There's no reason to fear eating fats, as long as they're the right fats. Included in a healthy diet, healthy fats boast several potential health benefits. Consumer demands for healthier, clean and simpler, GMO-free and organic products are also accelerating the development of healthier fats and oils.
The U.S. dietary fats and oils picture is changing as consumers' understanding of fat and oil evolves. Americans are putting less blame on dietary fats and oils for health troubles, as they recognize certain types can make positive health contributions. Millennials and generation Z, in particular, seek out specific dietary fats and oils, such as beef tallow and ghee for their health benefits. Fats used to be regarded as the bane of good nutrition back when the 1980 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were released. New findings from Ipsos and Coast Packing Co. now show those over 35 are actually more open to consuming animal fats.
Specialty oils – from almond, pistachio, peanut, walnut and hazelnut as well as sesame, avocado, algae, flax, hemp and grapeseed -- are prized these days for their functionality, nutrition, aroma and flavor. They contain vitamins and micronutrients such as phospholipids, phytosterols (plant sterols) and polyphenols.
Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) found in oils such as olive, canola, safflower and avocado can provide stability to packaged foods without giving up shelf life, says nutrition professor Penny Kris-Etherton of Pennsylvania State University.
But all these rediscovered healthy oils and fats still must have clean labels, according to Packaged Facts (www.packagedfacts.com) research director David Sprinkle. For processed food manufacturers and restaurants, development of more new fats and oils will stem from catering to special diets and bridging the gap between fresh, whole, natural and cooked-from-scratch foods and packaged food products, he says.
Cleaner, healthier varieties
Data from a Packaged Facts 2016 national consumer survey confirms the new generation of fats and oils for retail applications are becoming cleaner and healthier. Olive oil is used most often in cooking and in salad oils, the survey notes, and was chosen by 51.9 percent of the survey's participants. Canola oil, rich in alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), an omega 3 fatty acid, that protects against heart attacks and strokes by helping to lower bad cholesterol, was a distant second, at 25.5 percent.
Olive oil has a relatively low smoke point and a distinct flavor. “Extra virgin olive oil also has the benefit of potent antioxidants and other phytochemicals that may reduce chronic inflammation and lower heart disease risk,” says David Ludwig, nutrition professor at Harvard's School of Public Health. Better-for-you snack brand Simply 7 Snacks (www.simply7snacks.com), recently chose olive oil for one of the artisan flavors in its new ready-to-eat, air-popped popcorn developed in partnership with celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis.
But olive oil remains very low on the list of vegetable oils used in foods or consumed by humans. Worldwide, the most common oil types, in order, are palm oil, soybean oil, canola/rapeseed oil and sunflower seed oil.
Palm and coconut oils can replace PHOs where the use of solid fat is acceptable. Nutritionists and culinologists like sustainable palm oil for its high levels of tocotrienol and tocopherol vitamin E, but keep tabs on palm's environmental and industry concerns.
With a low melting point and high amounts of linoleic acid, soybean oil will still be able to carry a qualified heart-healthy claim, despite the FDA's proposal to revoke the heart-health claim for soy protein. Soybean oil got the OK after an August 2017 review of a petition filed by soybean oil producer Bunge (www.bunge.com), which included a summary of human clinical studies from top nutrition researchers demonstrating the heart health potential of soybean oil.
"Following the FDA’s approval of the claim, brands are better positioned to market heart health on their packaging," says Mark Stavro, Bunge North America's senior director of marketing. Soybean oil marketers, like those offering canola and olive oil, can label their products stating 1.5 tablespoons of soybean oil a day may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease when it replaces saturated fat without increasing calories. Bunge offers a range of non-PHO products for various temperature needs and other functions in bakery and snack applications.
High-oleic soybean oil won global trade approval from the European Commission in December 2017, which will likely lead to its increased global availability. High oleic soybean oil has highly concentrated oleic acid and lower saturated fats compared to conventional soybean oil, explains Richard Galloway, a consultant for Qualisoy (www.qualisoy.com).
