Scientific evidence shows that consumption of saturated fat, trans
fat, and dietary cholesterol raises low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad"
cholesterol, levels, which increases the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes
of Health, more than 12.5 million Americans have CHD, and more than 500,000
die each year. That makes CHD one of the leading causes of death in the United
The Food and Drug Administration has required that saturated fat and dietary
cholesterol be listed on food labels since 1993. Starting Jan. 1, 2006, listing
of trans fat will be required as well. With trans fat added
to the Nutrition Facts panel, you will know for the first time how much of all
three--saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol--are in the foods
you choose. Identifying saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol on
the food label gives you information you need to make food choices that help
reduce the risk of CHD. This revised label will be of particular interest to
people concerned about high blood cholesterol and heart disease.
However, everyone should be aware of the risk posed by consuming too much
saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. But what is trans fat, and how can
you limit the amount of this fat in your diet?
What is Trans Fat?
Basically, trans fat is made when manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable
oil--a process called hydrogenation. Hydrogenation increases the shelf
life and flavor stability of foods containing these fats.
Trans fat can be found in vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers,
cookies, snack foods, and other foods made with or fried in partially hydrogenated
oils. Unlike other fats, the majority of trans fat is formed when food manufacturers
turn liquid oils into solid fats like shortening and hard margarine. A small
amount of trans fat is found naturally, primarily in dairy products, some meat,
and other animal-based foods.
Trans fat, like saturated fat and dietary cholesterol, raises the LDL cholesterol
that increases your risk for CHD. Americans consume on average 4 to 5 times
as much saturated fat as trans fat in their diets.
Although saturated fat is the main dietary culprit that raises LDL, trans
fat and dietary cholesterol also contribute significantly.
Are All Fats the Same?
Simply put: No. Fat is a major source of energy for the body and aids in the
absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K and carotenoids. Both animal- and plant-derived
food products contain fat, and when eaten in moderation, fat is important for
proper growth, development, and maintenance of good health. As a food ingredient,
fat provides taste, consistency, and stability and helps you feel full. In addition,
parents should be aware that fats are an especially important source of calories
and nutrients for infants and toddlers (up to 2 years of age), who have the
highest energy needs per unit of body weight of any age group.
While unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) are beneficial
when consumed in moderation, saturated and trans fats are not. Saturated
fat and trans fat raise LDL cholesterol levels in the blood. Dietary
cholesterol also contributes to heart disease. Therefore, it is advisable to
choose foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol as part
of a healthful diet.
What Can You Do About Saturated Fat, Trans Fat, and Cholesterol?
When comparing foods, look at the Nutrition Facts panel, and choose the food
with the lower amounts of saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. Health
experts recommend that you keep your intake of saturated fat, trans fat, and
cholesterol as low as possible while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet.
However, these experts recognize that eliminating these three components entirely
from your diet is not practical because they are unavoidable in ordinary diets.
Where Can You Find Trans Fat on the Food Label?
Although some food products already have trans fat on the label, food manufacturers
have until January 2006 to list it on all their products.
You will find trans fat listed on the Nutrition Facts panel directly under
the line for saturated fat.
How Do Your Choices Stack Up?
With the addition of trans fat to the Nutrition Facts panel, you
can review your food choices and see how they stack up. The following table
illustrates total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol content
per serving for selected food products.
Total Fat, Saturated Fat, Trans Fat, and Cholesterol Content Per
Common Serving Size
Total Fat g
Sat. Fat g
%DV for Sat. Fat
Trans Fat g
Combined Sat. & Trans Fat g
%DV for Chol.
French Fried Potatoes± (Fast Food)
Mayonnaise†† (Soybean Oil)
Cookies± (Cream Filled)
*Nutrient values rounded based on FDA's nutrition labeling
** Butter values from FDA Table of Trans Values, 1/30/95.
† Values derived from 2002 USDA National Nutrient
Database for Standard Reference, Release 15.
†† Prerelease values derived from 2003 USDA National Nutrient
Database for Standard Reference, Release 16.
± 1995 USDA Composition Data.
Don't assume similar products are the same. Be sure to check the Nutrition
Facts panel because even similar foods can vary in calories, ingredients, nutrients,
and the size and number of servings in a package. Even if you continue to buy
the same brand of a product, check the Nutrition Facts panel frequently because
ingredients can change at any time.
