10/10/2007 (FoodNavigator.com) - Consumer awareness of 'bad' fats is at an all-time high, but people are still lacking key information to better understand what they eat, according to a new survey by the American Heart Association (AHA).
The findings reveal that consumers often buy products because they are marked 'trans free', but few people actually understand what trans fats are, or where they come from.
According to the online survey conducted for AHA by Cogent Research, some 92 percent of consumers are aware of trans fat - a significant jump from 84 percent in 2006. However, only 21 percent could name three food sources of the artery-clogging fats. Similarly, while 93 percent of consumers are aware of saturated fat, only 30 percent could name three food sources of saturated fat.
Nevertheless, awareness of the link between these fats and increased heart disease risk is up from 63 percent in 2006 to 73 percent in 2007 for trans fat, and from 73 percent to 77 percent for saturated fat.
"We're encouraged to see that consumer awareness of saturated and trans fats is higher than ever and that more people understand the link between these fats and increased heart disease risk," said Robert Eckel, past president of the AHA, chair of its trans fat task force and professor of medicine at the University of Colorado at Denver Health Sciences Center.
"But it's clear that consumers need to know which foods contain what fats to minimize both saturated and trans fats and make heart-healthier food choices."
Food labels help, he said, but consumers need to be more aware of the food products they eat in order to be able to make informed decisions about food products purchased without labels in the grocery or when eating out.
When it comes to those products that are labeled, though, AHA's survey found that 37 percent of respondents buy foods because they are labeled 'zero trans fat', up from 32 percent last year, which confirms that the proliferation of trans fat-free claims have started infiltrating consumer consciousness.
According to AHA, on average, American adults consume approximately 2.2 percent of total calories from trans fat and four to five times as much saturated fat a day - far more than the limits recommended by the association.
The group earlier this year launched a new educational campaign to help consumers limit the amounts of trans fats in their diets, while not defaulting to more saturated fats. The Face the Fats campaign features an 'edutainment' website, including an interactive 'fat calculator' and examples of products containing trans and saturated fats.
The association states that trans fats are particularly found in commercial baked goods (such as doughnuts, pastries, muffins, cakes and cookies), in fried foods, (French fries, breaded chicken nuggets and breaded fish), snack foods (crackers), and other foods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, vegetable shortening, or hard margarine.
Saturated fat occurs naturally in many foods, with primary sources of saturated fats in the human diet being animal sources, including beef, lamb, pork, poultry with skin, beef fat, lard and cream, butter, cheese, and other dairy products made from whole or reduced-fat milk. These foods also contain cholesterol. Some plant foods, such as palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oil, also contain saturated fat.
'Better' fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, according to AHA. Major sources of monounsaturated fat include olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, avocados, and many nuts and seeds. Major sources of polyunsaturated fat include a number of vegetable oils (soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil and sunflower oil), fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring and trout) and some nuts and seeds.