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OILS AND FATS

PHOs, artificial trans-fat source, being replaced by healthier options
Monday, 21 August, 2017, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the main source of artificial trans-fats and an invisible mainstay of the American food industry for decades, are finally being pushed out in favour of healthier alternatives.

The change was a long time coming. Research showing the dangers of trans-fats, which raise the risk of heart disease and stroke, solidified with a major study published in 1990, and got stronger with each successive round of research, forcing food makers to start looking for alternatives.

According to one estimate, between 2006 and 2008, the amount of PHOs in food in North America was cut in half.

By 2015, the Grocers Manufacturers’ Association said trans-fats had been reduced by 85 per cent.

That year, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that food makers had three years to completely remove the oils from their products.

PHOs come in many forms and serve a variety of hidden functions. They could be in the deep fryer at a national fast-food chain or in packaged baked goods. They’ve been used as ingredients in creamers, cereal bars and microwave popcorn.

Replacing them requires a mix of liquid oils and solid fats, along with collaborations among oil producers, the fast food industry and packaged food producers.  

It is unlikely that consumers will be able to tell the difference when they sample the new generation of PHO-free products.

In fact, many have already been eating them for years. Nutritionally, all are an improvement over the standard partially hydrogenated soybean oil.

Producers tout their high content of good fats (namely monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) and low levels of bad fats (trans- and saturated fats).

Omega-9 fatty acids, or oleic acid, makes the oil both more stable and healthful. The high oleic acid content of olive oil is one reason it is considered the gold standard of healthy oils.

Yet, these oils fall short in at least one respect: because all the new oils are liquid, baking with them requires the addition of other solid fats.

In these cases, palm oil, an ingredient associated with negative environmental impacts, is often the solid fat of choice.

Non-genetically-mofidied organism (GMO) Omega-9 canola oil, from Dow Chemical Co’s Dow AgroSciences LLC, has even lower levels of saturated fats than olive oil, and about the same level of omega-9s.

“This oil has the whole package,” said Dave Dzisiak, the company’s global business leader, oils and grains.

“The oil also has a cleaner, light taste,” he added. The company stated, “It’s currently being used by major national and regional foodservice chains, as well as by snack makers.”

DuPont Co’s DuPont Pioneer subsidiary has made similar claims about Plenish, its trans-fat-free oil.

Through genetic modification, the company lowered the amount of saturated fat in standard soybean oil by 20 per cent and raised the omega-9 fatty acids to rival that of olive oil.

“Plenish is also currently being used in packaged goods,” according to DuPont. It believes its soy oil holds a competitive advantage over canola because soy is so entrenched in the American diet.

“There’s a pretty strong belief that the American consumer, in particular, has developed a preference for soy,” said Russ Sanders, director, food, DuPont.

“The flavour of the food comes through more than the flavour of the oil,” he added.

Monsanto Co is banking on the same preference as it prepares to launch its own soybean oil, Vistive Gold.

Like its competitors, it has a high omega-9 count, low saturated fat content and better stability than standard soybean oil. It is also a product of genetic engineering.

The company declined to name any specific customers, but a spokesperson said it has been working closely with the food industry to develop an oil producers will want to use.

“At the moment, high-oleic canola oils are more popular, largely because they have been around in commercial quantities much longer than the new soybean oils,” said Robert Collete, president, Institute of Shortening and Edible Oils.

High-oleic sunflower oils have also been available for some time in lower quantities.

But the soybean industry is fighting back, blending different oils to create Qualisoy, another high-oleic soybean oil, as a potential competitor.

“The nutritional profiles of the new soybean oils are also more favourable than those of the new canola oils,” said J Thomas Brenna, professor, human nutrition, Dell Medical School, University of Texas at Austin.

While omega-9 fatty acids are important, omega-3s and omega-6s—found in the aforementioned polyunsaturated fats—are as well, and they need to be in the right balance with each other.

However, Brenna said, “The omega-3s in the canola oil were reduced below an ideal level to make room for the omega-9s.”

“That makes it less healthy than the soybean oils, which keep their polyunsaturated fat ratios more aligned with olive oil,” he added.

Of course, all of these options are still far better than the partially hydrogenated oils of yore. “Those are bad,” said Brenna.

For people hoping that the new, trans fat-free world means they can eat as many French fries and potato chips as they want, Keri Gans, registered dietitian based in New York, has some bad news.

“Just because a company has switched their oil to a healthier variety, doesn't mean the product becomes good for you,” she said.

The old rules of diet still apply. “Watch the amount of French fries you eat,” Gans warned.

(Source: Bloomberg)
 
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