Hidden danger lurks in children's snacks

The trans fat content of French fries ranges from four grams (McDonald's) to seven grams (Burger King.)
It should be noted, however, that since the testing was done, McDonald's announced, with much fanfare, that it was significantly reducing the hydrogenated oils it was using so, presumably, trans fat levels have fallen as well. A Big Mac contains about four grams of trans fat…an order of Burger King hash browns contains as much trans fat as two hamburgers. So does an order of eight chicken wings.

The Globe and Mail
October 29, 2003

Hidden danger lurks in children's snacks
Product tests find trans fatty acids galore
Andre Picard

Many popular children's snacks contain alarming amounts of trans fatty acids, a hidden, manufactured fat that many scientists consider a serious health hazard, tests commissioned by The Globe and Mail and CTV News show.

Laboratory tests revealed that one small serving (four cups) of microwave popcorn can contain a whopping 5.7 grams of trans fat.

A serving of Giant Goldfish crackers, a toddlers' staple, contains almost two grams of trans fat. Even an arrowroot biscuit, one of the first solids given to babies, contains 0.32 grams. Pizza Pockets and fruit roll-ups contain similar amounts. (Some manufacturers take issue with the test results, but the lab stands by the findings.)

A blue-ribbon panel of U.S. scientists concluded last year that there is no safe level of trans fat. Researchers have shown that just one gram daily, the amount in one frozen waffle, can increase the risk of heart disease by 20 per cent.

"There are good, bad and ugly fats in our diet and trans fats are the ugly ones," said David Jenkins, a professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto.

Merely bad fat — called saturated fat — raises levels of bad cholesterol (low-density lipoproteins). Trans fat raises LDL levels too, but it also prevents good cholesterol (high-density lipoproteins) from doing its job of clearing the circulatory system.

"Trans gives you a double whammy: It pushes up LDL, the bad, and knocks out HDL, the good," Dr. Jenkins said.

Still, he cautioned that merely eliminating consumption of trans fat will not result in a healthy diet. That is because Canadians, who are among the world's biggest consumers of trans fat — ingesting an average of 10 grams daily — still eat five times more saturated fat than trans fat.

"The best thing a person can do is avoid processed food altogether," Dr. Jenkins said.

That is the approach Cynthia Rychlewski, a Toronto nurse and mother of three young children, has adopted in recent weeks. After reviewing the results of The Globe/CTV research, she was astounded by the hidden fats in her children's lunch boxes and decided to change her ways.

"Goldfish have been a staple in this house for years. Every kid loves fishies. But I got rid of them and I'm baking my own cookies now," she said. "There will be no more fruit roll-ups or Dunkaroos for lunch, just fresh fruit."

Ms. Rychlewski has also modified the practice of serving microwave popcorn as the family gathers to watch Hockey Night in Canada. She has switched to air-popped with butter.

She said that, to date, the switch has been relatively easy, but she is angry that the issue of trans fat has remained under the radar for so many years.

"I don't understand why the government allows these snacks to be marketed to children if they're so unhealthy," Ms. Rychlewski said. "The least they could do is put it on the label."

In fact, Canada's new labelling laws, which will oblige manufacturers to list 13 ingredients including trans fat, will not take effect until January of 2006. And, by that time, many trans fats may well have disappeared from foods.

That is because food makers, stung by a backlash over trans fat, and increasingly fearful of lawsuits, are scrambling to find alternatives. The most obvious is a return to using tropical oils and other saturated fats. But some manufacturers are turning to non-hydrogenated canola oil, a much healthier alternative.
(Oils are used as a preservative and as a means of giving processed foods better texture and consistency. For example, oils, particularly hydrogenated ones, can make margarine spreadable rather than hard, keep peanut oil from settling at the top of the peanut butter jar and make chicken nuggets chewier.)

Trans fats came into widespread use because of concern over the use of palm and coconut oils in processed foods.

A high-profile campaign bankrolled by millionaire Phil Sokolov, which featured full-page newspaper ads headed "The Poisoning of America," led to the tropical oils being jettisoned.

