Lab Tests Reveal Hidden Trans Fat in “0 Grams Trans” Spreads

Many popular vegetable oil spreads that boast of “0 grams trans fat” on their labels actually contain significant levels of trans, according to laboratory analyses commissioned by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). And that’s perfectly legal, since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lets food manufacturers claim zero grams of trans fat as long as the product has less than half a gram per serving. Eat a few servings of these and other ostensibly trans-free products each day and, without even knowing it, you might end up consuming considerably more trans fat than you should, according to CSPI. 

The products tested by CSPI and their trans fat totals were: 

  • Shedd’s Spread Country Crock 0.4 g
  • Take Control 0.4 g
  • Blue Bonnet Homestyle 0.3 g
  • Promise Stick 0.3 g
  • I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Original 0.3 g

“Food companies should be weaning themselves off of partially hydrogenated oil altogether, and not sneaking it into vegetable oil spreads advertised as trans-fat-free,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “In the meantime, consumers should seek out products that don’t make use of this discredited ingredient, particularly if they’re concerned about reducing their risk of heart disease.”

“All of the trans-free claims that CSPI analyzed would be illegal in Canada. Canada prohibits companies from making those claims on products that have more than 0.2 grams of trans fat. While 0.2 is still not zero, it would be more protective of consumers’ hearts and arteries, according to CSPI.

“The CSPI study provides the first publicly available information on just how much trans fat is present in foods that list 0g, but that contain partially hydrogenated oil. The amounts might have been as little as 0.01 or 0.05 grams, truly trivial amounts, but the foods analyzed contained much more.

“The federal Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommends that Americans consume less than 1 percent of their calories from trans fat. For someone on a typical 2,000-calorie diet, that works out to about 2 grams of trans, or about as much as the average consumer would get from the trans fat that occurs naturally in milk and meat."

“Getting trans fat on Nutrition Facts labels was a major advance for consumers’ health, but zero grams should really mean zero, or at least something a lot closer to zero,” said Dr. Carlos A. Camargo, Associate Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at Harvard Medical School, and member of the 2004 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. “These amounts of trans fat may seem small, but they can quickly add up to more than what people should consume in a day.”