Trans Fats Inspire Fear and Loathing

With the labeling deadline approaching and consumers becoming wary, processors search for substitutes for the functionality of trans fatty acids.

By Kantha Shelke, Ingredients Editor

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That’s also the case with a second Source Food Technology product, OmegaSource, a proprietary omega-3 fish oil with specially processed phytosterols (a cholesterol-fighting plant ingredient allowed a heart-health claim by the FDA). Phytosterols also figure in Source Food’s Nextra Gold. The vegetable-based cooking oil without trans fats or cholesterol has phytosterols incorporated to further counter the absorption of cholesterol from fried foods. Source Food has focused on foodservice frying operations because it recognizes the need for viable solutions for a category that reportedly uses five of the total eight billion pounds of frying oil used annually to fry foods in the U.S.

Antioxidants are another helpful and powerful solution. Palm oils have good shelf life not only because they are low in linolenic and linoleic acids but also because they are rich in antioxidants such as tocopherols and tocotrienols, which help resist oxidation and rancidity. This property has helped food companies such as Kraft and Kellogg to remove trans fats and maintain the shelf life in products such as Golden Uh-Oh!s, and Cracklin' Oat Bran cereals, respectively. According to the American Palm Oil Council (, processors stand to benefit tremendously from a growing awareness of the health properties of the antioxidants in addition to the stability it bestows upon the products.

Another solution is Enova oil. Japan’s Kao Corp. created the product by a proprietary molecular rearrangement of soy and canola oils such that the diacylglycerol concentration is approximately 80 percent, 70 percent of which is made up of the 1,3-form. The configuration allows for Enova oil to be digested and absorbed as triacylglycerols, but to be metabolized as energy.

Intestinal enzymes cannot metabolize 1,3-diacylglycerols because of their unique shape and conversely cannot recombine them into fat molecules. So less fat passes into the bloodstream to be stored in the body. Enova, introduced in 1999, is the No. 1 premium cooking oil in Japan. The product is made and marketed in the U.S. by a joint venture between Kao and ADM.

But do we really have to switch? Willie Loh, national sales manager for Cargill Specialty Canola Oils (, Wayzata, Minn., suggests marketers figure out the value of the trans fat-free switch by polling for consumer values and price elasticity. Do customers merely want to minimize trans fats, or are they seeking “front-of-the-package” claims with clear statements such as "zero gram trans fats" or "saturated fat free."

"While consumers are unlikely to know what trans fats are, they do know they are bad for their health. They also know saturated fats are bad and too many calories are bad." The question, he says, is how much are they willing to pay for these benefits. In conclusion, it should be acknowledged that some food product developers privately believe the crusade against trans fats is more about marketing and less about health. There also is some concern from food industry critics that the removal of trans fat may create the illusion of food companies doing the healthy thing without really changing their high fat products. That’s especially true for those processors who choose to replace trans fats with high saturated fat alternatives.

But a mandate, even just a labeling one, is still a mandate. And it’s apparent many consumers are catching on. Whatever the cost to the industry of replacing trans fats, the cost of losing consumers is incalculable.


Be wary about the switch. Get R&D to critically evaluate and compare the fatty acid profiles of all of the fat choices. Get them to look for other healthy benefits, such as omega-3 fatty acid content and phytosterols. Compare the ounce-for-ounce cost of the trans-free alternatives with the partially hydrogenated incumbent. Recognize that cost is a complex matter and involves formulation and manufacturing elements, but realize the removal of trans fatty acids is necessary.

If the new oils carry a hefty price tag for high stability, make sure your product requires that level of stability before you spend. High-stability oils (and their high price) may not be necessary if your product is frozen or does not require extended shelf life. Consider alternative packaging to improve shelf life instead.

There may not be a need to spend excessive amounts on nutritional analysis. Rely on supplier specification sheets to build the nutritional profile of your finished product – but ensure they have used approved methods of analysis (AOAC 996.06 or other approved method).

Talk to your plant operations people, too. Determine the impact on production facilities, including the need for special equipment to store and handle quantities of oil, which previously was a semi-solid shortening in your system. Clarify if the storage and processing conditions can affect heat and shelf life stability.


There are many kinds of trans fatty acids and they are not all the same. Not all are bad for health. In fact, two have been identified to be beneficial for human health.

Oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid, is probably the most common fatty acid in our foods. When partially hydrogenated to produce spreadable margarine, oleic acid is converted into a trans form called elaidic acid (9-trans-octadecenoic acid), the predominant trans fat acid produced by commercial hydrogenation. Ruminants create another form of trans fat, vaccenic acid (11-trans-octadecenoic acid) as a result of the hydrogenation of oleic acid by intestinal bacteria.

Conjugated linoleic acid, popularly referred to as CLA (cis-9, trans-11 conjugated linoleic acid), has beneficial effects. Found in greatest amounts in dairy products, CLA may also be formed in the body by the conversion of vaccenic acid. Cornell researcher Adam Lock identified these two trans fatty acids as potent inhibitors of cancers such as breast cancer. Preliminary studies show CLA may benefit atherosclerosis and osteoporosis, help reduce body fat, increase lean muscle mass and may improve the immune response.

Dairy fat contains very small amounts of naturally occurring trans fats. For example, 8 oz. of whole milk or 1 oz. of cheddar cheese each contains 300 mg (0.3 g) of trans fat -- in contrast to a donut, which may contain 10 times as much (3,000 mg) of trans fat.

About the Author

Kantha Shelke is a principal at Corvus Blue LLC, a Chicago firm that specializes in competitive intelligence and exper witness services. Contact here at or 312-951-5810.
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