New Food Labels Show Trans Fat and Allergens
January 9, 2006 -- Packaged foods will display new labels this year featuring the amount of trans fat and eight different allergens that products may contain. Trans fat is an unsaturated fatty acid that is made when manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oil and is present in most processed foods. It behaves like saturated fat and raises "bad" cholesterol, which increases the risk of coronary heart disease.
When current nutrition labels list 0 grams trans fat content, it does not necessarily mean that there is none in the product. Rather, it means that each serving contains less than ½ gram of trans fat. Manufacturers are moving to reduce or eliminate trans fat in their products. Some companies have an extension from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to determine whether their food products have low or "no" trans fat. Also, stores do not have to take old products without the new label off the shelves.
The new labeling guidelines will also require companies to clearly state the presence of ingredients containing protein from milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, or soybeans, eight potential food allergens.
An important step in the Food and Drug Administration's process to determine whether trans fat should be listed on nutrition labels was receiving the Institute of Medicine's findings and recommendations on trans fatty acids. The 2002 report Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids said because they are not essential and provide no known health benefit, there is no safe level of trans fatty acids and people should eat as little of them as possible while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet. In 2003, Dietary Reference Intakes: Guiding Principles for Nutrition Labeling and Fortification examined labeling practices and recommended that more information be added to food labels, including trans fat content. The reports are part of a 12-part series on dietary reference intakes.