Are These Cute Little Bears BS-ing Us?

August 11, 2015

By Anna Varriano

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Look at those cute little bear faces. It’s hard to believe they may be hiding a big fat lie that could be harming your health. If you or someone you know buys or eats Kraft Peanut Butter (or Jiff, or Skippy, or any of those types of peanut butters), you’ll want to read and share this post.

For the past week or so, I’ve been trying to get Kraft Foods to answer a simple question that I emailed them through their website, and that is: “Can you please confirm if the hydrogenated oils used in your peanut butters that state a ‘Zero Trans Fat’ claim are fully hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated, or a combination of both?” I’ll share the answers I received in just a minute…

Daytime trans fat scareyIf you watched my Video of the Month last week, you may recall that it was about ‘big fat lies’ in the food industry. One of the topics I talked about was health-damaging trans fats. I explained how manufacturers can make a trans-fat-free claim on a packaged food even if it contains trans fats. This is possible thanks to current labelling laws in Canada that allow manufacturers to make a trans-fat-free claim if there is less than 0.2 grams of trans fat per serving; make the serving size small enough, and they’ve got themselves a trans-fat-free claim. Finally, I suggested that regardless of whether or not there is a trans-fat free claim on a packaged good, you have to read the label – and that in terms of fats and oils, it would be in the best interest of your health to avoid packaged foods that contain:

  • Shortening – industry sources say shortening may or may not contain trans fats depending on how it’s processed. I stay away from it.
  • Partially hydrogenated oils – industry sources admit these are trans fats
  • Fully hydrogenated oils – industry sources claim these do not contain trans fats; but they are still chemically altered
  • Modified oils – doesn’t necessarily mean hydrogenated – it depends on how the oil has been modified (so who knows for sure!)
  • Interesterified oils – made by a chemical process that creates a product that’s somewhere in between a fat and an oil (and some research suggests it’s just as bad as trans fats)

If a peanut butter isn’t ‘All Natural’ (e.g. just peanuts and maybe some salt and/or sugar), it’s likely going to contain some type of hydrogenated oil as an ingredient (e.g. rapeseed and/or cottonseed, and/or soybean) in order to give it a creamy and smooth texture, as well as an unaturally long shelf-life. Some of these products have a ‘Sensible Solution’ banner on them that highlights a few positive health claims, including the fact that the product is trans-fat-free…just like this:

kraft peanut butter label

Since more and more consumers are shying away from products that contain ‘hydrogenated oils’, some food manufacturers now use ‘interesterified’ oils (six of one, half-dozen of the other?). Others make the following distinction: partially hydrogenated oils contain trans fats, but fully hydrogenated oils do not.

This last statement sounds straight forward, but what if an ingredient label just lists ‘hydrogenated XYZ oil’ like the one above does? How do you know if it is fully hydrogenated (not supposed to contain trans fats), partially hydrogenated (contains trans fats), or a mix of both (contains trans fats)? I also have another question – when an oil is processed to become a fully hydrogenated oil, how do manufacturers know that all of the oil gets fully hydrogenated? Is it possible that some of it only gets partially hydrogenated?

Who better to answer these questions than a company that makes a product that is a staple in so many homes – one that makes a trans-fat-free claim on its packaging, and that list ‘hydrogenated oils’ as an ingredient. Who is that company, and what is the product? Kraft Foods and Kraft Peanut Butter.

So, a few weeks ago, I sent Kraft Foods an email and asked them if they could answer those questions for me.

Here’ the first answer I received:

Hi Anna,

Thank you for visiting http://www.kraftcanada.com.

This process of adding hydrogen converts unsaturated vegetable oil, which is liquid at room temperature, to a more solid more saturated vegetable oil.

Hydrogenated oils are used because they are more stable which helps to ensure the quality of a product throughout its shelf life.

Hydrogenated oils are generally used in small amounts in products.

If an oil has been hydrogenated, it would be listed as such on the ingredient statement.

As with all fat-containing ingredients in our products, the fat content of this ingredient is factored into the “total fat” – declaration on the Nutrition Facts panel.

Products containing hydrogenated oils can be part of a nutritious diet if the fat content of one’s total diet is within the current guidelines.

If you haven’t done so already, please add our site to your favorites and visit us again soon!

Sincerely,

XXXX

Associate Director, Consumer Relations
Kraft/Heinz Case: 80189967

I was impressed with how quickly I received this response, but unimpressed that it didn’t answer a single one of the questions I asked…so, I replied, thanked them very much for the email, but let them know that it didn’t answer any of my questions regarding the ‘hydrogenated oils’ used in the peanut butter, so this time I numbered my questions and asked if they could specifically and directly respond to each one as follows:

  1. Is it fully hydrogenated, and if so, how do you know that the oil is indeed fully hydrogenated?
  2. Is it partially hydrogenated?
  3. Is it a mixture of fully and partially hydrogenated?
  4. If it is not fully hydrogenated, that means there are trans fats in the product. Can you please confirm the amount of trans fats per serving?

I then received this response:

Hi Anna,

Thank you for visiting http://www.kraftcanada.com.

I’m sorry as I’d like to assist you, the information you’re requesting isn’t currently available. I apologize for any disappointment this may cause you.

It was great hearing from you, and remember we’re always updating our site so visit us again soon!
Sincerely,

XXXXX

Consumer Representative
Kraft/Heinz Case: 80189967per

What the heck? The information I requested “isn’t currently available”? Really? Is their server down? The one that contains all the nutritional information about their products? How is it possible that one of the top food manufacturers in the world doesn’t know if the hydrogenated oil in one of their most popular products is fully or partially hydrogenated, which means they can’t (or perhaps don’t want to?) confirm if the product contains any trans fats? Really? How curious.

So, what do you think? Are these cute little bears BS-ing us?

I’m going to end this blog with a challenge that may help us get some straight answers.

Go to this link, http://kraftcanada-en.custhelp.com/app/contact and send Kraft Foods an email asking them the exact same four questions I did and let me know if you get a straight answer. Challenge your friends and family to do the same. Hopefully someone will eventually get a straight answer, and if so, please forward it to info@perfectresonance.com and I will spread the word.

Take control of what you can.

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