For Release: Wednesday, August 7, 1996

Contact: Bill Bryant 202/332-9110, ext. 370

Margo Wootan, ext. 354

Trans Fat Spells Double Trouble for Arteries.

What the Food Labels Don't Tell You

French fries, fried chicken, baked goods, and hundreds of other foods may be twice as bad for your heart as most people suspect, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) warned today.

At a Washington, D.C. news conference, the nonprofit consumer-advocacy group released the results of a major study on the trans fat content of brand-name and restaurant foods. The results show that many foods made with partially hydrogenated oil, vegetable shortening, or margarine contain damaging amounts of trans fat.

"Many people know that the saturated fat in foods like hamburger, cheese, and ice cream can clog arteries," said CSPI senior scientist Dr. Margo Wootan, "but few people know that trans fat raises cholesterol levels as much as saturated fat does."

Unfortunately, the amount of trans fat in foods is not identified on their labels, although it is included in total fat. CSPI and many health professionals have argued it should be included with saturated fat because their roles in heart disease are similar.

"Trans is a secret killer," said Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health. "Labels tell you how much saturated fat you're eating. With trans, it's anybody's guess." Willett's research has helped establish the link between trans fat consumption and the risk of heart disease.

CSPI analyzed 41 supermarket and restaurant foods purchased in seven cities across the country. The results are being published in the September issue of CSPI's Nutrition Action Healthletter. Among the troubling findings:

"As a general rule, the softer the margarine, the less artery-clogging fat it contains," said Wootan. "Fleischmann's Lower Fat Margarine and Nucoa Smart Beat Trans-Free tub have no trans and just a fraction of the calories of ordinary margarine or butter."

In letters released today, CSPI called on restaurants and food manufacturers to switch from vegetable shortenings, margarines, and partially hydrogenated oils to liquid vegetable oil and to disclose the amount of trans fat hidden in their products.

Two-and-a-half years ago, CSPI petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to count trans fat as saturated fat on food labels and asked that the FDA ban claims like "no cholesterol" or "low saturated fat" on foods that are not also low in trans. Dr. Willett; Dr. William Castelli, director of the Framingham Cardiovascular Wellness Institute; Dr. Henry Blackburn, a professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, and other prominent researchers also have urged the FDA to require trans fat labeling. Thus far, the FDA has failed to act.

CSPI is a nonprofit health-advocacy group that was founded in 1971. It is supported largely by the 750,000 subscribers to its Nutrition Action Healthletter. It accepts no industry or government funds. CSPI is well-known for its tests of movie-theater popcorn, as well as Chinese, Italian, and other restaurant food.

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Note to Journalists: Dr. Wootan is available for interviews. Call Richard Hébert at (202) 332-9110, ext. 370. A complimentary media copy of the report on trans fat is also available.

[ NAH Article on Trans fat ] [ Nutrition Action Healthletter ]