Consumers No Longer Fear All Fats

There's no reason to fear eating fats—as long as they're the right fats. A diet with the right fats can be extremely healthy, prompting food formulators to make the transition away from trans-fats and PHOs.

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

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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 ( 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 (, 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.

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