Do You Know this Trick for Spotting Hidden Trans Fat?

Do You Know this Trick for Spotting Hidden Trans Fat?

It is rare that I get up on my soapbox and start ranting.  But this makes me so angry and frustrated.  In the USA, at least, food manufacturers are hiding trans fats within food products – and still labelling them as zero grams trans fats! 

This is completely unacceptable, even if they can claim that it’s “legal” according to FDA labeling rules.

People are busy.  They’re trying to make the best decision for themselves and their families in the grocery store.  They’re often trying to make the healthy choice.  And trans fats have been in the news a lot recently.  So even if our regular shopper doesn’t know exactly why trans fats are bad, when she’s faced with a product choice in the grocery store, she’s likely to think:

“Ah, I remember something about avoiding trans-fats on the news.  So let me choose this product labelled with the big red “zero grams trans fats” on the front!”

And who would blame her? It’s a sensible choice to make.

Except when the food companies are intentionally misleading the consumer to increase sales … and still including trans-fats in their products.

But you, as a savvy VintageAmanda reader can easily avoid this trans fats trap.  Let me show you how.

What are trans fats & why are they used?

Trans fats are a manufactured fat that’s included in processed foods to extend their shelf life.   They are listed on ingredients labels as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil.

“Trans fats are a form of artificially saturated, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fat typically made from vegetable oil.  Making them is an involved, complex, and exceedingly unnatural chemical process that takes largely polyunsaturated oil and combines nickel and hydrogen ions, along with a little bleach, coloring, and steam cleaning along the way, in an effort to change the chemical configuration into something resembling saturated fat.” -Nora Gedgaudas Primal Body, Primal Mind.

Trans fats are not natural, Great-Grandma would not recognize them, and not only do they have no nutritional value, but trans fats are damaging to our health.


Why should I avoid eating trans fats?

Trans fats have no known health benefit, and in fact have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease.

There is so much conflicting information in the world of nutrition, but everyone seems to agree that trans fats have no nutritional value, and in fact are damaging to human health!  

Trans fats have been banned in Denmark and New York City.  But yet across America, and the UK, they persist.


Trans Fats in the UK

Fortunately there has been a lot of public pressure to eliminate trans fats in the UK, which has reduced their prevalence.  In fact, most major grocery store changes have eliminated trans fats from their store brand products.  But trans fats are still found in imported food products, as well as in unlabeled product sold in bakeries, as well as in restaurants (what are your fish & chips fried in?)!

Trans fats are even found in our beloved Krispy Kreme donuts:

“There was a similar response from Krispy Kreme doughnuts. ‘Are there trans fats in them?’ I asked the customer care lady.

‘They do sort of, I won’t lie to you,’ she said cheerily. ‘The level is so minimal it could be labelled zero in the U.S..'” – Daily Mail July 2010


The Great Trans Fats Deception

But the greatest trans fats deception of all is in the USA.

This is directly from the FDA web page about trans fats:

“Trans fat content must be expressed as grams per serving to the nearest 0.5-gram increment below 5 grams and to the nearest gram above 5 grams. If a serving contains less than 0.5 gram, the content, when declared, must be expressed as “0 g.”

Yep, you read that right.  If a product has less than half a gram of trans fats per serving, they must write zero grams on the Nutrition Facts label.

But when was the last time you ate exactly one serving of any product?

Let’s look at my beloved Coffee Mate creamer.

coffeemate zero grams
Coffee Mate powdered creamer with “0 g trans fat”

Now let’s look at the Nutrition Facts:

Coffee Mate Nutrition Facts
Coffee Mate Nutrition Facts – still 0 grams trans fats

So according to the Nutrition Facts label, there are zero grams trans fats per 4 Teaspoon serving of coffeemate.  That’s just over a Tablespoon of creamer per serving.  That’s probably a reasonable amount for a mug of coffee.  So far so good.

But now let’s look at the ingredients list:

Coffee Mate ingredients
Coffee Mate Ingredient #2: Partially Hydrogenated Coconut or Palm Kernel Oil, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil

Looking at the ingredients list we’ve got Sugar, and then “Vegetable Oil (Partially Hydrogenated Coconut or Palm Kernel, Hydrogenated Soybean)”.

