Sunday, January 1, 2006

Trans Fat & Food Allergen Labels: An Overview

A nutrition-minded start to 2006, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released new, long-awaited federal regulations requiring all food companies to list trans fatty acid content on packaged food labels earlier this month. You and fellow grocery store-goers across the country will now be able to distinguish between what’s ‘heart-healthy’ and what’s not with the inclusion of trans fat content on all food labels. Trans fatty acids are ‘unhealthy’, ultra-saturated (or ‘hydrogenated’) fats used to preserve shelf-life and are linked to increasing the risk heart disease by raising levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and lowering levels of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol. Trans fats are most often found in processed foods, commercial baked goods and snacks (eg. cookies, cakes, donuts, chips), fried foods and vegetable shortening and margarines. So the next time you’re weaving through grocery aisles, take a peek at what you’re about to put into your cart. Aim to choose products with zero or extremely minimal amounts of trans fats. In addition to checking the nutrition label itself, look out for ‘red-light’ words in the ingredient list such as “partially hydrogenated”.

Along with the inclusion of trans fat content, the FDA is also requiring food companies to list any potential allergenic ingredients on all food packages. Common food allergens include nuts, milk, peanuts, eggs, shellfish, soybeans and wheat. This regulation will make grocery shopping much easier and put many individuals, particularly parents, at ease when choosing new products. According to statistics from the National Institute of Health (NIH) food allergies affect nearly 5 million Americans, an estimated 5-8% of young children and 1-2% of adults.

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