Reacting to the obesity epidemic, food consumers have stirred a global health revolution and are increasingly demanding healthier oils and fats.
Since eliminating fats can upset the nutritional balance, researchers are constantly trying to develop innovative methods to improve the health properties of oils and fats.
Though fats and edible oils are largely to blame for obesity and other related health issues, they are integral to a balanced diet and assist in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. This is driving the R&D efforts toward reduced fat and lower calorie foods without altering traditional eating habits.
“Fat-based replacers are gradually gaining momentum in the market since they produce fats that eliminate extra calories while retaining the essential fatty acids, as well as the texture and flavor found in traditionally used fats,” explain Technical Insights Research Analyst Anil Naidu.
Olestra recently entered the fat substitutes market after resolving health issues surrounding its consumption and gaining approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Another breakthrough in the search for low-fat palatable foods is the development of fat-free cream cheese with the firmness, flavor, and texture of regular cream cheese.
Since spreads are major sources of dietary fat and extremely popular among consumers, researchers are taking active steps to reduce their fat content by replacing sweeteners with corn syrup. Corn syrup spreads are low in fat and calories and they do not compromise on the flavor.
Peanut butter is also extremely high in calories since about 50 percent of it is oils while the rest is solid nut particles. Partly replacing nut solids with corn syrup solids creates a more healthy spread that has at least 50 percent less fat and 33 percent less calories than regular peanut butter.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have become a controversial issue especially in the European Union. In fact, they have introduced a new “Biotech Label Law” that mandates labeling of food products and animal feed containing more than 0.9 percent of GMOs. However, the increasing acreage of biotech crops worldwide points to the growing acceptance of GM seeds.
“Genetically modified seeds address the concerns pertaining to the amount of linolenic acids and free fatty acids in oils and offer many advantages such as high yield, better product shelf life, and a decreased usage of crop protection chemicals,” explains Technical Insights Research Analyst Kasturi Nadkarny.
There is also a growing need to educate consumers regarding saturated or trans-fats. To address this issue, the FDA has announced regulations that enforce mandatory labeling of food products containing trans-fats.
“Labeling laws create a more educated consumer who has the opportunity to turn to healthier alternatives such as olive oil and make informed decisions after considering the inherent risks in certain foods,” says Naidu.
The labeling legislations also serve as a wake-up call to the food manufacturers to reexamine and even reformulate their ingredients. It simultaneously offers a good market opportunity for healthy oils and fats, resulting in the search for new or altered processing methods and alternative fats and oils ingredients.
Following this trend, the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has discovered new breeds of corn to create cooking oils and margarine that lower blood cholesterol. Another new blend of cooking oils has the potential to heighten the metabolic rate in humans, thereby lowering cholesterol level by about 13 percent.
“Margarine spreads containing natural plant sterols are formulated in such a way that they contain less cholesterol-raising saturated fat and more cholesterol-reducing polyunsaturated fat and could also reduce cholesterol almost up to 10 percent within three weeks,” concludes Nadkarny.