"High oleic soybean oil contains zero grams of trans fat per serving and three times the amount of beneficial MUFAs compared to conventional soybean oil," says Galloway. "U.S.-grown, soy-based PHO replacements [such as high-oleic soybean oil] are proven to be the most effective in emulating the product production, taste, mouthfeel and shelf life of former PHO-containing foods. Qualisoy is working with the entire soybean value chain and the food industry to ensure a smooth transition from PHOs."
Enzymatically interesterified (EIE) shortening can replace PHOs in bakery applications, says the United Soybean Board (USB). Interesterification rearranges fatty acids within and among triglyceride molecules. EIE shortening can be used in cookies, cakes and icings without adding trans fat. The melting point and melt curve can be adjusted using recently perfected technology, the USB (unitedsoybean.org) points out.
In functionality tests comparing EIE high oleic soybean oil with other non-PHO shortenings, EIE high oleic soybean shortening produced results similar to industry standard PHO shortening in all applications, notes Frank Flider, also a consultant for Qualisoy, which estimates 300 million lbs. of high-oleic soybean oil will be available this year. "It has no trans fat, lower saturated fat and three times the MUFAs than conventional soybean oil," adds the USB.
Cargill (www.cargill.com) says new Clear Valley hybrid high-oleic low-saturated fat canola oil has 35 percent less saturated fat than previous canola oil generations. The hybrid contains 4.5 percent or less saturated fat and provides high yield and disease resistance for growers and taste, shelf life and fry life qualities for food manufacturers and restaurant customers, says Lorin Debonte of Cargill's research and development group. Cargill's collaboration with Precision BioSciences (precisionbiosciences.com), using its Arcus genome-editing technology, will further reduce saturated fat in canola oil, explains Fayaz Khazi, president of subsidiary Precision Plant Sciences.
The National Sunflower Assn. (NSA) and the U.S. sunflower industry are promoting sunflower oils such as Nu Sun linoleics and HoSun high oleics as rich in omega-9 fatty acids, or oleic acid, which makes them stable and healthful. Sunflower oil also incorporates antioxidants, which help to maintain its flavor and freshness.
The NSA is working with oil suppliers to enlighten processors on various options available. Sunflower oil's stability and non-GMO status place it in a good position to substitute for partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), says John Sandbakken, executive director of the NSA (www.sunflowernsa.com).
There are a number of small-quantity oils that are finding niche applications. Cranberry seed oils like Fruit d'Or's (www.fruit-dor.ca) Cran Naturelle and Cran D'Or received Health Canada’s Natural Product Number claim as a source of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. A good source of oleic acid and antixoidants, cranberry seed oils also contain vitamin E tocopherols and tocotrienols and sterols. Fruit d'Or's cold-pressed oils can be used in dressings, chocolate blends and products requiring stabilizing, emulsifying and penetrating actions to enhance fatty acids.
Grapeseed oil has a clean flavor and a fairly low smoking point (420 deg. F) for frying, contains PUFAs and has been associated with lower cholesterol levels.
Avocado oil has a mild flavor and contains oleic acid, which may help trigger the body to calm hunger pangs. It's the main ingredient in Thrive Market's Primal Kitchen paleo-style, sugar-free brand of mayonnaise that claims to be healthier than others. It's also used as a cooking oil for some types of potato chips.
Algae cooking oil is a healthy option with a high smoke point and is also sustainable. Oil is even pressed from tiny chia seeds, and is claimed to have high omega-3 (ALA) content, a neutral flavor and also contains PUFAs.
The butter confusion
Consumers in the past decade have learned the dangers of trans-fats and started asking for their removal in shortening and other products. Indeed, the FDA has banned the use of synthetic trans fat and its precursor, partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), by this June – a process that nearly all food processors have achieved.
Because PHOs have been closely associated with the first generation of margarines, butter sales are on the rebound. Demand for butter and other commodities rich in butterfat has increased after studies indicated lower health risks from consuming dairy fat. Retail butter sales in North America posted a 7 percent compound annual growth rate from 2012 to 2017 in value terms at fixed exchange rates, Euromonitor reports.
