How much trans fat in that cookie? Labels tell you now

LAWRENCEVILLE - A decade after the first cries about the hidden dangers of trans fats the Federal Food and Drug Administration now requires food labels to list how much is in each serving.

The new law also requires companies to list common allergy triggers, such as wheat, milk, eggs and peanuts or their derivatives in plain English on their products. Before, cryptic words normally found included "casein," which comes from milk, or "semolina," which comes from wheat.

Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, or trans fat, is found in many processed foods such as crackers, cookies, chips and margarine. It gives foods a longer shelf life and helps make foods crispy or creamy.

The trans fat disclosure on labels comes years after the Center for Science in the Public Interest first raised alarm about trans fat, the unhealthiest kind of fat. In 1994, Harvard University Researchers reported that trans fat contributes to up to 30,000 deaths from heart disease each year.

"Trans fat is bad because it can raise the LDL cholesterol," said Rachel Agnew, a registered dietitian and consultant with Nature Made in metro Atlanta. "That is the bad cholesterol that is linked to clogging of the arteries."

Reading the fine print is still a good idea, however, because food displayed before the Jan. 1 law went into effect will not have a separate line for trans fat and will not list allergens. Also, even with the new labels, a small amount of trans fat might be in foods even if the front of the package lists 0 grams trans fat.

"I think it's a great decision on the part of the FDA," Agnew said. "It's going to empower the consumer more and educate them on how to lower their cholesterol."