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Trans Fat Labeling Gets Tricky
Date:6/30/2008

Nutrition Facts panel makes it tough to make healthy choices, study shows

MONDAY, June 30 (HealthDay News) -- Are 3 or 4 grams of trans fats in a serving of baked or fried food bad for you, or can you stop worrying?

Answer: It's always unhealthy, since no amount of the artery-clogging artificial fat is good for you.

However, a new study suggests that the Nutrition Facts panel found on the side of grocery store products does a poor job of getting that message across to consumers.

"It's very misleading to just throw a number out there," contends study author Elizabeth Howlett, a professor of marketing at the University of Arkansas, in Little Rock.

Her team found that the average health-conscious consumer is often misled by trans fat information found on the Nutrition Facts panel.

The main problem is that because no amount of trans fat is good for you, it makes no sense to post a percentage of the "recommended daily value" -- as is done with other ingredients such as sugar, or total or saturated fats. So consumers are just left with a number -- such as 2, 3 or 4 grams of trans fat per serving -- and no way of interpreting how unhealthy that might be.

Furthermore, compared to the amounts of calories or carbohydrates listed on the Nutrition Facts panel -- which can often run into the dozens or hundreds of units -- a few grams of trans fat can seem harmless, Howlett said. In that context, consumers often think, "4 grams, wow, that looks good," she explained.

In reality, the American Heart Association states that anything over 2 grams per day of trans fat is definitely bad for you -- and it's preferred that your intake stay at zero.

The average consumer doesn't know this, however. Reporting in a recent issue of the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, Howlett and her colleagues had nearly 600 adults assess the relative nutritional value of a
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