Not only is it pink, but ConAgra’s Fun Squeeze Parkay also notes on its label that the oil “adds a dietarily insignificant amount of trans fat.”
The message that not all fats are bad has been much repeated in food trade magazines in recent years. It is a message that companies understand whenever they introduce new products that are either “fat-fortified,” or are touting a fat component. Lower fat products have not gone away, of course, although a twist to this trend is seen with products promoting their “trans free” status.


Omega-3 polyunsaturated fats have grown an identity separate from a primary source, fish oil, and now are recognized by consumers. That is not to say that fish products around the world aren't quick to promote their omega content. For example, this was the case with Glenryck Foods, Henley-on-Thames, U.K., which promoted its recently introduced Pacific Pilchard Fillets in Tomato Sauce in South Africa and Mackerel Fish Fillets in the UK in this manner.

Three important omega fatty acid forms, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), ARA (arachidonic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), are being advertized increasingly to highly-informed consumers. DHA and ARA are found in breast milk and research indicates they are crucial for perinatal brain development. European companies have incorporated these fats in infant formulas, a trend that has finally reached the U.S. with DHA- and ARA-fortified products from both the Ross Products division, Columbus, Ohio, of Abbott Laboratories and Mead Johnson Nutritionals division, Evansville, Ind., of Bristol-Myers Squibb.

The use of omega-3s in infant formulas is extending to their use in fluid milks around the globe driven, in part, by multinationals such as Nestle, with its Omega Plus line in South America and the Far East.

Additionally, plant-derived linolenic acid can be converted by the body to EPA and DHA. Tree of Life's Esculent Flax Seeds tout a high content of ALA (omega-3 alpha linolenic acid).

Most products highlighting their omega fatty acid content are in the dietary supplement, pet and dairy food categories. (Note: Prepared Foods will examine omega-3 use in the upcoming June 2002 issue.)

A primary reason for the recommended increase in omega-3 consumption in adults is due to an imbalance; many consume excess amounts of omega-6s. Counter-intuitively, there is a slight increase in the number of products also touting their omega-6 content, although this has occurred primarily in pet food products.

The introduction of Mead Johnson Nutritionals’ DHA- and AHA-fortified formulas lags behind similar products introduced worldwide, but may lead the movement of omega- fortified dairy products.

Trans-free to a Good Trans Fat

The proposal requiring food products be labeled with their trans-fatty acid content currently is not a high priority with the FDA. “It went from a first to a second line priority, with a 'star' that says it should be higher priority, but items related to homeland security and dietary supplements come first,” says Nancy Chapman, N. Chapman Associates Inc., Washington, D.C.

A review of Mintel's Global New Products Database (GNPD) shows certain countries have moved toward the requirement, however. PepsiCo's Smith's Snackfood, Chatswood, Australia, lists its new Flamin' Hot Butter Toffee Snack as containing 0.3g trans fatty acids; McNeil Consumer Nutritionals, Saunderton Bucks, UK, lists its Benecol margarine (just launched in Belgium) as containing 0.2g trans; and Ricegrowers's, New South Wales, Australia, Sun Rice Sensations Chips is labeled as having less than 1g trans fats.

U.S. companies also are starting to list their trans fat content. Not surprisingly, this voluntary labeling tends to be on products that contain insignificant amounts, or none at all. Sticky Fingers Bakeries, Spokane, Wash., notes zero grams in its English Scones Mix. Lincoln Snacks', Lincoln, Neb., Poppycock Pecan Praline Popcorn Clusters has placed an asterisk next to its “2g saturated fat,” and further highlights it with the phrase “includes 0g trans fat.” Several of ConAgra's, Omaha, Neb., margarines, such as pink Fun Squeeze Parkay, notes zero trans fats or that the soybean oil in the product “adds a dietarily insignificant amount of trans fat.” GFA Brands, Creskill, N.J., has been highlighting the trans free status of its margarines for years.

Good Trans Fat

Ironically, CLA (cis 9, trans 11 conjugated linoleic acid) is one trans-fatty acid that is garnering much evidence for its health benefits. Thus, it also serves as an example of the complexity of issues involved in trans fatty acid labeling. Laboratory models, among other research, indicate it may benefit atherosclerosis and osteoporosis, reduce body fat and increase lean mass, and improve the immune response.

Of the 25 products from around the world that contain CLA listed in the GNPD (1997 through 2001), 22 are dietary supplements and three are cosmetics. Of the supplements, 32 claims are made. Some 41% are for CLA's ability to reduce body fat by some mechanism, 28% for the increase of lean body mass, and 13% mention the potential health benefits associated with its antioxidant function. For example, Pharma Nord, Tanska, Denmark, launched Bio-CLA into the Finnish market, which is said to “help boost the immune system and is designed to help trim the figure by burning fat.”

Sidebar: Great Expectations

Omega-3s will continue to grow in recognition among U.S. consumers as a beneficial nutrient. Milk and bread are likely the next areas for fortification.

Foods will increasingly identify or guarantee levels of nutritional fat ingredients in a product.

Reduced- or trans-free fatty acid designation will grow, with or without changes, in labeling regulations

— Claudia D. O'Donnell, Chief Editor Prepared Foods,