It can be easy to get fooled by food labels when you go grocery shopping. It seems like every product boasts about its health benefits, even the ones with ingredients that we know are far from nutritious. When I appeared on Kansas City’s NBC news health alert, I explained how to read labels to avoid trans fats. This ingredient can often be found in packaged foods, even when the product’s label reads ‘zero trans fat’.

Trans fats are the by-product of an industrial process, hydrogenation, which makes a liquid oil act more like a solid or semisolid fat. Manufacturers like hydrogenated oils because they can extend shelf life. They also deliver a creamier texture. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that consuming trans fats increases heart disease risk. Reducing their consumption could prevent up to 20,000 heart attacks each year. That’s why the Food and Drug Administration has called for a ban on partially hydrogenated oils.

How to stop being fooled by food labels

  1. Read beyond the front of the package. Because of a labeling loophole, products with 0.5 grams of trans fat or less per serving may claim to be trans fat free. During the segment I brought examples of common grocery store products which contain trans fats, despite fancy graphics on their boxes. One box of microwave popcorn boasts being 94 percent fat-free, but the fat it did contain was unhealthy trans fat.
  1. Look for the words “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredient list. The only way to avoid trans fats is to carefully read the ingredient list and avoid products that contain hydrogenated oils. As you read labels, you may come across palm oil. Most of the palm oil in the United States comes from Malaysia where it is sustainably grown and produced. Malaysian palm oil is a healthy, naturally trans fat-free oil. It’s also rich in vitamin E tocotrienols which have been shown to support brain health.
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As a chef who cares about planet, I encourage you to eat foods closer to how they are found in nature. It’s hard not to get fooled by food labels, so cook from scratch whenever possible. Instead of microwave popcorn, buy some organic kernels and pop them in Malaysian sustainable palm oil. This extra effort is worthwhile for your health and your taste buds.

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