing partially hydrogenated oils in EWG’s Food Scores
200 Ways To Smuggle In Trans Fat
EWG’s research found that trans fats are being used by the food industry in undisclosed ways. Beyond partially hydrogenated oils, other types of refined oils, emulsifiers, flavors, colors and other common ingredients contain trans fats in amounts low enough to exploit the trans fat loophole.
Contain trans fats in significant amounts:
Partially hydrogenated oils
Partially hydrogenated oils are made from refined oils, like soybean and cottonseed oils, by subjecting them to a hydrogenation process. Depending on the extent of hydrogenation, the resulting oils can contain up to 60 percent trans fat (Tarrago-Trani 2006).
Contain trans fats in smaller amounts:
Refined oils such as soybean, canola, cottonseed and corn oil contain small amounts of trans fat (FDA 2013a). Researchers at Health Canada found that canola oil contained the most at 2.4 percent trans fat and extra virgin olive oil the least at 0.05 percent (Ratnayake and Zehaluk 2005).
Trans fats are generated when crude vegetable oil is refined to a bland, odorless, colorless oil (De Greyt 1999). The processed food industry considers refining essential to “improve” the oils’ “sensory value" and to make the oils more versatile and interchangeable.
The refining process impairs the oils’ nutritional value by removing or destroying beneficial plant components. A 2012 study by FDA scientists estimated that refined oil contributes an average 0.6 grams of trans fat a day (Doell 2012).
Fully hydrogenated oils
Fully hydrogenated oils are polyunsaturated oils that started out relatively benign but were subjected to high temperatures to convert them into saturated fats, which are worse for human health. Fully hydrogenated oils contain less trans fat than their partially hydrogenated cousins (FDA 2013a).
Likely contain trans fats in trace amounts:
Monoglycerides and diglycerides and other emulsifiers
Fats and oils come primarily in the form of triglycerides. Splitting triglyceride molecules with a chemical reaction produces a mixture of monoglycerides and diglycerides, which are very helpful when you’re trying to mix oil and water. That is why they are common emulsifiers. They are often, but not always, made from hydrogenated fats (Hasenhuettl and Hartel 2008). Emulsifiers produced from hydrogenated fats “contain measurable concentrations of trans unsaturated fatty acids,” according to a textbook for food scientists (Hasenhuettl and Hartel 2008).
May contain trans fats in trace amounts:
Flavors and Colors
Flavors often use partially hydrogenated oils as a carrier for the flavor and are another likely source of trans fats.
Due to lax regulations consumers may never know for sure which flavors or colors (both natural and artificial) contain trans fats.
Small Amounts Matter Even More For Children
Children are perhaps most at risk from the half-gram labeling loophole. A 2012 study found that 80 percent of children under 11 exceed recommended trans fat limits (Kris-Etherton 2012).
According to the World Health Organization’s recommendations, a two-year-old with calorie needs of 1000 calories should consume no more than 10 calories from trans fat, or less than 1.1 grams a day. A food with 0.3 grams of trans fat per serving would make up nearly 30 percent of a child’s daily limit. Two servings of crackers and a bowl of cereal containing partially hydrogenated oil claiming “0 grams of trans fat” could easily exceed a child’s recommended limits.
Table 3. Trans Fat Content of Common Fats and Oils
|Oil||Grams of Trans Fat per 100 grams|
|Partially hydrogenated soybean oil||34.2|
|Partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil||Unknown|
|Palm kernel oil||Unknown|
|Partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil||4.7|
|Partially hydrogenated palm oil||31.2|
|Partially hydrogenated coconut oil||0.3|
|Fully hydrogenated cottonseed oil||0.7|
|Brominated vegetable oil||Unknown|
|Interesterified soybean oil||Unknown*|
|Rice bran oil||Unknown|
|Fractionated palm kernel oil||Unknown*|
|Partially hydrogenated canola oil||27.0|
|Fully hydrogenated cottonseed oil||0.7|
|Fully hydrogenated soybean oil||1.1|
|Fractionated palm oil||Unknown|
|Fully hydrogenated canola oil||Unknown|
|Margarine||19.1 to 24.7|
|Partially hydrogenated sunflower oil||Unknown|
Unknown: The USDA laboratory did not analyze the fat or oil for trans fat content. *Ingredient has no matching entry in the USDA National Nutrient Database. Source: US Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference
Table 3 shows 32 of the most common fats and oils listed as ingredients of processed items in EWG’s Food Score. Less than half have complete data on trans fat content.