« August 2005 Table of Contents
Seafood FAQ: Trans fats are next big health concern
Seafood manufacturers meet consumer demand for trans-fat-free products
August 01, 2005
The January 2006 deadline looms for seafood processors to
list trans-fatty acid content on the Nutrition Facts panel on product
labels. As a result, more seafood
manufacturers are reformulating ingredients to eliminate the fat from their
products. Processors that have introduced trans-fat-free frozen seafood
products in the past year include Gorton’s and King & Prince Seafood Corp.
And, as more manufacturers of seafood and other foods
advertise their trans-fat-free products, consumers are growing more aware that
trans fats should be avoided. The Food Marketing Institute reported at its
annual trade show in May that trans-fatty acids will be the next big consumer
health concern. Research NPD Foodworld’s Dieting Monitor released in June shows
that 44.7 percent of adults are trying to cut down on trans fats and 15.1
percent are trying to avoid them completely.
Here is a primer for manufacturers who have yet to jump on
the trans-fat-free bandwagon, and for retailers who may be fielding questions
about products on their shelves.
Q. What are trans-fatty acids?
Trans fats are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable
oil, a process called hydrogenation, according to the Food and Drug
Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Trans fats are
formed when liquid oils are made into solid fats, such as shortening and
margarine. They also occur naturally in some meat and dairy products.
Commercial production of partially hydrogenated fats began in the early 20th
century and increased steadily until about the 1960s as processed vegetable
fats replaced animal fats in the consumer’s diet, says the Harvard School of
Q. What is the main source of trans fats for U.S.
Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils provide about
three-quarters of the trans-fatty acids in the U.S. consumer’s diet, according
to the American Heart Association. Trans fats from all sources provide 2 to 4
percent of total calories, compared with 12 percent from saturated fat and 34
percent from total fat, says the International Food Information Council.
Q. How do trans fats affect blood cholesterol?
Trans-fatty acid consumption increases LDL cholesterol, the
“bad” cholesterol, in the blood. Elevated LDL levels raise the risk of
developing coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death among men and
women in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Q. Where are trans fats found?
In vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers,
cookies and other foods made with or fried in partially hydrogenated fats.
Q. How can consumers find the trans-fat content of a
Trans-fatty acid amounts are listed under saturated fat in
the “Total Fat” area of the Nutrition Facts panel.
Q. What is considered a “safe” amount of trans-fats?
The FDA does not give specific recommendations on how many
trans fats are safe to consume but instead recommends choosing foods low in
saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol as part of a healthful diet.
Q. Is it easy to eliminate trans-fatty acids from processed seafood or other products?
Not necessarily, according to Judson Reis, VP of marketing
at Gorton’s in Gloucester, Mass. In fall 2004, the company launched production
of trans-fat-free products, which began appearing on store shelves in January.
Gorton’s spent almost a year reformulating and testing all 56 items in the
line, says Reis. Its entire supply chain was researched to see what ingredients
had trans-fats, included cooking oils and shortenings.
Eliminating trans fats not only required that the
manufacturer change ingredients, but also some equipment on the processing
line. Gorton’s installed more efficient freezers and shortened the packaging
lines so product stays solidly frozen, says Donald Lynch, Gorton’s VP of
research, development and quality assurance. Non-hydrogenated oils tend to be
“softer” and turn to liquid faster than hydrogenated oils, he adds.
“There was more product development than anticipated, but
we believe it was the right thing to do for our customers. We have had very
positive feedback and [the trans-fat-free products] have been good for Gorton’s
in the marketplace,” says Reis.
Q. What oils are used in food manufacturing to eliminate
Non-hydrogenated oils or shortening are used instead of
hydrogenated to produce trans-fat-free products. Gorton’s switched from
hydrogenated canola and soybean oils to non-hydrogenated canola, cottonseed or
rice bran oils. The company uses a variety of oils depending upon market
conditions, adds Lynch.
Q. How can consumers regulate their intake of trans-fatty acids?
The American Heart Association offers the following recommendations to regulate intake of
• When possible, use naturally occurring, non-hydrogenated oil such as canola or olive
• Look for processed foods made with non-hydrogenated oil
• Use margarine instead of butter, and choose soft (liquid
or tub) varieties over stick margarine. Look for margarine with no more than 2
grams of saturated fat per tablespoon and with liquid vegetable oil as the
• French fries, donuts, cookies and crackers are high in
trans fats, so consume them infrequently.
• Limiting saturated fat intake will curtail consumption of
• Limit consumption of commercial fried foods and baked
goods, which are high in fat.
consumption of fried foods.
Q. Can a product labeled “trans-fat free” contain trans fats?
Yes, in a miniscule amount. A product that has less
than 0.5 grams of trans fat and less than 0.5 grams of saturated fat per
reference amount and serving may be labeled “trans-fat free.”