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posted: 3/28/2012 3:28 PM

Where, and why to look for trans fats

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A bottle of fat-free liquid Coffee-mate recently showed-up in our office fridge. Curious, I looked at the Food Facts label where it clearly stated: 0 fat and 0 trans fat.

The problem? It's a big fat fib. Here's why.

This Coffee-mate's ingredient list began with water; a nonissue. Second ingredient: sugar; contributing 20 of a single tablespoon's 25 calories. Not good, but not fat either.

Third ingredient (the fib materializes): partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oil. Uh-oh. Partially hydrogenated fat isn't just fat, it's trans fat. How could this creamer be fat and trans fat free?

Turns out, there's a nifty little USDA fat and trans fat loophole that Coffee-mate (and many others) slip right through. The USDA's rule simply stated: if the amount of fat or trans fat per serving is less than 0.5 gram, the amount can be rounded-down and expressed as 0; 0.49 gram equals zero.

If you're thinking: "That's no big deal;" it may be much bigger than it first appears, especially for trans fats.

Studies show trans fats raise LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) and lower HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol). Not good, especially for those who have to track such things.

The American Heart Association's current guideline recommends that everyone limit trans fat to 1 percent of daily calories; that means a person on a 2,000-calorie-a-day plan can have a mere 20 calories, or just a bit more than 2 trans fat grams.

Add four tablespoons of "trans fat free" Coffee-mate and you could be at your daily limit.

I commend the many food companies that have made the effort, once trans fat became the nutritional bad boy, to send it on its way.

But other companies haven't taken such steps, so here's how to not be bamboozled by the tomfoolery: ignore the Food Facts labels and head straight to that product's ingredient list. If you find the words "partially hydrogenated," the product contains trans fat.

When I find those words, I put the product back on the shelf, since I believe even a little trans fat is too much.

The next step in unearthing trans fats gets a little harder since these products don't come with an ingredient list attached: fast food.

Wendy's Baconator Double serves up 3.0 trans fat grams (along with 970 calories). Dave's Hot 'N Juicy Triple delivers 4 grams (1,060 calories).

How do I know? I went to Wendy's website and drilled down to find the nutritional analysis; hard to do if your rushing through for a grab-and-go burger.

Wendy's isn't alone when it comes to trans fats. Nope. Sonic's Sonic Bacon Double Cheeseburger with mayo brings it on with 3.5 trans fat grams and a whopping 1,280 calories.

If you want to know how many trans fats are in Chili's Jalapeno Smokehouse Big Mouth Burger with Jalapeņo Ranch Dressing, you're out of luck since the website doesn't reveal that information for the burger that Men's Health magazine deemed the worst in America. (You will learn, however, that it contains 2,210 calories and 6,600 mg sodium.)

There's no doubt, trans fats are still out there and hiding in plain sight, all we have to do is not believe the fibs and hope that more food manufacturers voluntarily banish them so we don't have to find them at all.

Try this recipe:Decades ago I made this tasty dish with 1 pound of pork Italian sausage that delivered 127 fat grams, 46 of them saturated fat. Today I grab Italian chicken sausage that carries just 36 fat grams (10 saturated) per pound and tastes nearly as good. Give this dinnertime winner a try.

• Contact Don Mauer at

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