Hate those really confusing food labels?
All those fancy text and pictures not always giving us the true facts of what's in our foods and what we are eating. This week we will touch base on food labels, with the focus on trans fats. What they are and hopefully to help you read food labels with a better understanding.
So what are trans fats?
There are two main types of trans fats; there are ones that occur naturally and artificial ones.
Naturally occurring trans fats are food in some milk and meat products. Artificial trans fats are partially hydrogenated oils, that contain both saturated and unsaturated fats. Most of these you will find in processed foods such as cakes and biscuits. These oils are usually added to food for longer shelf life and to stop them becoming rancid.
The EU recommends a daily intake of trans fat to be 0.5-2.1% and 0.8%-1.9% of total energy. So if your calorie intake is about 2000 kcal per day, that is about 2 grams of trans fat. Keep in mind, this can change depending on your body's needs, daily activity and calories needed.
When if comes to ingredients, processed foods will often have some type ‘hydrogenated oil’. According to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, “... it is not mandatory for the presence of TFAs in a foodstuff to be mentioned on the label. However, the law does state that all pre-packaged foods must have their ingredients listed on the packaging”. These can be found in vegetable oils, fried foods, bakery products (not all) and some microwave popcorn.
So what is the best way to reduce these fats?
Our best advice, look at the ingredient labels. Ingredients are arranged according to the largest to lowest. Try to avoid eating commercially baked products, maybe find a local bakery instead. Try to cook with lean meats. Pre-portion meats with added seasoning tend to use some of these oils. Look for naturally occurring, un-hydrogenated vegetable oils such as canola, safflower, sunflower or olive oil most often.
The ‘good’ unsaturated fats can be found in most nuts, salmon, avocados, pumpkin and sesame seeds.
A report by the Harvard School of Public Health found that the consumption of “... trans fat reduces the normal healthy responsiveness of endothelial cells, the cells that line all of our blood vessels.”
When looking at a nutritional label, be aware of the serving size and how much the serving size is. In the EU “... trans fat is defined as "fatty acids with at least one non-conjugated.” Please be mindful when you see labels such as ‘FAT-FREE’ and ‘SATURATED FAT-FREE’. This is not necessarily true. The EU Food Safety Authority reports that is a product is labeled ‘Fat Free’; “... the product contains no more than 0,5 g of fat per 100 g or 100 ml.” If it is labeled ‘Saturated Fat Free’, “... the sum of saturated fat and trans-fatty acids does not exceed 0,1 g of saturated fat per 100 g or 100 ml.”
Picture Source - Food Safety Authority of Ireland; Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011