As consumers look for more "good" fats and oils, they shop for specific health benefits and products that also taste good. But there are many different kinds of fat — saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and trans fat — and tasty or not, they don't have the same health benefits.
Product formulators must factor in whether certain oils and fats will be acceptable from a health standpoint and a clean label ingredient perspective as they gear up for the changing Nutrition Facts panel and new ingredient definitions coming into play.
"Shopping for healthy oils ranks as a consumer priority along with seeking out high-protein or low-sugar food products," notes David Sprinkle, research director of Packaged Facts (www.packagedfacts.com), Rockville, Md.
Polyunsaturated fats can benefit the heart when used in moderation. They provide nutrients to help develop and maintain cells and often contain vitamin E, an antioxidant vitamin most Americans need more of.
Best of all, polyunsaturated fats can replace saturated fat and trans fat. And the general consensus of medical, scientific, heart-health, governmental and professional authorities is certain fats, such as trans fat and saturated fat, cause heart disease. But the advice now has shifted away from "eat less fat" to "eat the right fats."
Trans fats' primary source in the food supply are partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), which are linked with the risk of heart disease, cancer and the risk of diabetes. PHOs were popular years ago because they were an easy substitute for saturated fats -- inexpensive, long lasting and gave foods flavor and texture.
Saturated fats raise low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or "bad" cholesterol levels and cause other troubles. For decades, PHOs were a healthy replacement, but more recent research indicates PHOs and their resulting trans fats both raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol. So the FDA ruled in 2015 that PHOs are unsafe, revoking their GRAS status and giving the food industry until June 2018 to eliminate them from products.
Yet for certain food products, processors have found PHOs difficult to replace. Functional emulsifiers or hydrocolloids might be used in PHO replacements, and suppliers are making progress reducing sat fat content in efforts to develop PHO alternatives that provide similar, and in some cases better, functionality at a similar cost. "The real issue for food manufacturers and ingredient providers is to utilize fats and oils that provide functional qualities — shelf stability, flavor, mouthfeel, texture and structure — at a price point acceptable to consumers," says. Frank Flider, an oils expert at Qualisoy (www.qualisoy.com), Chesterfield, Mo.
Flider notes says consumers are acutely aware of the dangers of trans-fatty acids and are staying away from PHOs. On the other hand, "Oils with high levels of monounsaturated fats, such as soybean oil, olive oil and canola oil, are extremely popular as are oils containing polyunsaturated fats with low levels of saturated fats."
UltraBlends shortenings and oils from Bunge North America (bungenorthamerica.com) eliminate trans fat and optimize saturated fats, while delivering functionality and taste. They're made using an enzymatic interesterification process of rearranging the fatty acids that gives them structure and functionality at room temperature. The company's Whole Harvest non-GMO Project Verified canola and soybean oils are expeller pressed and minimally refined, which makes them suitable for clean label applications.
"Soybean oil is the most commonly used oil in the U.S., and by providing a scalable organic choice, we’re helping customers meet increasing demand for organic products." says Anthony Williams, Bunge's vice president of sales and marketing.
Plant-based fats and oils are good options because they're vegan, but they can sometimes have stronger flavors that limit their usage or carry higher prices. "Maintaining taste levels has been a challenge, particularly since the use of PHOs will soon be a thing of the past," Flider adds. "No matter how good it tastes, a greasy doughnut or an icing structured like candle wax will turn off consumers."