ALLERGY, RESPIRATORY
Childhood Food Allergies on the Rise
Overweight Moms More Likely to Have Asthmatic Kids
Air Quality Better in Northeast, Midwest
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
38% of U.S. Adults Use Alternative Treatments
U.S. Spends Billions On Alternative Medicine
Supplement Hampers Thyroid Cancer Treatment
ANIMAL CARE
Separation Anxiety, Canine-Style
Safe Toys for Dogs
'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
BONES & JOINTS
Pain More a Cause of Arthritis Than a Symptom
Scientists ID New Genes Tied to Crohn's Disease
Tips to Ease an Aching Back
CANCER
Selenium, Omega-3s May Stave Off Colorectal Cancer
Poor Women Seem to Be Skipping Breast Cancer Drugs
Massage Therapy Helps Those With Advanced Cancer
CAREGIVING
Reduce Suffering, Urge Heart Failure Patients and Caregivers
Mom's Smoking May Lead to SIDS
Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome as Deadly as Ever
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
Potassium-Rich Foods May Cut Stroke, Heart Disease Risk
Bye, Bye Back Fat?
Years of Exposure to Traffic Pollution Raises Blood Pressure
COSMETIC
Wrinkle Fillers Need Better Label Warnings: FDA Panel
Get Sugared!.... Its a sweet choice for hair removal
Study Evaluates Laser Therapies for Hair Removal
DENTAL, ORAL
Biological Product Shows Promise Against Gum Disease
Mom's Vitamin D Levels Affect Baby's Dental Health
Obesity Boosts Gum Disease Risk
DIABETES
Chamomile Tea May Ward Off Diabetes Damage
Findings Challenge Tight Glucose Control for Critically Ill Patients
Out-of-Control Blood Sugar May Affect Memory
DIET, NUTRITION
Even in 'Last Supper,' Portion Sizes Have Grown
Natural Oils Help Lower Body Fat For Some
Milk Destroys Antioxidant Benefits in Blueberries
DISABILITIES
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Meat-Eating Dinosaurs Used Legs and Arms Like Birds
Global Warming Biggest Health Threat of 21st Century, Experts Say
Household Chemicals May Affect Cholesterol Levels
EYE CARE, VISION
Protein Might One Day Prevent Blindness
Eye Disease, Cognitive Decline Linked in Study
Action-Filled Video Games Boost Adult Vision
FITNESS
Maximize Your Run
FDA Mandates New Warnings for Botox
After a Stroke, Light Exercise Gets Hands, Arms Working Again
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Bowel Prep Harder on Women Than Men
Gum Chewing May Speed Colon Surgery Recovery
Traditional Nonsurgical GERD Treatments Not Impressive
GENERAL HEALTH
Swine Flu May Have Infected More Than 100,000 Americans
It Pays to Eat Less as You Age
Dr Churchill & Ashley Pelton Interview 1 of 4
HEAD & NECK
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
The Internet Is Becoming One-Stop Shopping for Health Help
Subway Defibrillators Save Lives
E-Mailing Your Way to Healthier Habits
HEARING
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
Omega-6 Fatty Acids Can Be Good for You
Cocoa in Chocolate May Be Good for the Heart
Omega-3, Some Omega-6 Fatty Acids Boost Cardiovascular Health
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Dry Weather Boosts Odds of Flu Outbreaks
Surgical Masks Could Prevent Flu, Maybe
Older Adults May Have Some Immunity to Swine Flu
INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
Backpack Safety Should Be on Back-to-School Lists
Boosting Kids' Stroke IQ May Save Lives
3 Home Habits Help Youngsters Stay Slim
MEN'S HEALTH
Sunlight May Help Protect Men From Kidney Cancer
Varicose Veins May Mask Larger Problem
Eating Fast Until Full Triples Overweight Risk
MENTAL HEALTH
Musicians' Brains Tuned to Emotions in Sound
Cinnamon Breaks Up Brain Plaques, May Hold Key to Fighting Alzheimer’s
Music Soothes Anxiety as Well as Massage Does
PAIN
Are We Exercising Pain Away? Not So Much.
Acupuncture, Real or Fake, Eases Back Pain
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Breast-Feeding Benefits Moms and Babies
Acupuncture May Ease Depression During Pregnancy
Sleeping Could Help Women Lose The Baby Fat
SENIORS
Laughter Can Stimulate a Dull Appetite
Common Antioxidant Might Slow Parkinson's
Tai Chi and Qigong Offer Many Health Benefits: Review
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Better Sleep, Grades Seem to Go Up
Moderate Aerobics May Ease Insomnia Symptoms
Daylight Savings: Not a Bright Time for All
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Calcium Helps Ward Off Colon Cancer
Exercise As Well As Acupuncture, May Ease Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
Simple Carbs Pose Heart Risk for Women
Add your Article

Trans Fat Labeling Gets Tricky

By E.J. Mundell
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, June 30 (HealthDay News) -- Are 3 or 4 grams of trans fats in a serving of baked or fried food bad for you, or can you stop worrying?

Answer: It's always unhealthy, since no amount of the artery-clogging artificial fat is good for you.

However, a new study suggests that the Nutrition Facts panel found on the side of grocery store products does a poor job of getting that message across to consumers.

"It's very misleading to just throw a number out there," contends study author Elizabeth Howlett, a professor of marketing at the University of Arkansas, in Fayetteville.

Her team found that the average health-conscious consumer is often misled by trans fat information found on the Nutrition Facts panel.

