Trans fat labelling mathematics: 0.4 x 5 = 0?

February 14, 2007

Yesterday, there was a letter in the ST Forum by YCK, who regularly contributes comments on this blog. YCK asked some pertinent questions and his letter provided me with an opportunity to put in another question that had been on my mind all along.

My question / letter was published today in the ST Forum Online. Here it is:


Trans fat labelling: A mathematical poser

Here is another question to add to the list provided by Mr Yeo Chow Khoon in his letter, ‘Some questions remain on trans fat labelling.’ (ST 13 Feb).

My question is this: How much is 0.4 x 5? Is it 2, as we would expect it to be, or can the answer also be 0?

Under US laws on trans fat labelling, which our health authorities seem to be have adopted as their guidelines, a product that contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving shall (meaning “must”) declare the trans fat content as “0 gram.”

Thus, a product with, say, 0.4 grams of trans fat per serving will be labelled “0 gram” trans fat.

However, some nutrition facts labels also state the content of various ingredients per 100 grams. So if the serving size is, say, 20 grams, then 100 grams will consist of five servings.

In such a situation, will the trans fat content per 100 grams also show as “0 grams”?

Questions such as this are important because many food manufacturers have made their serving sizes ridiculously small in order to label them “no trans fat”.

For example, the serving size for potato chips ranges from about 18 to 28 grams, or 1/7 to 1/5 of a packet. The serving size for margarine is 20 grams, or about 1 teaspoonful, barely enough to spread very thinly over a slice of bread.

How many people actually restrict themselves to such absurdly small servings?

The US introduced trans fat labelling on 1 January 2006 but health advocates and consumers there continue to complain about various legal loopholes that allow food manufacturers to hide trans fats.

Food labelling is very often confusing. As Mr Yeo rightly pointed out, “even the most eagle-eyed, educated and self-reliant consumer cannot be certain what he is buying.”

This is why two US cities – New York and Philadelphia – have decided to ban trans fats and many more cities and states are set to follow.

Over in Denmark, trans fats have been banned since 1 January 2004. As far as I am aware, no one there is complaining.


  1. Saw you letter online 🙂 Hopefully they will be prompted to act on it.

  2. You seriously think the HPB will be prompted to act on our constructive input?

    Wait long long.

  3. 0.4 x 5 is 2 but the 2 is transparent mah. Poser solved. 🙂

  4. OMK: You can be diplomat lah! Make both sides happy 🙂

  5. I dont think the whole transfat issue can be resolved easily, the whole idea is to reduce the intake of Transfat without cramping our lifestyles. This is the best solution, the one that provides an alternative without the greatest possible cost.

  6. The best solution, the one that provides an alternative without the greatest possible cost. We should leverage on technology to do so.

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