Artificial Trans Fat Still in Supermarkets Despite Heart Risks
Sara Lee, Pepperidge Farm, and General Mills Among Holdouts
Marie Callender’s pies, Pop Secret’s microwave popcorns, and Long John Silver’s Breaded Clam Strips all share a little secret: they are among many products that still contain high levels of artificial trans fat.
Because trans fat is a potent cause of heart disease, the federal government and the American Heart Association have urged consumers to avoid foods that contain it. After the Food and Drug Administration required trans fat to be listed on food labels, most large manufacturers removed partially hydrogenated oil, the source of artificial trans fat, from their products. And in response to lawsuits, bad publicity, and local- and state-level restrictions, most large restaurant chains similarly stopped using the discredited ingredient. Thus, while many consumers might consider the problem solved, several large companies continue to market products containing unhealthy, and unnecessary amounts of trans fat.
Marie Callender’s Lattice Apple Pie (ConAgra Foods) contains 5 grams of trans fat per serving. Varieties of Pop Secret microwave popcorn (Diamond Foods) contain 4 or 5 grams of trans fat per serving. An order of Long John Silver’s Breaded Clam Strips contains 7 grams of trans fat. While White Castle recently eliminated trans fat from most of its products, some regionally marketed pastries contain large amounts. White Castle’s doughnuts contain a whopping 8 or 9 grams of trans fat per serving.
The American Heart Association recommends that people limit their trans fat intake to no more than two grams per day. Since small amounts of trans fat occur naturally in beef and dairy products, that leaves very little, if any, room for artificial trans fat from partially hydrogenated oil.
A sampling of foods containing three or more grams per serving includes Pillsbury’s Buttermilk Biscuits (General Mills), Pepperidge Farm’s Luscious 3-Layer Lemon Flavor Cake (Campbell Soup Co.), Utz’s Cheese Flavored Puff’n Corn, Jimmy Dean’s Sausage, Egg & Cheese Croissant Sandwich (Sara Lee Corp.), Celeste’s Original Pizza (Pinnacle Foods Group), and dozens more.
Mrs. Budd’s Original Recipe Chicken Pot Pie, a regional brand, has more partially hydrogenated oil than carrots or peas, but consumers would have no way of knowing how many of its 17 grams of fat per serving are from trans fat: The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates food with meat or poultry, hasn’t adopted the FDA’s trans fat labeling rule. (The company told CSPI that the pot pie contains 5 grams of trans fat.)
In 2004, the Center for Science in the Public Interest filed a regulatory petition urging the FDA to ban the use of partially hydrogenated oil in food altogether.
“Considering the virtual unanimity among scientists that trans is the most harmful fat in the food supply, it is totally irresponsible for companies like Sara Lee, Pepperidge Farm, General Mills, and Long John Silver’s, along with many smaller ones, to continue marketing foods with artificial trans fat,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “The FDA could readily ban the use of partially hydrogenated oil or set a strict limit on the amount of trans fat in a product. Unfortunately, the FDA has let CSPI’s petition collect dust.”
CSPI estimates that companies have eliminated well over half of the partially hydrogenated oil in the food supply. But the remaining trans fat continues to promote heart disease, likely causing thousands of unnecessary premature deaths annually.