Removing trans fat is undoubtedly a key influencer in selecting fats and oils today. Driven by a variety of initiatives, city restaurant bans prohibit artificially created trans fats (initiatives which are policed through a paper trail triggered by the word “hydrogenated” on product inventory labels), while voluntary programs allow restaurant window decals to declare menu items prepared without partially hydrogenated oils. Among naturally occurring trans fats--primarily from foods of ruminants--FDA regulations exempt only conjugated-linoleic acid. Low levels of naturally occurring vaccenic acid figure into the Nutrition Facts trans value, which FDA can analytically sample, as can media outlets--something a few restaurant chains have experienced.
City and national trans bans have restaurants cleaning up their act, food manufacturers reformulating to avoid declaration for FDA compliance and even cooking schools expelling trans fats. The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) released a new educational DVD for the foodservice industry entitled Healthy Menus, Healthy Oils and the Trans Fat Free Kitchen. This CIA production provides the latest information on ways to eliminate trans fat from foodservice operations and practical strategies for removing them from food preparation, with an emphasis on the use of healthy plant oils, menu alternatives and culinary innovations. Designed to provide professionals with the knowledge and tools to remove trans fats without compromising quality or food costs, it includes video demonstrations on healthy frying techniques, as well as step-by-step recipes developed by CIA faculty. Produced in association with several ingredient supplier and food processor companies by the CIA's New Media group, which was honored with a James Beard award for Best Webcast in 2007, it is available free to foodservice professionals at www.ciaprochef.com/transfatfree.
Aware of the industry’s efforts, dietitians who counsel individuals, conduct cardiac classes or lead wellness groups have expressed concern about the amounts that can cumulatively result from a mixed diet. Their concerns stem from the fact that per-serving Nutrition Facts values rounded to zero by FDA regulations can actually contain just less than 0.5g trans per serving.
Companies appear to seek the most direct route and just eliminate all partially hydrogenated fats. Even liquid vegetable oils, especially ones rich in linolenic acid (making them vulnerable to oxidation), and those highly refined by extreme heat processing, as well as the “fully” hydrogenated, can contain up to 3% trans fat. Therefore, a favorable nutrients profile, along with stability for intended use, are vital factors for selection.
In its “TransFats--A Caution Light” findings, the Hartman Group reported that amongst consumers sampled, oils and spreads most commonly cited as both a source of good and bad fat include olive oil, butter, canola oil, margarine, vegetable oil, coconut oil and palm oil. Fat from non-animal products—olives, canola, avocado, nuts, sunflowers, safflowers—or fish were typically viewed to be “good” and described as “liquid,” “pure” or “cold-pressed.”
Trans fat topped the “bad” list, followed by saturated and animal fats and those described as “fats that hardened,” are “semi-solid,” “not easily digested” or “clog your arteries.” Among the “bad,” “hydrogenated fats” were cited significantly less commonly than trans fat, saturated fat and butter. Even animal fat and margarine were more commonly designated as a “bad” fat.
Revisiting the Tropics
Vilified during the 1980s, tropical oils--which have been consumed by their native populations for centuries--are worth another look. Emerging science continuously reinforces that naturally sourced ingredients tend to be safer over time than those that have been chemically rearranged. Leading nutrition organizations also stress that demonizing one food or group has not proven a viable solution in the past.
Palm oil is “non-GMO, high in monounsaturates, contains essential fatty acids, zero trans, is an excellent source of vitamin E and a good source of carotenoids,” explained Marjorie Gilbert, AarhusKarlshamn (AAK), at the 5th Global Oils and Fats Business Forum (GOFF) in Las Vegas last September. She also noted that it is easily fractionated to yield functional components and a source of solid fat without hydrogenation.
Unprocessed red and specially refined golden palm oils, the major cooking oils in many parts of the world, are rich sources of beta-carotene. Palm oil is also a natural source of tocopherol and tocotrienol antioxidant vitamin E precursors.
Critics cite the high saturated fat content of tropical oils as detrimental, but researchers are re-examining animal vs. plant saturates for health effect variations, noting that differences in fatty acid configuration may affect cholesterol-influencing properties.
