Not All Fats and Oils Are Created Equal

Between the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the current changes to the Nutrition Facts panel, consumers are learning that some fats and oils are good for the body.

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

It seems that a couple sub-categories of fat got together and hired either a PR agency or a Washington lobbyist, because certain fats are not only distancing themselves from the bad ones in the category but are even being recommended for more consumption.

Between the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the current changes to the Nutrition Facts panel (which won't be required till July 2018), consumers are being educated that some fats are benign and others are downright good … in fact, essential. And many consumers are getting the message.

The FDA in 2015 sent Kind Healthy Snacks a warning letter requesting removal of the word healthy from the back panel of some of its snack bars because the then-definition of "healthy" was 3g or less of total fat and/or 1g of saturated fat per serving. Nuts, a primary ingredient in Kind bars, contain nutritious fats that exceed those amounts. Kind fought back and this past summer the FDA reversed itself, allowing the word healthy and acknowledging that some fats can be good fats.

In a simplistic view, there are three kinds of fats: saturated, unsaturated and trans. No kind of trans fat is good, and in fact food processors have two more years to remove trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils from products.

To the other extreme are unsaturated fats: Most are considered good to varying degrees.

Experts are divided on polyunsaturated fats. Some research findings indicate polyunsaturated fatty acids may improve blood cholesterol levels, others find no measurable improvements in cardiovascular health.

Polyunsaturates have two things going for them. First, most are found in plant-based foods and oils, such as walnuts; soymilk and tofu; sunflower, sesame, flax and pumpkin seeds; as well as fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, trout, sardines). Especially those coming from fish are rich in omega-3s, and this sub-category of polyunsatured fats is being universally touted for helping cardiovascular health, rheumatoid arthritis, brain development, maybe even dementia.

Among the polyunsaturates, sunflower oil growers are transitioning from seeds producing mid-oleic oils to those with high oleic content (and more monounsaturated fats). "We've been transitioning for two years and it will take another two years but then the whole oil crop will be high-oleic," says John Sandbakken, executive director of the National Sunflower Assn. (sunflowernsa.com).

Monounsaturated fats come strictly from plant sources – such as avocados, olives and nuts (almonds, peanuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, cashews). There's a higher level of scientific agreement that they promote health. Studies show that eating foods rich in monounsaturated fatty acids improves blood cholesterol levels, which can decrease the risk of heart disease, and these fatty acids may benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control, which can be especially helpful for those with type-2 diabetes.

There’s an ongoing debate in the nutrition world about the merits and dangers of saturated fat. Traditionally, they've been shunned, and many health organizations maintain that eating saturated fat from any source increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Recently, other nutrition experts argue they contribute to weight control and overall health.

sunflower oilResearchers at the University of British Columbia found saturated fats – in butter, other whole-milk dairy products, palm and coconut oils and fatty meats -- are protective in inflammatory diseases such as colitis, Crohn’s disease, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

"Saturated fats aren’t toxic; they actually have the ability to promote healing," says lead researcher Deanna Gibson. She also notes that people with gut issues and those already on a restricted diet might be nutritionally deprived and therefore should not avoid fats. Fats are essential for the body, she says, and are important for tasks such as hormone production and brain function.

"Improved" fats and oils got some of the spotlight at the July Institute of Food Technologists' IFT Food Expo. Bunge North America (bungenorthamerica.com) has been on a mission to find non-GMO sources for many of its products, and non-GMO canola and soybean oils were introduced under Bunge's Whole Harvest brand.

TerraVia (www.terravia.com), which mines algae for a number of products, showed AlgaWise algae oil with omega-9s. The company's new Thrive culinary algae cooking oil has 75 percent less saturated fat than olive oil.

AAK USA (www.aak.com), formerly AarhusKarlshamn, incorporated Cisao 7831 non-hydrogenated flakes into a savory flatbread to improve flakiness. EsSence 86-43, a non-hydrogenated/no trans solution with a low satured fat profile delivered a moist, soft texture in lavender cupcakes. Illexao CB 58, a cocoa butter equivalent, contributed the same physical properties and triglyceride composition as cocoa butter in cookies.

Like the sunflower folks, soybean crops are tilting toward high-oleic seeds from both DuPont and Monsanto, and their resulting oils are ready for the market, reports Qualisoy (www.qualisoy.com).

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