The nutrition labels on your favorite junk food have always been a little distressing. (An Oreo has how much fat?) But now they're about to get scary--and more accurate. Last week the FDA announced a new rule requiring manufacturers to list grams of artery-clogging transfats on all nutritional labels. Here's the hitch: the new regulations don't take effect until Jan. 1, 2006 (though civic-minded manufacturers can voluntarily redo their labels earlier). Meanwhile, scan ingredients lists for "partially hydrogenated" or "vegetable shortening"--they're code words for transfats, which raise "bad" LDL cholesterol levels and lower levels of "good" HDL cholesterol. And don't be taken in by misleading health claims. The new rules don't prohibit foods loaded with transfats from being called "low cholesterol." Sure, it takes time to understand labels, says Walter Willett, chair of the nutrition department at Harvard's School of Public Health. "But it could add years to your life."
And remember that some of the biggest culprits, like fast food, which aren't packaged, aren't part of the new guidelines. If you want to know their transfats counts, you'll have to ask. Then again, maybe ignorance is bliss.