Last fall, in the Elsevier journal Nutrition, Brazilian researchers showed that a diet rich in crude palm oil may reduce blood levels of triacylglycerol. In crude palm oil, palmitic acid is positioned differently than in butter. [Editor’s note: For example, in palm oil, the palmitic fatty acid is generally found on the middle, or C2 location, on the glycerol backbone of a triglyceride molecule. When palm oil is hydrolyzed during the digestive process, the fatty acids in the C1 and C3 position are released, while the palmitic remains attached to the molecule, which is now a monoglyceride. This molecule tends to be excreted, for the most part. For this reason, palm oil is not as nutritionally detrimental as the free palmitic fatty acid itself or when palmitic fatty acid is in the one or three position on a triglyceride.]
There are studies and epidemiologic findings showing palm oil affects blood cholesterol levels similarly to olive oils. In several studies of men and women with normal cholesterol levels, a diet including palm oil resulted in reduced blood cholesterol, and palmitic acid—which comprises 90% of palm oil--was found equivalent to oleic acid in cholesterol metabolism. Additionally, all tropical oils contain lauric acid that is antiviral and antibacterial. Palm oil also is attractive to a growing market for halal certification.
Palm kernel oil, which is much higher in saturates, is also rich in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), the most easily absorbed fat. Coconut oil is making a comeback, partially because it is rich in MCTs. MCTs have spurred a renewed interest, because they are the most easily absorbed fat and used directly for quick energy, not storage, which some researchers believe is beneficial for weight control.
Processing Plays a Role
Palm oil can be very stable in certain applications. At GOFF, Robert M. Reeves, president of the Institute of Shortening and Edible Oils, presented “High Resistance to Oxidation Facilitates Stability in Deep Frying Applications.” Expeller, cold-pressed or extracted refinement oil production leaves a high level of naturally occurring antioxidants intact in the end-product oil, protecting it from rancidity and imparting stability for versatile functions.
The most commonly consumed oils in U.S. food production are being reengineered to improve their all-around profile. Contributing more monounsaturates to an already low saturated fat content, high-oleic canola oil offers more stability for better heat tolerance and longer shelf-life. Soybeans bred for lower linolenic levels produce oil that is less vulnerable to degradation. Naturally “low-lin” rice bran oil is emerging as an alternative. “Mid-oleic” expeller-pressed sunflower oil also offers stability with a clean flavor profile, making it a popular choice for snack food manufacturers. On the retail shelf, walnut and grapeseed oils are gaining some relative popularity with health-savvy consumers.
Many of the leading quick-service and fast-casual chain restaurants have announced 0g trans menus or continue to seek and use oils and fats with no trans fats, while delivering acceptable products. The challenge is even more complex, when considering the simultaneous roles that hydrogenated oils played in many of these products--desirable sensory and end-product characteristics, as well as functional and operational needs.
Dunkin’ Donuts, for example, tested more than 28 alternative oils and proprietary blends; conducted 80 independent tests to find a suitable choice; reformulated more than 50 menu items without sacrificing quality, flavor and taste; and served them in approximately 400 restaurants throughout the country, as part of a nationwide blind test over a period of four months.
“The Dunkin’ Brands Research & Development and Supply Chain teams have worked behind the scenes for nearly four years to move toward an entirely 0g trans fat menu,” said Joe Scafido, chief creative and innovation officer at Dunkin' Brands. “We are proud to be the first major quick-service restaurant chain to introduce a doughnut that has 0g trans fat and are delighted that customer response to our new donuts has been unanimously positive.”
The American Heart Association maintains an updated list of heavy-duty fry oils and shortenings for restaurants that are 0g trans fat products. Manufacturers may request products be added to the lists by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
SidebarWHEN CONSUMERS BECAME MORE INFORMED ABOUT “GOOD FATS” VS. “BAD FATS,” THE DEMAND FOR PRODUCTS WITH 0G TRANS FAT INCREASED SIGNIFICANTLY. THIS DEMAND CHALLENGED FOOD MANUFACTURERS TO SEARCH FOR ALTERNATIVES TO PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED OILS, WITHOUT JEOPARDIZING THE TASTE OF PRODUCTS CONSUMERS LOVE.
