Healthier oils get boost from obese populations

Related tags Nutrition Gm

Demand for healthier oils and fats is increasing as obesity reaches
epidemic levels. The trend is also driving research efforts to
develop innovative methods to enhance oil and fat properties, say
market analysts at Frost & Sullivan.

Although fats and oils are responsible to a large extent for the existing obesity epidemic, they remain, nevertheless, essential components of a balanced diet, notes the company. R&D initiatives have, therefore, been turned towards developing reduced fat and lower calorie foods.

Many researchers are turning to genetic modification (GM) in a bid to improve the properties of oilseeds. While concerns about GM food linger, especially within the European Union, general trends indicate a growing acceptance of GM seeds.

The use of GM seeds is expected to help address concerns related to the amount of linolenic and free fatty acids in oils.

"GM seeds offer many advantages such as high yield, low contents of linolenic and free fatty acids, better shelf life of oils and their products and use of lesser amount of crop protection chemicals,"​ notes Anil Naidu, analyst from Technical Insights​.

Scientists at the Agricultural Research Service of the US Department of Agriculture have created new varieties of corn that could yield cooking oils and margarine that lower blood cholesterol levels. Another blend of cooking oil has the capacity to boost the metabolic rate in humans; thereby, lowering cholesterol levels by about 13 per cent.

"Fat-based replacers are also gradually gaining momentum in the market since they produce fats that eliminate extra calories while retaining the essential fatty acids, as well as the texture and flavour found in traditionally used fats,"​ added Frost & Sullivan analyst Kasturi Nadkarny.

The recent approval of products such as Olestra in microwave popcorn by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is set to energise the fat substitutes market. Fat-free cream cheese comparable in taste and texture to regular cream cheese represents another milestone in the search for low-fat alternatives.

Researchers have also made efforts to reduce the fat content in spreads. In many instances, corn syrup has replaced traditional sweeteners. The final product is not only lower in fat and calories but also displays the same flavour as its higher fat counterpart.

Introduced as a substitute for butter, margarine has faced falling sales in recent years due to the presence of hydrogenated oils. Now, margarine spreads containing natural plant sterols have been formulated to contain less cholesterol-raising saturated fat and more cholesterol-reducing polyunsaturated fat. This new composition could potentially reduce cholesterol by up to 10 per cent within three weeks.

While these are positive signs, stringent food and drugs legislations loom as one of the biggest challenges faced by the edible oils and fats industry. For instance, recent FDA legislation will make the listing of trans fats mandatory on all packaged foods from 2006.

Such labelling laws are expected to profoundly impact both food manufacturers and consumers. Food manufacturers are expected to re-evaluate or even reformulate the ingredients in their products. At the same time, such laws are expected to offer exciting market opportunities for healthy oils and fats and trigger the search for new or altered processing methods, alternative fats and oil ingredients, and the development of new oilseed varieties.

"With the implementation of new legislation consumers will be more informed about the inherent risks in foods containing trans fat and this would force them to look for suitable alternatives,"​ concluded Naidu and Nadkarny. "As a result, oils such as olive, which have purported health benefits are projected to experience greater demand."

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