Taking fat out of the lunch room

by Jeff Gelski
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Getting children to consume less fat in meals, including those in school lunch programs, is an admirable goal, but getting students to choose less pizza, cookies and ice cream may prove difficult. Reducing the amount of fat in those products also is no easy feat, but ingredient suppliers and food manufacturers are accepting the challenge.

More than 70% of children ate more saturated fat than recommended, according to a study that appeared on-line last year in the Journal of Nutrition. Researchers from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, La., and Southeastern Louisiana State University in Hammond, La., examined food intake of 2,049 fourth-grade through sixth-grade students over three days. They studied how many children chose foods that met School Meals Initiative standards and Institute of Medicine recommendations.

Fat also was addressed in “The State of Family Nutrition and Physical Activity Report” released Jan. 19, 2011, by the American Dietetic Association, Chicago. It reviewed the status of children’s nutrition and physical activity through an analysis of research from the nation’s top food, nutrition and health associations, including results from the A.D.A.’s 2010 Family Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey.

In the report, an advisory committee recommended no more than 5% to 15% of calories should come from solid fats and added sugars. Among children, the report said, foods that provide the most calories from saturated fats include grain-based desserts (11% of calories from saturated fat), regular cheese (8%), sausage, franks, ribs and bacon (together 7%), pizza (6%), french fries (6%) and dairy-based desserts (5%).

“Reduced-fat and fat-free alternatives to whole milk are available, and many school lunch programs now serve pizzas made with whole grain crusts and lower fat cheese,” the report said. “On the other hand, some of the sources of saturated fat, like grain-based desserts, do not provide beneficial nutrients.”

Ingredient suppliers offer ways for food manufacturers to reduce the amount of fat in children’s desserts and other food items.

Coyote Brand dairy fat replacer from Gum Technology, Tucson, Ariz., may be used at different combinations to work in a variety of dairy applications.

“In low-fat chocolate milk, gum systems will provide suspension, creamy mouthfeel and smooth texture and make the product more appealing for children,” said Aida Prenzno, laboratory director for Gum Technology Corp.

Coyote Brand dairy fat replacer contains cellulosic gel, konjac, sodium alginate and xanthan gum. The alginate reacts with the calcium present in milk to form a gel network. The cellulose gel and the xanthan gum help introduce air to create a rich and creamy product.

When used in baked foods with reduced fat, the fat replacer allows the product to retain a similar texture and mouthfeel to the standard product.

“They can be used to replace up to 50% of butter, shortenings or margarine baked goods like cookies or cakes, while providing texture and adding fiber into the system,” Ms. Prenzno said.

She added, “Other kid favorite desserts, such as custards and puddings, are being widely reformulated to reduce the fat content. This lack of fat results in an undesirable mouthfeel, and gums will solve this issue. A synergistic blend of tara gum, carrageenan and starch will provide the texture and smooth mouthfeel required.”

Fiberstar, Inc., River Falls, Wis., offers Citri-Fi made from citrus pulp as a way to reduce fat in products. Citri-Fi and a blend of 50% soy oil and 50% canola oil was used to create a 50-gram brownie with 4.5 grams of total fat and 0.5 grams of saturated fat, which compared to a control brownie with 7 grams of total fat and 1 gram of saturated fat. Ice cream with Citri-Fi and 33% less cream had 8 grams of total fat and 5 grams of saturated fat in a 100-gram serving, which compared with 12 grams of total fat and 7 grams of saturated fat in a control ice cream.

Domino’s Pizza, Ann Arbor, Mich., already offers a Smart Slice school lunch pizza with reduced fat. Pepperoni toppings contain 33% less fat and 50% less sodium. The mozzarella cheese in Smart Slice has half the fat of regular mozzarella. Domino’s Pizza developed Smart Slice to meet newly proposed federal guidelines for school lunches. According to Domino’s, 93% of schools in the United States serve frozen pizza.

New oils entering the market may make it less difficult and more affordable for manufacturers to create healthier children’s products in many food categories.

Oil from high-oleic soybeans is healthier than partially hydrogenated vegetable oils because it has no trans fat, according to the United Soybean Board, St. Louis. High-oleic oil contains about 25% less saturated fat than soybean oil processed from commodity U.S. soybeans.

Plenish high-oleic soybean oils from Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont business based in Wilmington, Del., may be grown under contract in the United States in 2011 with commercialization anticipated in 2012. Vistive Gold varieties from Monsanto may be available for planting in 2013.