THE SOYBEAN INDUSTRY IS STRIVING TO MEET THE CHALLENGE BY DEVELOPING SOYBEAN OILS WITH HEALTH PROFILES CONSUMERS DESIRE, WHILE MAINTAINING QUALITIES FOR IDEAL FUNCTIONALITY AND STABILITY. SOME VARIETIES WITH ENHANCED TRAITS ALREADY ARE BEING USED IN THE FOOD INDUSTRY, AND MANY MORE OPTIONS ARE IN THE PIPELINE.
* LOW-LINOLENIC: THE FIRST COMMERCIALLY AVAILABLE, SOY-BASED SOLUTION TO TRANS FAT, LOW-LINOLENIC SOYBEAN OIL CONTAINS LESS THAN 3% LINOLENIC ACID, COMPARED TO 7% FOR TRADITIONAL VARIETIES, WHILE MAINTAINING THE SAME LOW SATURATED FAT CONTENT AND OFFERING COMPARABLE FUNCTIONALITY TO PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED OILS. LOW-LINOLENIC SOYBEAN OIL IS A VIABLE OPTION FOR SNACK FOOD AND FRYING APPLICATIONS. YUM! BRANDS REPORTS EXCELLENT FUNCTIONALITY FROM ITS USE AS A FRYING OIL IN ITS KFC CHICKEN PRODUCTS.
* INCREASED OLEIC: FOR IMPROVED OXIDATIVE STABILITY WITH SUPERIOR FLAVOR STABILITY, RESEARCHERS ARE DEVELOPING SOYBEANS WITH INCREASED LEVELS OF OLEIC FATTY ACID. THE NEXT SOYBEAN OILS TO BE COMMERCIALIZED INCLUDE HIGH-OLEIC SOY, WITH AROUND 80% OLEIC FATTY ACID, AND MID-OLEIC SOY WITH OVER 50% OLEIC CONTENT. THESE VARIETIES ARE ESTIMATED TO BE AVAILABLE IN COMMERCIAL QUANTITIES STARTING IN 2009. VARIETIES WITH THE HIGHEST LEVELS OF OLEIC ACID WILL OFFER HEAVY-DUTY, EXTENDED-USAGE FRYING OILS FOR FOODSERVICE AND PACKAGED GOOD MANUFACTURERS.
* LOW-SATURATE: SOYBEAN OIL ALREADY HAS A LOW SATURATED FAT CONTENT, COMPARED TO MANY OTHER EDIBLE OILS. SIGNIFICANT RESEARCH IS UNDERWAY TO DEVELOP VARIETIES WITH FURTHER-REDUCED SATURATES (LESS THAN 7%), ESPECIALLY REDUCED PALMITIC FATTY ACIDS, WHICH ARE CONSIDERED ONE OF THE FATTY ACIDS MOST DETRIMENTAL TO HEART HEALTH. [EDITOR’S NOTE: SEE COMMENT IN BODY OF ARTICLE ON PALMITIC FATTY ACID VS. PALM OIL.]
* HIGH-STEARIC: RESEARCH ON A SOYBEAN VARIETY WITH A HIGH-STEARIC FATTY ACID CONTENT IS ALSO UNDERWAY. EVIDENCE SUGGESTS STEARIC ACID IS CHOLESTEROL-NEUTRAL, WHEN COMPARED TO OTHER SATURATED FATTY ACIDS. THIS SOYBEAN VARIETY COULD PRODUCE A HEALTHIER OIL OPTION FOR THOSE APPLICATIONS REQUIRING A SOLID FAT. HIGH-HEAT STABILITY RESEARCH IS ALSO BEING CONDUCTED. SESSIONS ON HIGH-STEARATE FATS AND THE RELATED OPPORTUNITIES FOR FOOD PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT WILL BE PRESENTED AT THE AMERICAN OIL CHEMISTS’ SOCIETY AND THE INSTITUTE OF FOOD TECHNOLOGISTS’ 2008 ANNUAL MEETINGS.
MORE INFORMATION IS AVAILABLE ONLINE FROM THE UNITED SOYBEAN BOARD AT WWW.SOYCONNECTION.COM AND WWW.QUALISOY.COM.
—SUBMITTED BY THE UNITED SOYBEAN BOARD/QUALISOY
Website Resources:www.americanpalmoil.com/5thgoff.html -- Website for 5th Global Oils and Fats Business Forum
www.PreparedFoods.com -- Click “R&D Application Videos” in the left navigation bar to find a list of technical videos, arranged by application and ingredient categories