This post is a departure from the typical web fare. However, because of the web, I’ve been able to look up nutritional information about the products sold in food stores I frequent.

This is a rather long post, so in case you don’t want to read it all, at least do this:

As I just returned from Europe, with fresh produce and meat abound, and a noteworthy absence of partially hydrogenated oils, I have become very frustrated with the food options available to me.

A few years ago I started reading the labels on the foods I ate. The more I read the ingredients, and the more I tried to understand the ingredients, the more I didn’t want to eat a lot of products.

I drew the line with baked goods at the local chain supermarket. Since I was a kid, I have baked cookies and cakes because these are my favorite foods. So I’m very familiar with the ingredients that go into these treats: flour, sugar, butter, eggs, etc.

When I looked at the ingredients in cakes I found at the grocery store, I couldn’t identify or even pronounce over half the ingredients. I looked at the other baked goods. Same thing. So I stopped buying them and wrote a letter to the company. No response.

Fortunately, a Whole Foods Market opened in Pittsburgh, and after a while, I shopped there exclusively. Sure, some products are more expensive. But when I read the ingredients, I know what I’m eating. Whole Foods has some good information about food labels and their commitment to healthy products.

I also learned that Whole Foods uses no hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils in their products, and sells no products that contain them. Hydrogenated oils are man-made trans fats, which the FDA recently required to be listed on food labels. Partially hydrogenated oils are used keep food fresher longer, provide longer fry-life for cooking oils, and provide texture to food. However, they’re laden with trans fat, which is the worst kind of fat.

What pisses me off is that partially hydrogenated oils seem to be unnecessary. If an entire grocery store chain can eliminate products that contain these oils from its products, why are they so rampant elsewhere when they are known to be harmful?

I wrote to Starbucks asking for nutritional information about their products about a year or two ago. They have since added this to the web site. Unfortunately, most of their products have partially hydrogenated oils and are high in trans fat. That means, I now only drink their coffee.

I recently looked up nutritional information for Panera Bread thinking maybe their breads would be okay. Nope. While they fall below the .5 grams of trans fat threshold established by the FDA (meaning that can claim on the label 0 grams of trans fat), the breads contain partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats).

They also claim that their products are good for you, so I wrote to them.

You claim that your products are very, very good for you. However, you use partially hydrogenated oils, which are harmful over time, and are banned in other countries.

Until I see an absence of partially hydrogenated oils in your products, I will not patronize Panera Bread, and I will discourage others from doing so.

The response:

Thank you for contacting Panera Bread. Panera bread menu items have been reformulated to remove or reduce partially hydrogenated fats in order to be free of trans fat, with the exception of small amounts that occur naturally in dairy and meat products. A product containing less than 0.5g trans fat per serving may be declared as 0g Trans Fat according to the US Food & Drug Administration.

The FDA also requires that each ingredient is listed, even if the amount is so small that it is not declarable on the nutrition panel. Any hydrogenated oils in our products are there in trace amounts that do not contribute significantly to trans fat.

Thank you again for contacting us. We appreciate your business and value your comments.
Customer Comment Coordinator

It’s true that a small amount of naturally occurring trans fats can be found in meat and dairy products. However, my letter made no mention of trans fats. And reducing partially hydrogenated oils is not the same as eliminating them. Therefore, I will not buy their products.

The more I try to avoid partially hydrogenated oils, the more food I realize I can’t eat. I encourage you to look at the ingredients in the products you eat, and really think about what it is that you are eating.

Obviously, I’m a bit irritated. I can only assume that others are not because they don’t know about the issue, and they trust food manufacturers and the FDA. Don’t.

Okay, I’m done, for now.