The main problem is that because no amount of trans fat is good for you, it makes no sense to post a percentage of the "recommended daily value" -- as is done with other ingredients such as sugar, or total or saturated fats. So consumers are just left with a number -- such as 2, 3 or 4 grams of trans fat per serving -- and no way of interpreting how unhealthy that might be.

Furthermore, compared to the amounts of calories or carbohydrates listed on the Nutrition Facts panel -- which can often run into the dozens or hundreds of units -- a few grams of trans fat can seem harmless, Howlett said. In that context, consumers often think, "4 grams, wow, that looks good," she explained.

In reality, the American Heart Association states that anything over 2 grams per day of trans fat is definitely bad for you -- and it's preferred that your intake stay at zero.

The average consumer doesn't know this, however. Reporting in a recent issue of the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, Howlett and her colleagues had nearly 600 adults assess the relative nutritional value of a number of snack crackers with Nutrition Facts labels that were manipulated to display varying levels of trans fat per serving.

All of the participants had good reason to eat healthy: In one experiment all the volunteers were diabetic, and in a second experiment they had all been diagnosed with heart disease.

And yet the Arkansas team found that, in the absence of any education as to how much trans fat per day is good or bad for you, most participants failed to associate 3 or 4 grams per serving of trans fat with cardiovascular risk.

"When you tell someone what the trans fat level is in a product, and don't give them any guidelines about how to evaluate what that number means, that can lead to some false inferences," Howlett said.

The addition of trans fat to the list of ingredients on the Nutrition Facts panel is the first major change to the label since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration first introduced it back in 1994. Howlett didn't offer any fix of her own to make interpreting the label easier for consumers, but she believes that "there needs to be some educational component or campaign" whenever changes to the Nutrition Facts panel appear.

"That's something that the FDA would have to wrestle with," she said.

One labeling note did seem to help study participants make healthier food choices, Howlett said. A manufacturer's front-of-package claim that a product was "Low in Trans Fat" or had "Zero Trans Fat" did make participants more likely to consume the food in question.

Howlett supports the use of such claims, if valid, but notes that consumers still need to read the Nutrition Facts panel closely. That's because a product can have no trans fat but still be very high in unhealthy saturated fats or sugars, she said.

Discerning how much trans fat is in a take-out or sit-down restaurant meal can be even tougher. "Consumers have very little understanding in an away-from-home food context," Howlett said. "The information is there if consumers want to find it, but most consumers aren't highly motivated to sit at the Web and find out exactly how many calories and grams of fat and trans fat are in [restaurant] products."

The consequences of not knowing can be tough on the heart, however. According to a 2006 study from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a typical three-piece combo meal at Kentucky Fried Chicken contains a whopping 15 grams of trans fat.

Diners in New York City will soon have an easier time avoiding trans fats in restaurants, however. Starting Tuesday, health officials there are banning trans fats from menu items in the nation's largest city. A similar ban goes into effect in Philadelphia in September.

Things are slowly getting better in the grocery aisle, too, with most of the country's biggest manufacturers of packaged and processed foods beating a quick retreat from the use of trans fats in their products. But trans fat is still a prime component in many products. For example, Digiorno's Garlic Bread Crust Pepperoni Pizza For One contains 3.5 grams of trans fat per serving, as well as 16 grams of saturated fat, according to its Nutrition Facts panel. And Drake's Coffee Cakes also contain 2.5 grams of trans fat per serving (2 cakes), the product's panel says.

All of this means more must be done to educate consumers about the dangers of any level of trans fat, Howlett said. She believes the FDA needs to learn from the current confusion around trans fat numbers, to help consumers better interpret the Nutrition Facts panel the next time a change comes around.

"If there's going to be further changes -- because who knows what they are going to find next -- there also needs to be some sort of guidance for consumers, to be able to evaluate this information," Howlett said. "We are trying to get the information there that consumers need to make an informed choice, at the time that they are making the decision."

More information

To learn more about trans fats, visit the American Heart Association.
Avoiding Trans Fat

Dietitian Lona Sandon, national spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and chair-elect of the Nutrition Educators of Health Professions, offers up the following tips on trans fats:

What is a trans fat?

"A trans fat is a type of man-made fat in which the chemical bonds of a vegetable oil, normally liquid at room temperature, are changed so that it becomes solid at room temperature and more shelf-stable," she said. The fats' chemical bonds become "twisted," hence the name "trans." Natural trans fats can occur as well, but they are not thought to be harmful.

Why are these compounds so bad for us?

According to Sandon, man-made trans fats have been shown to greatly boost levels of harmful LDL cholesterol, helping clog arteries with fatty plaques. Many nutritionists believe trans fats are even more dangerous than saturated fats.

How can I avoid trans fats?

"Trans fats are typically found in processed foods, particularly snack foods or bakery items," Sandon said. These would include cookies, crackers, pre-packaged donuts, muffins, even chewy granola bars. Always check labels. Better yet, stick to fresh, whole foods, vegetables, grains, nuts, lean meats, low-fat dairy and soft tub buttery spreads made with liquid vegetable oil.

If a product says "low" or "zero" trans fat, is it good for me?

Not necessarily. "You still must think about what else is in, or not in, the food," Sandon said. "The words [no] trans fat or low fat does not mean healthy."



SOURCES: Elizabeth Howlett, Ph.D., professor, marketing, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville; Lona Sandon, M.Ed., R.D., assistant professor, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association, and chair-elect, the Nutrition Educators of Health Professions; Spring 2008, Journal of Public Policy & Marketing

Last Updated: June 30, 2008

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