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New Survey Shows Consumers Making Effort to Buy Healthy Foods But Buyer Beware: 'Zero' Isn't Always Zero

PARAMUS, N.J., May 19 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Americans trying to eat healthier are looking to nutrition labels to help make better choices at the grocery store. But consumers who take those labels at face value may find they're not eating as healthy as they think.

Nearly two-thirds of adults -- 62% -- make finding healthy foods a top priority when shopping for groceries, according to a recent nationwide survey of 2,100 adults conducted by Greenfield Online.

Some 72% of consumers report reading nutrition fact labels and/or ingredient lists is the number one way they determine which foods to buy at the grocery store to stay healthy. And 61% of adults surveyed rank "zero grams trans fat per serving" as the most important statement they look for on the label for heart health.

But consumers may be surprised to learn "zero" isn't always zero when it comes to trans fat. Products labeled "zero grams trans fat" could contain up to .49 grams of trans fat per serving under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines. That means consumers could easily -- and unknowingly -- exceed the American Heart Association's recommended limit of no more than 2 grams of trans fat a day.

"It's easy to see how despite their best efforts, consumers eating foods labeled 'zero' trans fat could exceed the daily limit before they even sit down to dinner," said Steve Hughes, CEO of Smart Balance, Inc., which commissioned the survey.

Even seemingly insignificant amounts of trans fat can have a significant impact on health. The AHA reports trans fat has been shown to raise LDL ("bad") cholesterol and lower HDL ("good") cholesterol, increasing the risk of coronary disease or stroke; and it has been associated with a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Adding just 4 grams of trans fat to your diet -- about 2% of your daily calorie intake in a 2,000 calorie diet -- can increase your risk of heart disease by 23%, according to the New England Journal of Medicine(1). The Journal reports one gram of trans fat increases the risk of cardiovascular disease 15 times more than one gram of saturated fat.

What Can Consumers Do to Determine Whether "Zero" Really Equals Zero?

"The key is to look for 'partially hydrogenated oil' in the list of ingredients. That's a dead giveaway that there's trans fat in the product no matter what it says on the package," said Alyse Levine, a registered dietitian. "Here's a simple rule to follow -- if you see 'partially hydrogenated oil' listed on a product's label, just put it back on the shelf and find another product that doesn't," Levine added.

"It's also important to pay attention to serving size which can be much smaller than you think. If you're eating multiple servings of the food, you may be consuming a significant amount of trans fat and putting yourself at risk for many negative health consequences," Levine said.

Smart Balance CEO Steve Hughes believes the U.S. needs to take it a step further and ban trans fat altogether as Denmark has done, resulting in a 20% drop in heart disease. "It's time consumers know the truth about trans fat and time the FDA takes action to protect their health by simply banning partially hydrogenated oil," Hughes said. "Partially hydrogenated oil has no nutritional value and poses a real health risk."

"The good news is Americans are making healthier food choices a priority and they clearly recognize the dangers of trans fat. But unfortunately reading the fine print is necessary to ensure they're not getting more trans fat and putting their health at greater risk than they bargained for," Levine said.

Now more than ever, with 67% of those surveyed saying they are eating out less and cooking at home more in the past six months, the choices consumers make at the grocery store can make a real difference in their health.

The "Healthy Shopping" Survey was conducted by Greenfield Online, Inc., a global research company that uses proprietary interactive technology to measure consumer attitudes. Greenfield surveyed 2,100 U.S. consumers ages 18 and older on April 20, 2009. The survey was commissioned by Smart Balance, Inc.

Smart Balance, Inc. (Nasdaq: SMBL) is committed to providing superior tasting heart healthier alternatives in every category it enters by avoiding trans fats naturally, balancing fats and/or reducing saturated fats, total fat and cholesterol. The company's products include Smart Balance(R) Buttery Spreads, Milk, Butter Blend Sticks, Peanut Butter, Microwave Popcorn, Cooking Oil, Mayonnaise, Non-Stick Cooking Spray and Cheese.

(1) Medical Progress: Trans Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Disease' (April 13, 2006). By Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., M.P.H., Matijn B. Katan, Ph. D., Alberto Ascherio, M.D., Dr.P.H., Meir J. Stempfer, M.D., Dr.P.H., and Walter C. Willett, M.D., Dr.P.H. The New England Journal of Medicine.

SOURCE Smart Balance
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