Watching for 'trans fat' in our snacks

Thursday, August 21st 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Most of the snacks we eat contain trans fat. The federal government will require food labels to identify the trans fats by the year 2006.

News on 6 consumer reporter Rick Wells says one company has a program to not only identify fat, but also make a healthier snack. Jennifer Parham, St John Medical Center Dietician: "If you are eating conveniently at all and buying pre-packaged foods at all, you will be consuming trans fatty acids." I think what she's talking about are processed foods and snacks.

Who doesn't snack? Experts tell us typically we get 25% of our total calories everyday from snacks. Those snacks generally are loaded with fat, saturated fat, which is bad, and something called trans fat. “They are not saturated fats but they act like saturated fats, they increase bad cholesterol.”

Trans fats are created when a perfectly good vegetable oil has hydrogen added, making it hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated. Makes foods look and taste better but can raise bad cholesterol levels and clog arteries. Last month the government said food makers have to ID trans fats in their products by 2006. Frito-Lay added trans fat counts to some of its snack labels this month. It's too early to tell if the new labels will affect sales.

Victoria Bennight with Frito-Lay: "I'm sure it will people are becoming more aware of the trans fats." To make sure we notice, healthier Frito-Lay snacks will carry a special "Smart Snack" label part of a program developed with Dr. Kenneth Cooper of the Cooper Aerobic Center. “People want to know what snacks to consumer, we developed a system to help them make the decision."

The so-called Smart Snacks have no trans fats fewer calories and less sodium. Even without the new labeling, a check of the list of ingredients will help. Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils equal trans fat. The higher on the list the more there is. Bring your reading glasses, to deal with the fine print.

Zero grams of trans fats on the label doesn't guarantee zero trans fat. Government rules allow companies to round down. So anything less than a half a gram can be labeled as zero.