According to Bunge North America, St. Louis, companies using high-oleic soybean oil may find benefits for par-frying, deep frying and snack spray oil applications. The benefits include greater stability at high temperatures, reduced polymer formation to minimize downtime, and a fatty acid profile that increases stability and eliminates the need for partial hydration.

“If we can improve the health profile of a food ingredient without people having to make any changes in their lives, we can potentially improve the health of all consumers,” said Kristin Bilyeu, a scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “High-oleic soybean oil will be in high demand from the food industry. I think it will be an obvious choice for food companies. It has no negative attributes.”

Minneapolis-based Cargill offers Clear Valley low saturate canola oil, a high stability canola oil with 4% to 4.5% saturated fat. Clear Valley oils and shortening products typically are used in snacks, fried foods and baked foods, said Willie Loh, vice-president, Cargill Oils & Shortenings. Dow AgroSciences, Indianapolis, offers Omega-9 canola and sunflower oils that have no trans fat, a low level of saturated fats and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats (or omega-9 fats).

Caravan Ingredients, Lenexa, Kas., offers Trancendim, a brand name of a technology for diglycerides that works in applications for no-trans-fat shortenings. Significant reduction in saturated fat is another benefit as the Trancendim line produces no-trans products that perform in bakery applications such as cakes, cookies, Danish, icing, frying, puffed pastry and laminated products.

Palm oil is free of trans fat but has more saturated fat than other oils. Palm oil proponents have questioned whether intake of saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke or cardiovascular disease.

Saturated fat and cardiovascular disease were discussed in a symposium at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark last year. The symposium’s findings appeared in a story on-line Jan. 26, 2011, in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It was found the risk of coronary heart disease is reduced when saturated fatty acids are replaced with polyunsaturated fatty acids. Insufficient evidence exists to judge the effect of coronary heart disease risk when replacing saturated fatty acids with monounsaturated fatty acids.

CLA may decrease body fat in children

A supplemental dietary fatty acid that decreases fat mass in young animals also was shown to decrease children’s body fat in a study that appeared in the May 1, 2010, edition of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin hospital studied 62 children ages 6 to 10 who were overweight or obese but otherwise healthy in the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Fifty-three of the 62 children completed the seven-month trial.

While the children who took conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) showed improvement in decreased body fat when compared to the placebo group, no improvement was seen in plasma lipids or glucose. Decreased HDL (good cholesterol) was seen more in the CLA group than in the placebo group.

Lipid Nutrition, Wormerveer, The Netherlands, supported the research with a grant and supplied its Clarinol CLA for the study. According to Lipid Nutrition, Clarinol CLA influences enzymes involved in fat metabolism. Potential applications include beverages, baked foods, cereals, salad dressings and chocolate.

Cognis, which has a U.S. office in Cincinnati, offers Tonalin CLA. According to Cognis, CLA is a naturally-occurring fatty acid found in beef and dairy fats. Changes in how cattle are fed combined with a market trend toward low-fat dairy have reduced the amount of CLA that people acquire through the diet, according to Cognis.


A flurry of focus on childhood nutrition

The first month of 2011 saw government and several organizations focus on ways to improve children’s meals, including ways to reduce fat:

• The Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the Jan. 13 issue of the Federal Register proposed a new rule to revise the meal patterns and nutrition requirements for the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program. The proposed rule would no longer allow schools to offer whole milk or reduced-fat fluid milk as part of the reimbursable meal, and it said students should consume less than 10% of total calories from saturated fat.

• The American Dietetic Association, Chicago, on Jan. 19 released “The State of Family Nutrition and Physical Activity Report.” An advisory committee in the report recommended that no more than 5% to 15% of total calories come from solid fats and added sugar.

• A Prevention Institute study, released in January and called “Claiming Health: Front-of-Package Labeling of Children’s Food,” found 84% of the products examined did not meet basic nutritional standards. Of the prepared foods, 24% were high in saturated fats.

• The Alliance for a Healthier Generation on Jan. 21 announced a voluntary agreement among food manufacturers, group purchasing organizations and technology companies designed to make healthier school meals affordable to 30 million students across the country (see Page 10 of this issue). With regard to fat reduction, the agreement will focus on such foods as fat-free or low-fat cheese, beans and tofu, and low-fat lunch entrees with reduced total fat, saturated fat and sodium levels.

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