The Loophole That’s Letting Companies Sneak Trans Fats Into Your Food

The Environmental Working Group found that 27 percent of all grocery items contained the artery-clogging substance—but only 2 percent disclosed that information.
(Photo: Erik Isaacson/Getty Images)
May 22, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Josh Scherer has written for Epicurious, Thrillist, and Los Angeles magazine. He is constantly covered in corn chip crumbs.

In 2003, California attorney Steven Joseph filed a lawsuit against Kraft Foods with the goal of removing dangerous trans fats from Oreos. One day afer his story made headlines, the processed food giant announced that it would be removing partially hydrogenated oil—one of the most common sources of trans fat—from the iconic sandwich cookie. Everyone cheered.

So, for the past 12 years, you’ve gotten all the nostalgic joy of milk-soaked Oreos without increasing your risk of heart disease—or so it seemed. According to new analysis from the Environmental Working Group, you’re likely packing away more trans fats than nutrition labels would have you believe. Researchers studied 84,000 different foods from the EWG interactive food database and found that 27 percent contained trans fats, and an additional 10 percent contaned ingredients that are likely to contain the substance. The real problem is that only 2 percent of companies disclose that in the nutrition facts.

RELATED: Positive Proof That Banning Trans Fats Leads to Improved Health

They’re able to get away with it because of a federal regulatory loophole that allows companies to round the trans fat content of any food item down to zero if it contains under half of gram of the artery-clogging substance per serving. In the case of trans fats, which have no safe level of consumption recommended by the American Heart Association, any amount you consume is potentially harmful. Those fractions of grams add up over time, and according to a press release from the EWG, “A few slices of frozen pizza and a packaged cookie or two can spike a child’s trans fat intake to unhealthy levels.”

Why You Should Care: Diet-related diseases account for $71 billion in health care costs and claim the lives of an estimated 580,000 Americans each year, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Not only have trans fats been linked to raisng LDL, more commonly known as bad cholesterol, but they’re also associated with lowering HDL—good cholesterol—putting people at risk for heart disease. For people to truly educate themselves about food and make well-informed decisions, the FDA needs to hold food companies accountable for being fully transparent and publicly disclosing all the information about their products.

If you want to find out whether the food you’re eating contains fractions of grams of trans fats, you can use the EWG’s Food Scores database, which uses a 0.0 point scale.