August 27, 2015

Big Food Spreads Lies on Their Food Labels – Part 4

When it comes to the ban on trans fats, are we being led from the fat into the fire? This may or may not be the case, too little research has been done, and each side has their favorite they are promoting. Companies are scrambling to find clean label replacements for trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils). Some “experts” believe that the kinds of fats food makers are switching to may not be any better for us.

When it comes to palm oil, it has become one of the leading replacements for partially hydrogenated fats. The latest numbers from the USDA show Americans ate roughly five times more palm oil in 2014 than we did in 2001, some 2.6 billion pounds. But, at 51% saturated fat, palm oil has more of these heart-clogging fats than lard, which is 43% saturated fat.

While some studies, mostly sponsored by the Malaysian Palm Oil Board, show that the saturated fat in palm oils is not as harmful as saturated fats from other sources, other carefully controlled studies have raised some red flags.

In a 2006 study sponsored by the USDA, it was found that partially hydrogenated oil and palm oil raised both total cholesterol and LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, to about the same degree, leading the study authors to conclude that swapping palm for partially hydrogenated oils wouldn’t be a safe switch.

Another type of fat making its way into processed food is interesterified fat, which, like partially hydrogenated fat, is not found in nature. K.C. Hayes, PhD, a researcher at Brandeis University, studies interesterified fats. Hayes thinks they may prove to be as bad as trans fats, yet no one has done anything to prove this.

“I don’t think we know nearly enough about the fats we’re actually consuming,” says Sarah Berry, a researcher who studies interesterified fats at King's College in London.

What’s more, she says, you couldn’t necessarily avoid them just by looking at food labels. “The label might say something like soybean oil and fully hydrogenated soybean oil. You would not know” that it’s been interesterified, she says.

Part 4 of 5 parts.

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