Finding Healthy Solutions to Trans Fats

Q: Are the alternatives healthier? A: Not always

While the food industry races to find alternatives to the partially hydrogenated oils (PHO) that contribute trans fats, consumers and legislators demand products with no trans fat now. To answer this demand quickly, some companies substitute PHO for oils with high levels of saturated fat, particularly in the baking and confectionary industries where oils with a saturated fat content of about 50 percent can replace PHO.

However, the trans fat-free benefit must be weighed against saturated fats’ negative effect on blood cholesterol levels. According to the American Heart Association, to protect heart health, it is important not substitute trans fat with saturated fats which, like trans fats, contribute to an increased risk of heart disease.

It is also important to keep some perspective on dietary fat consumption. On average, Americans consume much lesser amounts of trans fat than they do saturated fat. Trans fat intake accounts for about two to four percent of total calories, while saturated fat intake is typically about 11 to 12 percent.

So what is the solution? The answer is there is no single solution for all applications. “Removing trans fats from food products can be tricky,” says dietitian Lisa Kelly, RD, MPH. “There is no one single substitute for the partially hydrogenated vegetable oils that contribute trans fats. What works in the bakery won’t necessarily work in the frying pan.”

Through a collaborative effort called QUALISOYTM, the U.S. soybean industry is developing enhanced trait soybean oils that offer heart-healthy solutions for a variety of applications, without sacrificing high quality flavor or product functionality. These enhanced trait soybean oils, such as low linolenic, increased oleic, low-saturate, increased omega-3 and high stearicvarieties, will reduce or eliminate the need for hydrogenation, and many will deliver additional health and functionality benefits.

Researchers at Tufts University tested PHO against regular liquid soybean oil and three enhanced trait forms: low-saturate, high oleic and low linolenic. Among the 30 subjects who consumed the oils, researchers found all varieties resulted in a more favorable lipoprotein profile than PHO, leading researchers to conclude that all four were viable and healthier alternatives to trans fats.

low linolenic soybean oil is the first of these enhanced trait soybean oils to become commercially available. Yum! Brands and Kellogg’s use low linolenic oil to produce healthier versions of many of America’s favorite food products, including Oreo’s and KFC fried chicken.

Advancements in oil processing techniques also deliver new soybean oil products with additional health benefits. A process called interesterification allows for the production of customized fats with a range of melting points, increased stability and added creaminess, for applications including margarine, baked goods and confections. This process is generally regarded as a healthy option, as it produces fat and oil products that contain no trans fats, but still maintain taste and stability quality of hydrogenated fats.

Other advancements in oil processing include the increased use of antioxidants, degumming, gelling and blending. These processes contribute to extended shelf life, increased product stability under heat and improved mouthfeel characteristics.

For more information about enhanced trait soybean oils and advanced oil processing techniques, click here.

“The important message for food companies is that healthier oil solutions are out there,” added Kelly. “Consumers want better-for-you products, which means food manufacturers should act now to find ways to reformulate products to reduce trans fat without adding increased saturated fat.”

Food companies interested in reducing trans fat healthfully should contact their oil processors today. To find a supplier with heart-healthy trans fat solutions, click here.

 

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