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Say goodbye to hidden trans fat

Megan Samson, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Boone County, University of Missouri Extension


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released exciting news — they have taken action to protect consumers from trans fat. Artificial trans fat results from liquid oils being turned into solid fats by the process of hydrogenation. While trans fat can be found naturally in some animal-based foods like milk, milk-products and meat, most trans fat is consumed from artificial sources like vegetable shortening, stick margarine, fried foods, some coffee creamers and other processed foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (PHOs). Manufacturers rely heavily on PHOs to give products a longer shelf life and flavor stability. The FDA has officially determined that these PHOs are not “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) and are now removed from the GRAS list of ingredients.


Why are these PHOs and trans fat so bad for us?
It has been reported that the intake of trans fat is directly correlated to increased levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol and lowered high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good”) cholesterol in the blood. Therefore, trans fat is considered a hidden obstacle in the goal of reducing the risk of developing coronary heart disease.


What’s hidden about trans fat?
Listing trans fat content on food nutrition labels has been a requirement since 2006. However, just because the label reads zero grams (0g) of fat does not mean there are zero grams of trans fat in that food. If a product has less than 0.5g of a nutrient per serving, then the label can read 0g. Look for “partially hydrogenated oils” in the ingredients list and, if present, then there is indeed trans fat in that food product. Many processed foods have this small amount of trans fat that may not be listed on the nutrition label. When consuming small amounts of hidden trans fat in various products throughout the day and throughout our lives, it really adds up!


When will I start seeing PHOs disappear from ingredient lists?
The FDA has given manufacturers a three year compliance period to eliminate PHOs from their products, which can require some trial and error of recipe development in order to maintain product consistency. Therefore, PHOs should no longer be added to food after June 18, 2018.


Tips for understanding the fat content on a nutrition label:

  • Look for foods with 0g trans fat and make sure partially hydrogenated oils are absent from the ingredients list.
  • Choose foods low in saturated fat — 5% Daily Value or less is low, 20% Daily Value or more is high.
  • Check the serving size and ask yourself, “Is that a practical serving size for me or will I eat more than what is recommended? What will my fat intake be if I eat more than the serving size?”
  • Consider replacing saturated and trans fats in your diet with healthier mono- and poly- UNsaturated fats such as olive oil, canola oil, soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, and foods like nuts.


The FDA’s action to eliminate PHOs from the American diet is expected to reduce coronary heart disease and prevent thousands of fatal heart attacks each year.


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Last update: Tuesday, May 31, 2016