When “Zero” Isn’t Really Zero: How to Spot Trans Fat in Foods

Written By: Sofia Layarda, MPH

Title: Master of Public Health

Alumni: University of California, Berkeley

Last Updated on:

What “Zero Trans Fat” Means

You hear it over and over: read nutrition labels to know where the trans fat is hiding. However, that is only part of the story. Under FDA guidelines, foods labeled “zero trans fat” can still have up to 0.49 g trans fat per serving. Depending on the serving size specified, you may be gobbling up far more trans fat than you expected in one meal. The American Heart Association’s recommended limit for trans fat intake is a max of 2 g per day, but there is general agreement that the less trans fat you consume, the better.

How to Find Trans Fat in Foods When “Zero” Isn’t Really Zero

If the ingredients list includes any vegetable oil that is partially hydrogenated, the food contains trans fat. Here are some examples of products we found that contain trans fat, even though the Nutrition Facts label shows zero grams of trans fat:


  • Nabisco 100 Calorie Packs? Toasted Chips Ritz Snack Mix (contains partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil)


  • Chips Ahoy Chocolate Chip Cookies (contains partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil)
  • Quaker Breakfast Cookies ? Oatmeal Chocolate Chip (contains partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oils)


  • Keebler Wheatables ? Hearty Multigrain (contains partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oils)
  • Keebler Grahams (contains partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oils)


  • Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Treats Cereal (contains partially hydrogenated soybean oil)
  • Kellogg’s Special K Cereal Bars ? Strawberry (contains partially hydrogenated soybean or cottonseed oil)

Salad Dressing

  • Kraft Light Caesar Salad Dressing (contains partially hydrogenated cottonseed and/or soybean oil)

Baking Needs

  • Kraft Shake ‘N Bake Seasoned Coating Mix ? Extra Crispy (contains partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oils)
  • Crisco All-Vegetable Shortening (contains partially hydrogenated cottonseed and soybean oils)

Boxed/Convenience Meals

  • Chef Boyardee Mac & Cheese (contains partially hydrogenated soybean oil)
  • Zatarain’s New Orleans Style Pasta Dinner Mix (contains partially hydrogenated soybean oil)

Note: The above is not a complete list at all. It is intended to show how prevalent partially hydrogenated oil is present in our food.

Because of huge consumer concern and the spotlight on the “evils” of trans fat, many food companies appear to be making the switch, where possible, to trans-fat-free ingredients. However, unless the labeling requirements around trans fat change, the only sure way to locate hidden trans fat is by looking at the ingredients list. Remember: any vegetable oil that is partially hydrogenated contains trans fat.

The Bottom Line

Whenever possible, avoid overly processed convenience foods, which often contain trans fats. And remember that just because a food has no trans fats, it’s not necessarily “healthy.” Trans fat was invented to emulate the role of saturated fats in cooking and baking, so foods that have (or used to have) trans fat in them will probably have a saturated fat source added back in. Watch out for plant-based saturated fats, such as palm or coconut oils, and avoid them too.


cholesterol, heart disease, heart smart, hydrogenated oil, partially hydrogenated oil, trans fat


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