New Year Brings New Look to Food Labels

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Food Labels

American Dietetic Association explains changes

Eating healthier and safer in the New Year may be easier thanks to changes on food labels, according to the food and nutrition experts of the American Dietetic Association. Starting January 1, 2006, the Food and Drug Administration will require food manufacturers to provide information on the amount of trans fats in their products and whether the products contain common food allergens.

"It is important to remember that just because a food says it contains zero grams of trans fat does not necessarily mean it's healthy," says registered dietitian Cynthia Sass, a spokesperson for ADA. "Even if a food is low in trans fat, it could be high in saturated fats."

Trans fat comes from the addition of hydrogen to liquid oils, making them more solid - the process called hydrogenation. Consumption of trans fats raises LDL cholesterol - so-called "bad cholesterol" - increasing your risk of heart disease. Trans fat commonly is found in some margarines, snack foods like chips and crackers, baked goods like cookies and cake and fried foods.

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If a label lists zero grams of trans fat in a product, that does not necessarily mean that it is trans fat free, Sass said. According to the FDA, trans fat does not have to be listed if the total fat in a food is less than 0.5 gram per serving and no claims are made about fat, fatty acids or cholesterol content.

"Consumers can find out if there are any trans fats in an item by reading the ingredients," Sass said. "If shortening, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil or hydrogenated vegetable oil are listed, the food still contains a small amount of trans fat."

The trans fat listing is not the only addition to labels. They also must now list whether the product contains food allergens. If a food contains protein derived from a major allergen, the label must clearly list that ingredient. The FDA identifies eight foods or food groups as the major food allergens: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans.

"Be sure to carefully read the ingredients listing, especially if you suffer from food allergies or are trying to cut down on your trans fat intake," Sass said. "While many food manufacturers began making changes to their labels in 2005, stores are not under any obligation to remove products from their shelves that were packaged prior to these rules."

Consumers who want to know more about the new information on food labels are urged to consult with a registered dietitian - their best source of food and nutrition information. To locate a registered dietitian in your area, visit the American Dietetic Association at www.eatright.org

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