This post was originally published on May 13, 2017 and updated on April 20, 2020.

Kids love granola bars, cookies and crackers. But some of these snacks contain trans fats which are known to increase heart disease risk. And to make matters worse, a labeling loophole lets food manufacturers fool you into thinking their products are free from this industrially created ingredient. What’s a mom to do?  Teach kids to care for themselves by reading nutrition labels. If the ingredient list contains the word ‘hydrogenated’, the product likely contains artificial trans fat. If it lists palm oil, chances are the food is free of this unhealthy ingredient. Bonus: Responsibly sourced Malaysian palm oil – the type most American food manufacturers use – is also good for Mother Earth.

What is a hydrogenated oil?
Instead of using a natural semi-solid fat, some food manufactures use a process called hydrogenation to make a liquid oil more solid and increase its shelf life. This process requires special equipment and chemical solvents. Unfortunately, the hydrogenation process may also create trans fats. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, reducing trans fat consumption in this county could prevent up to 20,000 heart attacks each year.

Why you shouldn’t believe a “trans fat-free” claim on a label.
There’s a trans fat loophole which requires us to do some extra reading to ensure we’re avoiding this risky ingredient. In 2006, when the FDA required food manufacturers to list the amount of trans fats on nutrition labels, they also allowed manufacturers to label a food as “trans fat-free” if an individual serving contained less than 0.5 grams of trans fats. A study by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group found that foods marketed to children such as crackers, kids’ cereals, pretzels, puddings and snack cakes, were some of the most likely to contain this undisclosed trans fat. These small amounts can add up quickly, especially if kids consume several portions of the offending foods each day.

Teach kids to look for palm oil on ingredient lists. Many food manufacturers have substituted natural Malaysian sustainable palm oil for partially hydrogenated oil. This non-GMO tropical ingredient is semi-solid at room temperature and naturally trans fat-free. If you see palm oil on the label, chances are the food is trans-fat free. If the label contains the words ‘partially hydrogenated’ appears on an ingredient list, it likely contains trans fats.

You’ll find Malaysian sustainable palm oil in better-for-you snack bars, natural peanut butters, crackers and baking mixes. Major companies such as Nestle, Kellogg’s and Hershey use this wholesome ingredient.

Bonus: Malaysian palm oil is a model of sustainable agriculture
More than 80 percent of the palm oil used in this country is sourced from Malaysia, a leader in responsible palm oil cultivation. Malaysian palm oil meets the U.S. criteria for sustainable agriculture, as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture 1990 Farm Bill. This high-yielding crop helps satisfy the world’s demand for edible oil without negatively impacting our ecosystem. It also enhances the quality of life for farmers and the greater community.

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