Time to change your oil

There are good fats and bad fats; next year, trans fats are going to be very bad.

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While cost and taste appeared to have played a role in why McDonald’s backed off last year from its original plan to replace its cooking oil with a trans fat-free alternative, the hamburger chain nevertheless has embarked on a comprehensive balanced lifestyles campaign, which addresses the needs of both children and adults. The plan, complete with menu changes and better nutrition information for its products, will "help address obesity in America and improve the nation's overall physical well-being," says Alex Conti, senior director of marketing. And it includes the reduction or elimination of trans fats in its bakery products.

Biotechnology is a long-term solution for the development of transgenic plants that can produce tailored oils naturally.

Novel lipids greasing the pipeline include Natreon, a healthful and naturally stable canola oil developed using the latest in plant breeding technology. Pablo Ilarregui, vice president of research at Dow AgroSciences LLC, (www.dowagro.com), Indianapolis, emphasizes that Natreon is not a genetically modified product; it was developed using conventional plant breeding techniques. "Its high oleic, low linolenic composition makes it a competitive alternative to partially hydrogenated oils without compromising performance and quality," he says.

St. Louis-based Monsanto is developing soybeans capable of producing oil containing less trans fat and saturated fat. Ultimately, this research could lead to the first natural oil that could also make the claim of being free of saturated fats. "The new traits have already been perfected at the agricultural end of the food chain, and the first generation materials are being tested commercially," according to David Stark, vice president of global industry partnerships.

Loders Croklaan, Channahon, Ill., is advancing palm oil as a replacement. Products are "meeting new opportunities in the marketplace for [removal of] trans fats, which are bound to step up as consumer awareness grows in the U.S.," says CEO Etienne Selosse.

FYI: Palm kernel oil and palm fruit oil are not the same. Palm kernel oils are rich in antioxidants and more stable than their fruit-derived counterparts with higher levels of beta-carotene and therefore deep red in color.

Fatty, oily questions

What's a trans fat? Trans fats are unsaturated fatty acids produced when liquid vegetable oils are hydrogenated into more solid or stable forms. Most trans fats come from processed foods. Trans fats also occur naturally in low amounts in some foods. In fact, about one-fifth of trans fats in the diet come from animal sources such as certain meats and dairy products.

How are trans fats created? Trans fats are created during the hydrogenation process, when hydrogen is bubbled through heated oils in the presence of a catalyst, usually nickel or platinum. The process adds hydrogen to chemical double bonds in the oil – either on the same plane to form cis, or on opposite planes to form the trans form of the saturated fatty acid. Saturated fats produced this way tend to be more stable and less likely to go rancid than healthier fats, such as olive, soy, corn and canola oils.

Why are trans fats bad? Research demonstrates that trans fatty acids raise levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol, which can clog arteries. They also decrease the "good" HDL cholesterol, which is needed to carry bad cholesterol out of the body. Trans fats also are believed to "reprogram" how cells work, causing damage that can lead to diabetes and stroke.

What are the dietary recommendations for trans fats? There is no recommended daily value for trans fats. The National Academy of Science /Institute of Medicine (NAS/IOM) has declared trans fats are not essential, provide no known health benefit and should be consumed as little as possible. NAS/IOM recognizes some foods naturally contain small amounts of trans fats, making it difficult to consume no trans fats.

What foods contain trans fats? Trans fats are present in variable amounts in a wide range of foods and are predominantly found in baked goods and fried foods, as well as some margarine products made from partially hydrogenated oils. Trans fats also occur naturally in low amounts in certain meats and dairy products.

Ciranda Inc. (www.ciranda.com), Hudson, Wis., created Ciranda’s Palmfruit, an organic trans fat-free shortening without hydrogenation by blending appropriate amounts of oleic (liquid) and stearic (solid) fractions of oils. The shortening is effective in a variety of baked goods such as crackers, cookies, biscuits, pie and tart shells and breads, and is suitable as creaming agent for sandwich cookie fillings.

Kraft Foods employed palm oil in combination with canola oil to successfully launch Nabisco Golden Oreos as a trans fat-free alternative to the iconic cookie, which has been made with hydrogenated soybean oil. Blended tropical oils, however, face some resistance because of their increased saturated fatty acid levels.

Enzymes are useful for custom-tailoring the composition and amount of triglycerides for creating the appropriate combination of melting point, flavor, and thereby, performance during processing.

Interesterification is a feasible alternative to hydrogenation and may be simply explained as the exchange and rearrangement of fatty acid chains on glycerol molecules in the oil. This alteration may be brought about by chemicals or enzymes and may be tailored in terms of the type and composition of fatty acids in the fat, thereby helping to create the desired properties and functionality.
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