To eat or not to eat butter has some consumers confused. "We have nutrition whiplash — because of bad science, confusing headlines, dietary guidelines and polices that don’t reflect the research and are highly influenced by the research," mentions Mark Hyman, medical director at Cleveland Clinic's Center for Functional Medicine in a recent report. "We were always advised to avoid butter and use margarine. Bad advice, it turns out, because [some margarines] are far more toxic than the saturated fats they were meant to replace." Hyman recommends eating whole-food-based, healthy fats, including saturated fats, which are "absolutely critical" for good health. He says aim for butter from pastured, grass-fed cows, organic avocado oil, grass-fed ghee or virgin coconut oil.
Consumers aren't just eating more butter, they're spending more for it. Stronger demand for premium brands is bolstering the success of Lurpak butter from Denmark's Arla. Consumers are willing to pay a higher price, Arla says. Despite sales volumes slipping 2.7 percent, Lurpak revenue jumped 8.3 percent in 2017.
Land O' Lakes' eponymous butter brand is enjoying its fourth year of growth in butter consumption, notes CEO Chris Policinski. The co-op (www.landolakesinc.com) offers a variety of tub and stick butters as well as low sodium, light and European-style butter -- a super-premium, creamier grade with higher milk fat content. Acquiring Vermont Creamery in 2017 is adding specialty, artisanal and premium style dairy products to LOL's offerings.
The PHO Deadline
The FDA's ban on partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), effective June 18, has food manufacturers testing various other fats and oils in product reformulations. PHOs contain 20-45 percent trans-fat content, and trans-fats are the worst type of fat we can consume and are clearly linked to heart disease. Switching to healthier polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) can actually cut cholesterol levels and heart disease risk as much as statins, notes a new advisory from the American Heart Assn. (heart.org).
PHOs are being replaced with several plant-derived oils being made available. For food processors, it's a matter of finding the right type that best suits the application.
For certain food products, however, processors have found PHOs can be difficult to replace because of their complexity and functionality. "They have a long fry life and good shelf stability at cost-effective price points," admits Bunge's Mark Stavro. Replacements are improving taste consistency, the right biochemical profile and heat tolerance in processing. "Fry life and shelf stability needs can be met with non-PHO high-oleic options and blends, including high-oleic soybean oil and high-performance, non-GMO, high-oleic sunflower oil available in our Whole Harvest line." Emulating the taste, mouthfeel and texture of a PHO-containing product is critical, says Qualisoy consultant Richard Galloway. "While product cost is a factor, an even bigger factor might be R&D time and development cost. While the PHO issue may have been resolved, the [initial] end product may not have been as good as it was with PHOs. Now that functional alternatives such as high-oleic soybean oil and enzymatically interesterified (EIE) high-oleic soybean shortenings are available, companies are re-evaluating their initial reformulations in favor of these newer, more functional soy solutions."
Some companies are exploring ways to improve on mouthfeel, melting qualities, plasticity and handling over the PHO alternatives they first came up with, says AAK USA Inc. (aak.com). AAK produces specialty vegetable fats and oils, Cisao and Essence no-trans fat oils and others for applications like bakery, confectionery and dairy products.
A main focus is on plant-based alternatives and reducing calories without negatively impacting quality, functionality, processing or the eating experience, says James Jones, vice president of customer innovation. AAK recently opened a customer innovation center in Louisville, Ky. AAK is also looking into aquafaba, the viscous liquid left behind from cooking chickpeas, as an emulsifier in buttery spreads and mayonnaise-type products.
Customers want unique vegetable fats and oils that can be used in place of animal fats, says Chris Bohm, innovation manager. "There is a definite upswing in coconut, safflower and sunflower oils in different formats, as well as an increased interest in non-GMO and organic oils with clean-label, natural additives to maintain stability over shelf life," Bohm says.
"A main challenge bakers face eliminating PHOs is they have to adjust the other ingredients in their formula and/or processing steps and parameters," Bohm continues. "Solid content is important for functionality in trans-fat free bakery shortenings. By taking a specific hard stock and adding a liquid oil component to it at different ratios, and also considering the different fractions we can get from palm to affect the solid content, we can develop a very [robust] laminating fat that mirrors trans fat."