How Can You Use the Label to Make Heart-Healthy Food Choices?
The Nutrition Facts panel can help you choose foods lower in saturated fat,
trans fat, and cholesterol. Compare similar foods and choose the food with the
lower combined saturated and trans fats and the lower amount of cholesterol.
Although the updated Nutrition Facts panel will list the amount of trans fat
in a product, it will not show a Percent Daily Value (%DV). While scientific
reports have confirmed the relationship between trans fat and an increased risk
of CHD, none has provided a reference value for trans fat or any other information
that the FDA believes is sufficient to establish a Daily Reference Value or
There is, however, a %DV shown for saturated fat and cholesterol. To choose
foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol, use the general rule of thumb that
5 percent of the Daily Value or less is low and 20 percent or more is high.
You can also use the %DV to make dietary trade-offs with other foods throughout
the day. You don't have to give up a favorite food to eat a healthy diet. When
a food you like is high in saturated fat or cholesterol, balance it with foods
that are low in saturated fat and cholesterol at other times of the day.
Do Dietary Supplements Contain Trans Fat?
Would it surprise you to know that some dietary supplements contain trans
fat from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil as well as saturated fat or cholesterol?
It's true. As a result of the FDA's new label requirement, if a
dietary supplement contains a reportable amount of trans or saturated fat, which
is 0.5 gram or more, dietary supplement manufacturers must list the amounts
on the Supplement Facts panel. Some dietary supplements that may contain saturated
fat, trans fat, and cholesterol include energy and nutrition bars.
Here are some practical tips you can use every day to keep your consumption
of saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol low while consuming a nutritionally
Check the Nutrition Facts panel to compare foods because the serving sizes
are generally consistent in similar types of foods. Choose foods lower in
saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. For saturated fat and
cholesterol, keep in mind that 5 percent of the daily value (%DV) or less
is low and 20 percent or more is high. (There is no %DV for trans
Choose alternative fats. Replace saturated and trans fats in your
diet with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats do not raise
LDL cholesterol levels and have health benefits when eaten in moderation.
Sources of monounsaturated fats include olive and canola oils.
Sources of polyunsaturated fats include soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower
oil and foods like nuts and fish.
Choose vegetable oils (except coconut and palm kernel oils) and soft margarines
(liquid, tub, or spray) more often because the amounts of saturated fat, trans
fat, and cholesterol are lower than the amounts in solid shortenings, hard
margarines, and animal fats, including butter.
Consider fish. Most fish are lower in saturated fat than meat. Some fish,
such as mackerel, sardines, and salmon, contain omega-3 fatty acids, which
are being studied to determine if they offer protection against heart disease.
Choose lean meats, such as poultry without the skin and not fried and lean
beef and pork, not fried, with visible fat trimmed.
Ask before you order when eating out. A good tip to remember is to ask
which fats are being used in the preparation of your food when eating or ordering
Watch calories. Don't be fooled! Fats are high in calories. All sources
of fat contain 9 calories per gram, making fat the most concentrated source
of calories. By comparison, carbohydrates and protein have only 4 calories
To keep your intake of saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol low:
Look at the Nutrition Facts panel when comparing products. Choose foods
low in the combined amount of saturated fat and trans fat and low in cholesterol
as part of a nutritionally adequate diet.
Substitute alternative fats that are higher in mono- and polyunsaturated
fats like olive oil, canola oil, soybean oil, corn oil, and sunflower oil.
Highlights of the Final Rule on Trans Fat
Manufacturers of conventional foods and some dietary supplements will be
required to list trans fat on a separate line, immediately under saturated
fat on the nutrition label.
Food manufacturers have until Jan. 1, 2006, to list trans fat on the nutrition
label. The phase-in period minimizes the need for multiple labeling changes,
allows small businesses to use current label inventories, and provides economic
FDA's regulatory chemical definition for trans fatty acids is
all unsaturated fatty acids that contain one or more isolated (i.e., nonconjugated)
double bonds in a trans configuration. Under the agency's definition,
conjugated linoleic acid would be excluded from the definition of trans
Dietary supplement manufacturers must also list trans fat on the Supplement
Facts panel when their products contain reportable amounts (0.5 gram or more)
of trans fat. Examples of dietary supplements with trans fat are energy and
Major Food Sources of Trans Fat for American Adults
(Average Daily Trans Fat Intake is 5.8 Grams or 2.6 Percent of Calories)