The Kitchen Think: It Says Trans Fat Free… But Is it?


I know many of you ditched trans fats a while back… way ahead of the FDA’s decision last week to ban trans fats in our food.

But you should know that just because a product’s label screams “0 Trans Fat!!”, doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily true.

Nestlé's Original Coffee-Mate Creamer

Nestlé’s Original Coffee-Mate Creamer

Here’s what I’m talking about: Look at the ingredient list on a product. The Nutrition Facts say “Trans Fat 0”… but in the list of ingredients, it says, “partially hydrogenated oil.”  Any oil that is partially hydrogenated is a trans fat.

A little misleading, right?

Here’s something else: The FDA lets food companies claim that a food product is “trans fat-free” if it has 0.5 grams or less per serving… like Fig Newtons and Premium Saltine Crackers. That is NOT trans fat free.

Having worked for several major food companies, I know it takes a long time to reformulate ingredients, especially those that have trans fats, because hydrogenated oils give foods taste and texture and helps prolong their shelf life.

Nilla Wafers are a good example. You get that crisp snap because the trans fat keeps the cookie from going stale and becoming soft. Nestlé’s Coffee Mate is smooth, rich and creamy because the third ingredient (after water and sugar) is hydrogenated oil.

Here’s hoping that the FDA’s ban on trans fat is the first step in recognizing that we need to clean up our food supply. What’s up next? Sodium? Sugar? High fructose corn syrup? Parabens? Nitrates? BHT? Tartrazine? The list goes on and on.

Extra Helpings: High Fructose Corn Syrup


Bella asks: What exactly is high fructose corn syrup? If it’s really that bad for you, why is it in virtually everything in the grocery store?

There’s a very loud, very intense discussion going on right now about high fructose corn syrup. Mama’s not about to wade into the middle of it, Bella, but I will answer your question.

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is made when corn is milled into cornstarch, and then processed into corn syrup. The corn syrup is then processed again (this time with enzymes) to convert almost all of the glucose into fructose.

HFCS is often used as a sugar substitute because it blends nicely with other foods and helps extend their shelf life, which is why you find it in so many beverages and processed foods (everything from bagels to mac and cheese). It’s also a lot cheaper than real sugar because of government subsidies for corn.

There are two types of HFCS:

1. HFCS-42, which contains 42% fructose and 58% glucose
• Used in baked goods, canned goods, cereal, salad dressings, desserts and ice cream
2. HFCS-55, which contains 55% fructose and 45% glucose
• Used mostly in soft drinks, energy drinks, fruit juices and cocktail mixers

Now, here is where the shouting gets loud. Sugar and HFCS both contain glucose and fructose and have about 4 calories. But sugar’s fructose and glucose are chemically bonded together and must be digested before being absorbed into the bloodstream.

But with HFCS, the fructose and glucose are blended together (not chemically bonded) which means they DON’T have to be digested before being absorbed into the bloodstream. This is why there is so much debate about whether HFCS has a larger impact on blood glucose levels than regular sugar… ultimately leading to obesity.

Honestly, Bella, sugar is sugar. No matter how you eat or drink it, if you consume too much, the body isn’t going to be able to process it and you’ll gain weight and have all kinds of other health issues.

Here’s the bottom line: In 1966, per capita consumption of high fructose corn syrup was zero… ZEE-ROW. Today, the average person consumes more than 30 lbs. a year. Thirty! THREE-O-M-G!

That little tidbit of info should be enough to make you reconsider what you’re putting in your grocery cart and make you read the label of everything you eat and drink!


I’m Christina Chavez

I was a TV journalist for many years, but with a house full of kids I decided to come off the road, go to culinary school and follow my passion for cooking. Mama’s High Strung is all about food… everything from creative recipe ideas to some really cool kitchen gadgets and cooking tips. I live in Chicago, but I love to travel and write about my food discoveries! You can reach me by email: