All of the participants had good reason to eat healthy: In one experiment all the volunteers were diabetic, and in a second experiment they had all been diagnosed with heart disease.
And yet the Arkansas team found that, in the absence of any education as to how much trans fat per day is good or bad for you, most participants failed to associate 3 or 4 grams per serving of trans fat with cardiovascular risk.
"When you tell someone what the trans fat level is in a product, and don't give them any guidelines about how to evaluate what that number means, that can lead to some false inferences," Howlett said.
The addition of trans fat to the list of ingredients on the Nutrition Facts panel is the first major change to the label since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration first introduced it back in 1994. Howlett didn't offer any fix of her own to make interpreting the label easier for consumers, but she believes that "there needs to be some educational component or campaign" whenever changes to the Nutrition Facts panel appear.
"That's something that the FDA would have to wrestle with," she said.
One labeling note did seem to help study participants make healthier food choices, Howlett said. A manufacturer's front-of-package claim that a product was "Low in Trans Fat" or had "Zero Trans Fat" did make participants more likely to consume the food in question.
Howlett supports the use of such claims, if valid, but notes that consumers still need to read the Nutrition Facts panel closely. That's because a product can have no trans fat but still be very high in unhealthy saturated fats or sugars, she said.
Discerning how much trans fat is in a take-out or sit-down restaurant meal can be even tougher. "Consumers have very little understanding in an away-from-home food co
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