The Misunderstanding of Trans Fats

Posted on May 27, 2014 by

We recently went through a major update of the ingredient database we use for our nutrition analysis and labeling software. We'll go over that in more detail in another post, but during that process we realized that there's a bit of a misunderstanding of what trans fats are in the food and web community.

In our research to more accurately represent trans fats in the USDA database, we found a few good resources.

Trans Fats on Nutrition Labels

Trans fats consumed in high levels can be outright killers.

The High Level Overview

Below are some of the key points to understand about trans fats:

  • Trans fat is an unsaturated fat.
  • Trans fat is naturally occurring in meat and dairy, but in low levels (2-5% of total fat).
  • Trans fat can be created synthetically by partially hydrogenating oils. This is what everyone is trying to ban.
  • Naturally occurring and synthetic trans fats are identical, but synthetic trans fats can contain A LOT more trans fats.

The Misunderstanding

In more than one place we saw people (including doctors) claiming that you can figure out how much trans fat is in a product by taking total fat and substracting saturated fat and unsaturated fat. That's plainly incorrect, specifically because trans fat is part of the unsaturated fats.

Separately, we saw over and over that consumers should avoid saturated and trans fats, and eat more unsaturated fats, since those are healthier. Generally, that's true. But, trans fat is an unsaturated fat. So, if a food is mostly unsaturated "healthy" fats, but those unsaturated fats are really trans fats, you're making a big mistake thinking that it's healthy.

Final Thoughts

Plenty of healthy foods will contain some trans fat - milk, beef, and butter to name a few. In moderation, these are important parts of your diet.

What you definitely want to avoid is synthetic trans fat, which can quickly add up if you don't pay attention. Any ingredient that is "partially hydrogenated", you should stay away from. Fried foods are often fried in these oils, as are many baked goods, shortenings, and margarine.

The other thing you want to beware of is that even if a food has trans fat in it, the nutrition label might show it as zero. That's because if it has less than 0.5 grams, it gets rounded down to zero. Be aware of the ingredients in the food and know which ones might have trans fat, particularly synthetic trans fats.

Other thoughts, comments, points we missed? Add them in the comments below or chat us on the bottom right.

About Lev Berlin

Lev Berlin ReciPal SlantShack Author Bio

Lev Berlin is the founder & CEO of ReciPal. Having previously been a founder of SlantShack Jerky, he needed nutrition labels and simple tools to start and run the business. He's read the FDA food labeling code countless times in the process of creating ReciPal and helping small food businesses with their labels. He's reviewed and created thousands of food labels, and been a mentor and guest speaker at food incubators, food business courses, and regulatory conferences, like Brooklyn Foodworks and ICE.

After graduating from Princeton with an engineering degree, Lev was a management consultant, then founder or early employee at half a dozen startups. He loves nothing more than helping other small businesses get off the ground and achieve their goals.

Learn something? Check out similar posts:

Food Marketing Resources
Learn why hundreds of food entrepreneurs already use ReciPal to manage their recipes, costs, and create nutrition labels.

Just want lessons on growing a food business?

We're learning a lot and so will you.

Your information will not be shared.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Sevice apply.

comments powered by Disqus

Search the Blog

Want To Grow Your Food Business?

Food folks just like you have had great experiences making nutrition fact labels, costing recipes, and managing inventory with our web app. It was designed by food entrepreneurs for food entrepreneurs, so it makes sense.

Popular Posts


Private Labeling FoodGetting Started With Food LabelsCopackingFood MarketingGetting Into RetailFood Label NewsInventory ManagementGuest PostsTips And TricksDatabase Nutrition AnalysisLabeling Rules And GuidelinesContestsFeaturesFood PackagingEngineeringPressResourcesFundraisingPricing Your ProductEntrepreneur Interviews

ReciPal: Simple Software for Food Businesses

Join some of the most successful food brands
in creating nutrition labels, costing your products, and tracking inventory on ReciPal.

Start your free trial now!