If the nutrition label reads "zero grams trans fat" it must be healthy, right? Wrong! As it turns out, federal regulations allow labels to read "zero grams trans fat" as long as a product contains less than 0.5 grams of the artery-clogging fat per serving.

Food for Thought

Unfortunately, most food packages contain more than one serving. A snack-size bag of cupcakes, for example, may contain zero grams of trans fat per serving, but when you consider that each bag contains two to three servings, that number jumps considerably. By the time you've devoured that bag of cream-filled chocolate cupcakes, you may have consumed up to two grams of trans fat.

Consumer groups and health officials have campaigned to phase out the use of trans fat completely because it contributes to heart disease by raising levels of LDL, or bad cholesterol, while lowering HDL, or good cholesterol. Despite the movement to phase it out, many food companies continue to sneak small amounts into their products.

Label Literacy

What does this mean for health-conscious consumers? According to Bonnie Taub-Dix, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, it means following a few smart guidelines when filling your supermarket cart.

First and foremost, look at the nutrition label. A food may be free of trans fats but full of saturated fats, which are just as unhealthy. Many food companies have simply replaced trans fats with saturated fats, so check the label for low percentages of saturated fats as well. In addition, check for partially hydrogenated oils. Foods you should be particularly wary of include margarine, frosting, microwave popcorn, frozen waffles, and pre-packaged snack cakes, pastries, and cookies.

What if you don't have the time to check the label? No worries. Simply steer clear of prepackaged foods altogether and, chances are, your cart will remain trans fat free. Opt for fresh fruits and veggies, lean proteins such as chicken and fish, and oils high in monounsaturated fats—such as olive, peanut, and canola oils. And remember, no matter what you're eating, portion size is the key.