Pressure tightens on trans fat reduction

by Jeff Gelski
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Media outlets such as the Associated Press and national television stations have reported on the efforts of city officials to keep restaurants from serving food products with trans fat in them.

"The initiatives in Chicago and New York City continue to raise awareness in the minds of the consumers," said David Dzisiak, global oils leader for Dow Agro-Sciences L.L.C., Indianapolis.

The initiatives also remind those in the processed foods industry of the time and testing needed to develop practical applications to replace trans fat. Creating fried foods free of trans fat involves latching onto a limited supply of non-hydrogenated liquid oils. Creating a higher level of saturated fat may be a problem when taking trans fat out of baked foods.

"It’s not going to happen overnight, I can tell you that," said Jeffrey B. Fine, director of new products and technology for Aarhus-Karlshamn USA, Port Newark, N.J., on efforts to reduce trans fat.

Despite restaurant industry protests, the New York City Board of Health adopted a resolution Dec. 5 to force food service establishments in the city to stop offering foods with trans fat (see story on Page 14). Chicago city officials also have met with the restaurant industry to discuss ways to eliminate trans fat, according to a story in the Sept. 7 issue of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Restaurant owners have sought alternatives but not enough trans fat-free oils and fats are on the market today, said Chuck Hunt, executive vice-president of the New York City Chapters of the New York State Restaurant Association, when he addressed the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene on Oct. 30.

"If an 18-month timetable were enacted, many of the city’s restaurateurs would have no choice but to switch to oils high in unhealthful saturated fats, a move opposed by experts as a backward step for public health," he said.

Trans fat has been shown to increase L.D.L. or "bad" cholesterol and decrease H.D.L. or "good" cholesterol. Saturated fat increases both the "good" cholesterol and the "bad" cholesterol.

Suppliers are ramping up supply of two potential alternatives in low-linolenic soybean oil and canola oil. Both oils do not require hydrogenation, which causes trans fat. Soybean oil is less than 15% saturated fat, according to Qualisoy, a soybean industry initiative established to help develop and market healthier soybeans and soy oil. Canola oil may be less than 8% saturated fat, Mr. Dzisiak said.

Archer Daniels Midland Co., Decatur, Ill., on Nov. 27 said it would expand canola crushing plants in Velva, N.D., and Lloydminster, Alb., and also expand five soybean crushing plants in Quincy, Ill.; Frankfort, Ind.; Mexico, Mo.; Fremont, Neb.; and Des Moines, Iowa.

Dow AgroSciences has developed a canola oil that is high in hearthealthy monounsaturated fats. Taco Bell Corp. will use the new oil to reduce trans fat in its products. Other restaurant chains are testing the canola oil, Mr. Dzisiak said.

In 2007, when restaurant chains convert to using the oil, Dow AgroScience’s monthly volume of canola oil will increase by four or five times, he said. The company in 2007 has the capacity to supply a billion lbs of the canola oil.

F.D.A. approves claim

While New York City’s actions involve banning the use of trans fat in restaurants, the Food and Drug Administration took a less strict approach. The F.D.A. regulates all food products and dietary supplements bearing a nutritional panel must list trans fat content. According to the F.D.A., if a product contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, the number should be rounded down to 0 grams.

On July 18, the F.D.A. received a notification from the law firm of Hogan & Hartson, L.L.P., on behalf of Kraft Foods Global, Inc., regarding a potential health claim. On Nov. 15, the F.D.A. ruled on the letter and said a manufacturer, provided its product meets certain criteria, may use this claim: "High intake of saturated fats, trans fat and cholesterol increases the risk of unhealthy blood lipids levels, which, in turn, may increase the risk of coronary heart disease."

Food or foods bearing the claim must:

• meet the F.D.A. regulatory definition for "low saturated fat" of 1 gram or less per reference amount customarily consumed (RACC);

• meet the F.D.A. regulatory definition for "low cholesterol" of 20 mg or less per RACC;

• contain less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per RACC or meet any F.D.A. definition of "low" trans fat if a definition is established;

• contain less than 6.5 grams of total fat per RACC; and

• not exceed 480 mg of sodium per RACC.

Some foods might qualify for the zero grams of trans fat listing and not qualify for the F.D.A. claim. Girl Scout cookies are an example.

All varieties of Girl Scout cookies now contain less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. The two companies that make Girl Scout cookies, Little Brownie Bakers of Louisville, Ky., and ABC Bakers of Richmond, Va., use partially hydrogenated vegetable oil but not enough of it to create 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. Oils from soybean, cottonseed, palm, palm kernel and coconut are used. Saturated fat per serving ranges from 2 grams, or 10% of the Daily Value, in Café Cookies to 6 grams, or 29%, in Thin Mints.

An increase in saturated fat levels could become a consequence of trans fat reductions.

"In the early 1970s and 1980s there was a dramatic shift away from saturated fats in response to the scientific community and consumer concerns about cardiovascular disease," said Sheila Weiss, a registered dietitian and the director of nutrition policy at the National Restaurant Association, Washington, in her Oct. 30 comments to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. "In our haste to move away from saturates, industry replaced one fat with another. We must learn from history. We must break the cycle.

"In our hurry to replace trans fat, we must ensure that we are not simply returning to the palm oils and other saturates, but find healthier, sustainable alternatives."

Blending with palm oil

Loders Croklaan, Channahon, Ill., promotes its palm oil products by pointing out the abundant worldwide supply of palm oil and how palm oil may provide a crystal structure, creaminess and smooth texture to baked foods without the presence of trans fat. Palm oil works much better with baked foods than liquid oils.

"Liquid oils may be good for frying, but they are not good for bakery applications," said Mr. Fine of AarhusKarlshamn.

However, palm oil may have a saturated fat level of almost 50%, according to the American Heart Association. This year Loders Croklaan introduced SanTrans RS39 T20, which has 30% less saturated fat than typical oil-based shortening and no trans fat, said Mark Weyland, product manager for palm oil production. The product is a blend of palm oil and canola oil.

AarhusKarlshamn offers EsSence shortening blends, which may keep a product’s saturated fat level where it was before the trans fat reduction and in some cases reduce the saturated fat level. EsSence may bring functionality to foods without the need for hydrogenation or the presence of trans fat, Mr. Fine said.

While more food service chains announce plans to take trans fat out of their products, Mr. Fine said food companies that sell product at the retail level continue to seek ways to do the same.

"People are constantly trying to either take trans fat out of their formulas or take hydrogenations off their labels," he said.

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