Meeting the challenge of reducing saturated fat in foods marketed to kids

Dan Lampert
Dan Lampert
Technical services manager
Cargill Oils & Shortenings

The food industry has faced many obstacles in the quest to develop healthier products by incorporating functional oil and shortening ingredients with improved nutritional attributes. Now we're up against another difficult but very important challenge: to develop foods with no more than 1 gram of saturated fat per serving which are marketed to children.

While this goal isn't a legislative mandate, it's being driven by a Federal Trade Commission proposal that would affect manufacturers of breakfast cereals, candy, baked goods and other products meeting the criteria for this market segment. The public comment period ended June 13, and we await further communication and possible revisions from the agency.

Reducing saturated fat, which has been implicated in heart disease and other health issues, is a worthy objective. However, developing certain foods with no more than 1 gram of saturated fat per serving so they appeal to the discerning consumer segment could require substantial reformulation.

Many of our customers use soybean oil, which contains roughly 15% saturated fat. Some manufacturers substitute canola oil, which has half the saturated fat content of its soybean counterpart, but costs more.

It's important to appreciate the difficulty of working with replacement fats — particularly with bakery and confectionary applications. There's a slim margin for error in that you can reduce saturated fat only so far before the product you're modifying becomes noticeably different.  You also must avoid replacing the saturated fat with something of no better nutritional value (say, highly processed carbohydrates).

As a technical expert on saturated fats, I research how to reduce saturated fat and maintain shelf life and an appealing appearance, texture and taste — all while keeping costs down.  There is no easy, one-size-fits-all solution; there are many options, but they need to be applied differently for each food product.

Some food retailers and fast-food purveyors have already moved to lower saturated fat under pressure from advocacy groups and the government, which recommends that our daily diet be made up of no more than 10% (preferably 7%) saturated fats.

But no more than 1 gram per serving? If any company has the expertise to strive to meet such reformulation challenges, it's Cargill. We're talking with our customers to gauge their interest in reducing their products' saturated fats, and where possible, to the recommended level. Then we'll be working with them to make their products even more nutritious for the next generation.

Dan Lampert , MBA, is a technical services manager in Cargill's Oils & Shortenings division. He has been with Cargill for 18 of his 37 years in the industry.