Food purveyors and consumers alike have been inundated with news about trans fat. This section will explore what trans fat is, its health implications, and how the foodservice industry is being impacted.
Lets start with a quick review of fats. All fats are a combination of different fatty acids. The particular pattern of fatty acids gives the fat their flavor profile and cooking attributes, as well as their health affects. Fats can be characterized as saturated or unsaturated, depending on the number of hydrogen atoms attaching the fatty acids together. Generally, saturated fats, which contain the maximum number of hydrogen atoms, are solid at room temperature, while unsaturated fats, with fewer hydrogen atoms, are liquid at room temperature.
An industrial process called hydrogenation, in which hydrogen gas is forced through unsaturated vegetable oils such as soybean oil, adds hydrogen to the chemical structure, causing them to become “partially hydrogenated”. The new chemical structure formed is a trans fatty acid (usually referred to as trans fat).
Traditional liquid vegetable oils, are less stable under heat and therefore have a reduced oil life. Once hydrogenated, however, these fats take on more of the characteristics of saturated fats, which allow them to perform better in baking and frying.
Small amounts of trans fat do occur naturally in meat and dairy products, but the majority consumed today are created through the manufacturing of liquid oils to partially hydrogenated fats. Foods that typically contain trans fat are foods fried in partially hydrogenated oils and baked goods that contain hydrogenated oils.
For more information, visit the FDA.gov website.
Trans fat is generally considered harmful, so recommendations are to limit its intake. It is not clear how much trans fat people are consuming daily, but the FDA estimates that the average daily intake of trans fat in the U.S. population is about 5.8 grams or 2.6 percent of calories per day for individuals 20 years of age and older.
The American Heart Association recommends that trans fat intake be limited to less than 1% of total calories, or approximately 2 to 2.5 grams of trans fat per day.
The U.S. Government’s recommendation in its 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is to consume less than 10% of calories from saturated fat and “keep trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible.”
For more detailed information on specific health studies and continuing research visit these sites:
Once thought to be a healthier alternative to saturated fats, trans fat is now considered a major health concern. There is sufficient research that links trans fat with coronary heart disease (CHD).
Trans fat negatively impacts blood cholesterol. It raises low density lipoproteins (LDL), also know as “bad” cholesterol levels and lowers high density lipoproteins (HDL) or “good” cholesterol levels, increasing the risk of developing heart disease and stroke.
In general, HDL helps remove cholesterol from the blood by carrying it back to the liver where the body can get rid of it, while LDL carries cholesterol through the body making it available for deposit into the arteries. Continuing research suggests that a diet high in trans fat may contribute to other serious health problems as well.
This section explores the new focus on trans fat within the foodservice industry, government mandates to limit trans fat, and industry responses to this concern.
The mandatory nutrition labeling of trans fat on packaged foods has prompted many food manufacturers to voluntarily reduce or remove trans fat from their products. So the focus has now shifted to the foodservice industry. Food ingredients that contain trans fat and the use of partially hydrogenated frying oil to prepare foods are both major contributors to the trans fat content of menu items. It is estimated that 38% of our fat intake comes from restaurant food.
It is difficult for foodservice patrons to determine the trans fat content of foodservice products since, unlike retail packaged food products, there is no mandatory nutrition labeling, and access to nutrition information of menu items is often limited.
Government response to this concern has resulted in several U.S. cities mandating the removal of trans fat in restaurants, usually in two stages. Take New York City as an example. First, restaurants had until July 1, 2007 to make sure that all oils, shortening and margarine containing artificial trans fat used for cooking had less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. The second deadline was July 1, 2008. By that date, all foods containing artificial trans fat, such as baked goods, were required to have less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. Packaged foods served in the manufacturer’s original packaging are currently exempt from that requirement. (Source: NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene press release August 10, 2005).
In Canada, brisk voluntary efforts on the part of foodservice operators and food manufacturers to change to trans fat-free oils reflect a strong preference to avoid government mandates. (Source: The Ban on Trans, Canola Digest, Jan/Feb 2007)
Restaurants are responding by asking their foodservice distributors to supply trans fat-free cooking oils and ingredients, and communicating these healthful changes to their patrons through on-site signage and websites. Visit The Five Factors for FitFrying and Frying Trends sections to learn how to fry more healthfully, learn about trans fat-free food products, and to access healthy fried food recipes.
As of 2006, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) established trans fat labeling regulations for retail food products. All nutrition labels must indicate the content of trans fat immediately under saturated fat on the Nutrition Facts panel. The push for restaurants and foodservice to disclose this information also continues.
Foods containing under 0.5g (500mg) of trans fat per serving can be listed as zero (0) grams on the Nutrition Facts panel. Thus, if the trans fat per serving is 0.49g, for example, it can be listed as zero, and the food product can also be called trans fat-free.
This can be confusing because the ingredient list may still have "shortening" or "partially hydrogenated” noted. But, if zero grams are listed on the label it means the food contains very small amounts (less than 0.5 g) of trans fat per serving.
The FDA rule on trans fat labeling also established the importance of looking at saturated and trans fat content together as the inclusion of trans fat restrictions impacted various nutrient content claims.