ALLERGY, RESPIRATORY
Know Your Asthma Triggers
'Safe' Ozone Levels May Not Be for Some
Folic Acid Might Offer Allergy Relief
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
Spot light on Dani Antman New Lionheart teacher
Memory Loss Help from Brain Supplement Prevagen
Acupuncture May Not Help Hot Flashes
ANIMAL CARE
'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
Separation Anxiety, Canine-Style
Safe Toys for Dogs
BONES & JOINTS
Hip Replacement Boosts Mobility at Any Age
Healthy adults have potential autoimmune disease-causing cells
Body Fat, Muscle Distribution Linked to RA Disability
CANCER
To Quit Smoking, Try Logging On
U.S. Reported 25,000 Cases of HPV-Related Cancers Annually
Healthy Behaviors Slow Functional Decline After Cancer
CAREGIVING
Diabetes Epidemic Now Poses Challenges for Nursing Homes
Simpler Sleep Apnea Treatment Seems Effective, Affordable
Medication Errors Could Be Cut: Experts
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
Firefighters Have Narrower-Than-Normal Arteries, Study Finds
Bye, Bye Back Fat?
Common Antioxidant Might Slow Parkinson's
COSMETIC
What to Do If You Have Unsightly Veins
Contact Lenses Boost Kids' Self-Image
Mouse Study Finds Molecule That Tells Hair to Grow
DENTAL, ORAL
Gum Disease May Reactivate AIDS Virus
Holistic Dentistry-My View
Scientists Find Gene for Tooth Enamel
DIABETES
Patients' Photos Help Boost Radiologists' Accuracy
Vitamin K Slows Insulin Resistance in Older Men
Out-of-Control Blood Sugar May Affect Memory
DIET, NUTRITION
Shedding Light on Why Omega-3 Fatty Acids May Help the Heart
Leafy Greens Top Risky Food List
Heart Disease May Be Prevented By Taking Fish Oils, Study Shows
DISABILITIES
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Pesticides Linked to Parkinson's
Smog Standards Need Tightening, Activists Say
Old-Growth Forests Dying Off in U.S. West
EYE CARE, VISION
Sports Eye Injuries Leading Cause of Blindness in Youths
Blood Sugar Control Helps Diabetics Preserve Sight
Eye Problems, Hearing Loss May Be Linked
FITNESS
Exercise As Well As Acupuncture, May Ease Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
As Temperature Plummets, It's Still Safe to Exercise
MRSA Infections Can Bug Fitness Buffs
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Bowel Prep Harder on Women Than Men
Soothing Imagery May Help Rid Some Kids of Stomach Pain
Japanese Herbals May Ease Gastro Woes
GENERAL HEALTH
Swine Flu May Have Infected More Than 100,000 Americans
Keep Fire Safety in Mind as You Celebrate
Spot light on Dani Antman New Lionheart teacher
HEAD & NECK
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
Study Suggests Link Between Cell Phones and Brain Tumors
Magnet Therapy May Ease Hard-to-Treat Depression
Combating Myths About Seasonal Allergies
HEARING
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
Review Confirms Links Between Diet, Heart Health
Obese People Seem to Do Better With Heart Disease
Research Shows Genetic Activity of Antioxidants
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
The HPV Vaccine: Preventative Medicine or Human Sacrifice?
Bacterial Infections May Succumb to Honey
Swine Flu Closes Three Schools in NYC
INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
Breast-Feeding May Protect a Woman's Heart
Scorpion Anti-Venom Speeds Children's Recovery
Eating Fish, Breast-Feeding Boost Infant Development
MEN'S HEALTH
Countdown to Hair Loss
Lots of Sex May Prevent Erectile Dysfunction
Low Vitamin D Levels May Boost Men's Heart Attack Risk
MENTAL HEALTH
Vitamin C Protects Some Elderly Men From Bone Loss
Mind Exercise Might Help Stroke Patients
Bullying Seems to Affect Kids Years Later
PAIN
Alleviating Rheumatoid Arthritis
Acupuncture, Real or Fake, Eases Back Pain
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Heart Defects in Newborns Linked to Antidepressants
Pre-Pregnancy Weight Linked to Babies' Heart Problems
Expectant Mom's Exercise Keeps Newborn's Birth Weight Down
SENIORS
Older Adults May Have Some Immunity to Swine Flu
Friends, Not Grandkids, Key to Happy Retirement
Life Expectancy in U.S. Hits New High
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Exercising Throat Muscles May Relieve Sleep Apnea
Meditation May Help Put Primary Insomnia to Bed
Lose Weight, Sleep Apnea May Improve
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Active Young Women Need Calcium, Vitamin D
Bitter Melon Extract May Slow, Stop Breast Cancer
Supportive Weigh-In Program Keeps Pounds Off
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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