Hidden danger - trans fats in foods

CHOICE finds some manufacturers still sneak unhealthy trans fats into our foods.
 
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  • Updated:26 Jun 2009
 

03.What CHOICE found

CHOICE retested most of the 17 food products that when tested in 2005 wouldn’t have been permitted in Denmark or Switzerland because of their trans fat content. We also tested some new foods, namely deep-fried fast foods and doughnuts from chains as well as independent cake shops.

Where trans fats are still lurking

Of the 32 foods we analysed, these 13 contained more than 4% trans fats (as a percentage of total fat). They’re listed from highest to lowest in trans fat.

  • Coles Bakery Fresh Donut
  • Burns & Ricker Bagel Crisps Plain
  • Herbert Adams Mixed Vegetable Pasty
  • Pampas Short Crust Pastry
  • Four’N Twenty Traditional Meat Pie
  • McDonald’s McCafé Iced Donut
  • Independent bakery Doughnut
  • Donut King Glazed Donut King Iced Classic
  • Sara Lee Snack Quiche Lorraine
  • Sargents Party Pack Sausage Rolls
  • Mr Donut Choc Ring Doughnut
  • Woolworths Caramel Slice (According to the nutrition information panel, this contains less than 0.1% trans fats, but our testing found 0.7%, 4% of total fat content. A second retested sample showed the same result. Woolworths told us the manufacturer hadn’t changed the process or ingredients but they were considering changing the label to <1% trans fats.)

Burns & Ricker Bagel Crisps now contain a greater percentage of trans fats than in 2005.

 

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What's improved?

Foods with trans fatsTwo of the original 17 products, both of them fast foods, have made significant reductions, and four have almost eliminated trans fats altogether. They’re listed below with their current percentages of trans fats as a percentage of total fat.

  • Nutella Hazelnut Spread (<0.4%)
  • McDonald’s McNuggets and medium fries (<0.7%)
  • Erica’s Kitchen Vol au Vents (0.5%)
  • Ritz Cheese Crackers (0.9%)
  • McDonald’s Big Mac and medium fries (2% – just within the Danish/Swiss limit)
  • Hungry Jack’s Whopper and medium fries (2.4% – just over the limit but a big improvement on their 22.5% we found in 2005).

Unfortunately, however, according to their labels Hungry Jack’s have at the same time increased their level of saturated fat in the same meal from 36% to 54%. Even though gram for gram, trans fats are worse for the heart, foods that contain a lot more saturated fats could negate any benefit from cutting back on trans fats.

Doughnuts

Doughnuts are deep-fried, so most of their fat comes from the cooking oil. CHOICE tested doughnuts from 12 different outlets – seven of the doughnuts were obviously cooked in partially hydrogenated oils as they contained more than 4% trans as a percentage of total fats, but the other five were cooked in oils low in trans fats.

Our findings (see the table, below) show that food manufacturers can use low-trans cooking fats and oils if they really want.

The power of naming and shaming is also clear. In 2008, Krispy Kreme came under attack in the NSW state parliament and from the media for continuing to use trans fats in Australia while eliminating them from their US products. As a result, Krispy Kreme switched to a low-trans cooking oil from February this year. In the first sample of Krispy Kreme doughnuts we tested (bought in early March 2009) a massive 29% of the fats were trans fats, but a second sample, bought a month later, contained only a tenth as much trans fat.

And we nearly had a heart attack on the spot when we saw how much fat overall some of these doughnuts contain. Dreamy Donuts Glazed and the second sample of Krispy Kreme doughnuts contained a massive 27%-28%, and three others were over 20%.

 
DOUGNUTS
Doughnuts (ranked by % trans fat)
Trans fats (% of total fat)
Total fat (%)
Krispy Kreme Glazed Original (March 2009)
29.4 20.1
Coles Bakery Fresh Six Pack Iced Donuts
23.1 7.8
McDonalds McCafe Iced Donut
6.3 20.8
Donut King Glazed Donuts
4.9 20.3
Donut King Iced Classic
4.8 12.6
Independent A Iced doughnut
4.6 13.1
Mr Donut Two Pack (A)
4.4 13.5
Krispy Kreme Glazed Original (April 2009)
2.9 27.4
Dreamy Donuts Glazed
0.4 27.9
Woolworths Bakehouse Donut Iced Six Pack
<1.4 7
Independent D Iced doughnut
<0.9 11.2
Independent C Iced doughnut
<0.7 13.7
Independent B Iced doughnut
<0.6 17.3

Table notes

(A) Mr Donut told us that, according to their own testing, their cooking oil contains no more than 0.4% trans fats.

Trans fats Our lab measured the amount of each individual fatty acid. This figure is all trans fats combined as a percentage of total fat.

Total fat The percentage found by our lab from one sample of each type of doughnut bought from supermarkets, doughnut chains and independent cake shops in Melbourne. The amount of fat absorbed would depend on cooking conditions so there is likely to be some batch-to-batch variation.

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