It’s frustrating to hear someone say “trans fats” since there is no such thing.

Fatty Acid Confusion

It’s frustrating to hear someone say “trans fats” since there is no such thing. Unfortunately, FDA’s misuse on Nutrition Facts labels set the precedence to make it alright . . . but it “ain’t,” just like acceptance of this contraction.

To better understand, most dietary fats are triacylglycerols (a glycerol backbone with three fatty acids attached to it by esterification). The fatty acids are seldom the same, regardless if the triacylglycerol comes from a plant or animal. One may be saturated (no double bonds) while the other two might be unsaturated (one or more double bonds). Further, some processed fat and oil ingredients undergo hydrogenation to improve stability. In this scenario, any or all of the unsaturated fatty acids may go into the trans configuration, rather than be in the traditional cis.

FDA requires food manufacturers to quantify total fat content on a per serving basis on the Nutrition Facts label. Here’s where the language gets messed up, as FDA further requires total fat to be broken down into saturated fat and trans fat contents. But there are no saturated fats and trans fats, only saturated fatty acids and trans fatty acids.

FDA only requires the “bad” fatty acids to be quantified, as it is elective to state polyunsaturated fat(ty acids) and monounsaturated fat(ty acids) contents under the total fat category. Both of these optional categories are the “good” and often times essential fatty acids.

When developing dairy foods, or simply updating labels, it might be worth investing in efforts to quantify these unsaturated fatty acids. Many of you are already, or considering enriching your dairy foods with omega-3s, the powerhouse polyunsaturated fatty acids associated with all types of health and wellness benefits. 

There are basically three omega-3s available as an ingredient: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Plant-derived ALA is an essential fatty acid and can be converted in the human body to DHA and EPA. The efficiency of the conversion process from ALA to DHA and EPA varies by consumer, diet and other factors.

FDA has only authorized a health claim for DHA and EPA. It reads: “Supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. One serving of [name of food] provides [x]g of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids.”

Interestingly, in December, FDA proposed a rule restricting use of nutrient content claims for foods containing DHA and EPA. FDA plans to allow only products using ALA to make nutrient content claims, such as “good source of ALA.” FDA based the proposed change on information provided by the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Medicine, which has determined recommended intake levels for ALA but not for DHA or EPA.

Most omega-3 fortified dairy products contain DHA or EPA or a combination of the two. Only a handful are enriched with ALA alone. Under the proposed rule, processors would not be allowed to use some current label claims, such as “excellent source of omega-3 EPA and DHA. Contains [x]mg of EPA and DHA combined per serving, which is [x]% of the 160mg Daily Value for a combination of EPA and DHA.” The proposed rule would not affect the ability of companies to use the omega-3 qualified health claim or to make truthful statements about omega-3 content, such as “32mg of DHA omega-3 per serving.”

This should not deter you from adding omega-3s to dairy foods. After all, today’s consumers are seeking such functional dairy foods. What it should do is encourage you to work with the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), which believes that processors should be able to continue to use the DHA and EPA claims. The Washington, D.C.-based group is working with members of its ad hoc working group on nutrition to develop comments to FDA’s proposed rule.

This brings me to another healthful fatty acid, which for the time being seems to be “safe from FDA.” That is conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which naturally has a double bond in the trans configuration. What sets CLA apart from trans fatty acids produced by hydrogenation is that FDA’s definition for trans specifies that the unsaturated fatty acids contain one or more isolated (i.e., non-conjugated) double bonds in a trans configuration. Thus, CLA is excluded from FDA’s definition of trans fat. This is good news, as research indicates that CLA possess anti-carcinogenic properties as well as offers potential positive effects on cardiovascular health and weight loss.

CLA is a fatty acid naturally present in cows milk and certain animal meats. Like the omega-3s, CLA is also available as a fortifying ingredient.

Confused? If you are, so are consumers. n

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GOED Membership Passes 40-Company Milestone

The Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s, or GOED, has surpassed the 40-company membership milestone. In October 2007, 12 companies joined together in founding the trade association to have a more concerted industry effort to help maintain the growth of the markets for omega-3 products by educating consumers, healthcare professionals and governmental bodies about the benefits of the fatty acids.

“In nine months we have grown very rapidly and have already been able to provide significant value to our members by working on issues like European health claims and import regulations, U.S. intake references and international market research,” says Adam Ismail, executive director of GOED. “The diversity of our membership is an exciting part of GOED’s work; our membership includes multinationals and small privately owned companies, companies from five different continents and ingredient and consumer product companies, all united in growing and protecting the category by improving product quality and maintaining high standards.”

GOED members are from the food, supplement and pharmaceutical industries and membership includes most of the world’s omega-3 fish oil and algal oil producers. The young trade association expects the number of consumer product members to grow rapidly in the coming months.

“There are a number of valuable initiatives we will be launching for our members in the coming months,” says Robert Orr, chairman of GOED’s board of directors. “This includes the founding of an omega-3 education center with a leading American university, initial meetings with key opinion leaders on development of RDI’s, an expansion of the GOED monograph into a product quality assurance program, a website with exclusive content and research for members, whitepapers on important omega-3 topics and an editorial program to spread the word about omega-3s.”

For more information,