In their stead, trans fat became ubiquitous. The fat is found not only in children's snacks, but in frozen and fast food.

Margo Wootan, a senior scientist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, has analyzed the trans fat content of a number of foods. Her principal advice to those who eat out is: "Axe the appetizers."

Dr. Wootan warns that popular finger foods sold in bars and as appetizers in family restaurants are loaded with unhealthy fat because they are "fried in sludge-like shortening."

For example, an order of deep-fried onion rings with dipping sauce can contain up to 2,100 calories and 18 grams of trans fat. An order of fried clams at a seafood restaurant can contain 50 grams of fat, including 10 grams of trans fat. Chicken fingers contain six to 10 grams of trans fat.

Fast food, which often bears much of the blame for unhealthy nutritional habits, is not as bad as pub fare, but contains significant amounts of trans fat, according to the CSPI.

The trans fat content of French fries ranges from four grams (McDonald's) to seven grams (Burger King.)
It should be noted, however, that since the testing was done, McDonald's announced, with much fanfare, that it was significantly reducing the hydrogenated oils it was using so, presumably, trans fat levels have fallen as well.

A Big Mac contains about four grams of trans fat.

The unhealthy fats can also be found in significant quantities in unlikely places. For example, a single Cinnabon cinnamon roll contains 27 grams of fat, including four grams of trans fat.

"That's a Whopper's worth for breakfast," Dr. Wootan said. But pastries purchased at bakeries often contain little or no trans fat because they are made with butter. (Dairy products and beef contain trace amounts of trans fat because fat can be partially hydrogenated in a cow's stomach. But you would have to drink about 200 litres of milk to match the trans fat in a single serving of processed snack foods.)

Similarly, an order of Burger King hash browns contains as much trans fat as two hamburgers. So does an order of eight chicken wings.

Trans fat can even be found in baby formula, some baby foods and breakfast cereals.

Carol Dombrow, a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant with the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, said one of her biggest concerns is the quantity of trans fat consumed by children.
"We really need kids to develop good eating habits and if they get used to foods that are loaded with saturated fats and trans fats, that will be problematic later in life," she said.

Tomorrow:
Canada lags behind some other countries in both the labeling and regulating of trans fats.

Trans fat test results
Product name: Tim Horton's bran muffin
Serving size: 1 muffin
Serving mass in grams: 113 g
Grams of trans fatty acid per serving**: 0.49 g

Product name: Pepperidge Farm giant Goldfish
Serving size: 4 crackers
Serving mass in grams: 29 g
Grams of trans fatty acid per serving**: 1.62 g

Product name: Kellogg's Blueberry Eggo Waffles
Serving size: 2 waffles
Serving mass in grams: 78 g
Grams of trans fatty acid per serving**: 2.11 g

Product name: Doritos corn chips
Serving size: 12 chips
Serving mass in grams: 28 g
Grams of trans fatty acid per serving**: 1.09

Product name: Betty Crocker Fruit Roll-Ups
Serving size: 1 roll
Serving mass in grams: 14 g
Grams of trans fatty acid per serving**: 0.35 g

Product name: McCain Pizza Pockets
Serving size: 1 pocket
Serving mass in grams: 100 g
Grams of trans fatty acid per serving**: 0.26 g

Product name: Blue Water frozen fish
Serving size: 1 fillet
Serving mass in grams: 74 g
Grams of trans fatty acid per serving**: 2.59 g

Product name: Orville Redenbacher's buttered popcorn
Serving size: 4 cups of popped corn
Serving mass in grams: 44 g*
Grams of trans fatty acid per serving**: 5.72

Product name: Arrowroot
Serving size: 1 biscuit
Serving mass in grams: 7 g
Grams of trans fatty acid per serving**: 0.32

Product name: Handisnack peanut and crackers
Serving size: 1 package
Serving mass in grams: 35 g
Grams of trans fatty acid per serving**: 1.75 g

  • Redenbacher's company officials say a serving size of 4 cups has a total mass of 20 grams and contains 1.78 grams of trans fat

** based on one lab analysis per product with a 20% margin of error (industry often uses an average of 3 to 6 lab tests for its results


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