FDA's Slick Math

 In our (math) book, two plus two still equals four. However, the Food and Drug Administration would probably disagree. After all, according to their own calculations, ½ + ½ + ½ + ½ + ½ + ½ + ½ + ½ + ½ + ½ + ½ = 0.

Lately, you might have noticed flashy labels touting "Zero Trans Fats!" on bags of potato chips, crackers and other snack foods. While that sounds like an honorable attempt of the food industry to get rid of ingredients that clog your arteries and are dangerous to your heart health, it's really more like a scam... and the FDA is in on it.

Because zero doesn't really mean zero. Under FDA regulations, "if the serving contains less than 0.5 gram [of trans fat], the content, when declared, shall be expressed as zero."

Of course the pivotal word here is "serving."

An 11-ounce bag of potato chips contains 11 servings. That means it's perfectly legal for the entire bag to contain more than 5 grams of trans fat--which the Institute of Medicine has declared unsafe in any amount.

How do you know it's in there, though? Simple: Search the ingredients list for "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" oil or "shortening." The higher up in the list, the greater the amount.

A typical example: According to its "Nutrition Facts" label, an 11-ounce bag of Lay's Cheddar and Sour Cream potato chips has 0 grams of trans fat. The ingredients list, however, shows "Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and/or Cottonseed Oil." Duh.

But even companies that really have eliminated trans fat from their snack foods, often have replaced them with saturated fats. In other words: The fact that a snack food doesn't contain trans fat doesn't mean you should eat as much of it as you want--or even eat it at all.

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Posted 03-07-2006 6:28 PM by Doug Casey
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