Hydrogenated oils ARE trans fats!

So even though the label says zero grams trans fats, and zero grams trans fats are highlighted on the front of the package – reading the ingredients list clearly shows us that this product contains trans fats!

Doesn’t this seem a wee bit confusing and even deceptive?


So how can you avoid hidden trans fats?

VintageAmanda readers – we HAVE to read labels.

Ignore the marketing on products and packaging.  Turn the package around and read the ingredients.  It’s the only way you’ll know what you’re eating!

If a product contains hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils of any kind, it contains trans fats.  Don’t eat it.


Let me know – what do you think about this labeling issue?  Take a look in your kitchen cabinets – which of your favorite products contain trans fats?

About the author

Amanda Cook is an author, entrepreneur, and alchemist. She helps successful women create lives of meaning & magic by connecting with the seasons. Her work has appeared on BBC Radio 4, The Sunday Telegraph, Natural Health UK Magazine, and more. Learn more at

Amanda Cook is an author, entrepreneur, and alchemist. She helps successful women create lives of meaning & magic by connecting with the seasons. Her work has appeared on BBC Radio 4, The Sunday Telegraph, Natural Health UK Magazine, and more. Learn more at

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  1. It all can drive you crazy (crazier). If a label states “No added MSG” was it is really saying is “We have added no MSG, but we have added many things that contain MSG” One soup had four different ingredients that contained MSG, but the label still said “No added MSG.” Thank goodness trans frats are chemicals or they could do the same thing.

  2. Ugh, I hate how deceptive the food companies are these days. I asked my husband about this (because he’s a chemist), and he said that they might be getting away with it because when you hydrogenate something you create trans- and cis- orientations of the molecule. That means these hydrogenated oils might consist of trans- and cis- orientations within one molecule, while a “trans fat” is considered to solely consist of trans- orientations.

  3. You might be interested to know there’s even more to the whole fat topic. From “What’s Eating Your Child?” by Kelly Dorfman, MS, LND: “Though all cell membranes of the body contain fat, fat is especially important to the brain. Fat makes up 60 percent of our brain, with 25 percent of that fat being docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the most abundant long-chain fat in the brain and eyes. When the brain does not have enough of this ‘good’ fat, it will develop anyway, but it will rely on lesser-quality fats” (p.140). She says the fats form the cell walls, and she goes on to say, “One of the jobs of the cell wall is to decide what to let in and what not to let in. The wall should be permeable enough to let in the substances the cell needs but selective enough to keep out toxins or substances that are not essential to that particular cell. Fats from deep-fried foods and other chemically stabilized fats found in many packaged cookies, crackers, and chips changes the permeability of the cell walls so they are less stable and selective” (p.142).

    So you can see that good fats are essential to many more functions in our bodies than merely lowering cholesterol. She also mentions that essential fatty acids play important roles in mood regulation (anxiety, depression) and ability to learn.

    She also writes that trans fats are being replaced by something… but what? Mostly, something called interestified fats. Not necessarily better, but at least the food companies can fly under the radar during the anti-trans-fats movement. Great.

    1. This… is such good information. I know certain types of fats are better than others, and even which ones. I even know from gut feeling which foods have the best fats (pun not intended). This, however, tells me WHY. I like that. Thank you!

  4. I am with EcoGrrl. Using basic ingredients and cooking/preparing food from scratch is the easiest way to avoid hidden synthetic evils. E.g. weighing out the butter and sugar for my weekly cake or batch of biscuits really brings home how much butter and sugar we are eating. I find it the best way to a/ know what I eat and b/ ration out the cake/biscuit batch to last the week!

  5. Rather than stress on terminology, make it easy : eat whole foods, and avoid anything processed. If sugar is the first ingredient, shouldn’t that be enough to stop the consumer? (And why all of a sudden can’t we just use actual milk or cream in our coffee? Ah yes, the wonders of marketing). So many chemicals in food we can just avoid by keeping oue shopping choices whole and away from processed.

    1. Good point! Just choosing whole foods makes life easier since you don’t have to worry about label reading and marketing hype!

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