Trans fats in review

by Keith Nunes
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Research published by public health officials at the federal and municipal levels indicates efforts to reduce the amount of trans fatty acids in foods has had a positive effect on consumers. The research has been published during the past few months and the results shine a spotlight on how reformulating products with an eye toward improved nutrition may benefit public health.

“It is an interesting outcome,” said David Dzisiak, commercial leader for grains and oils at Dow AgroSciences L.L.C., the processor of Omega-9 Oils. “Usually when you have these public health policies it is hard to isolate and measure what contributed to the results, because there are so many components of our diets. This situation is unique.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, reported this past February that the blood levels of trans fatty acids in white adults in the United States declined 58% between 2000 and 2009. The study provides information for white adults only, according to the agency, and additional studies are under way to examine blood levels in trans fatty acids in other adult race and ethnic groups, children and adolescents.

The C.D.C. researchers selected participants from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) years 2000 and 2009 to examine trans fatty acid blood levels before and after the Food and Drug Administration’s 2003 regulation, which took effect in 2006, which required food processors to list the amount of trans fats on the Nutrition Facts Panel of a product label. The researchers said the study is the first time the C.D.C. has been able to measure trans fats in human blood.

The C.D.C. studied four major trans fatty acids to provide a reasonable representation of trans fatty acids in blood: elaidic acid, linoelaidic acid, palmitelaidic acid, and vaccenic acid. The study measured trans fatty acids in 229 fasting adults from the 2000 NHANES and 292 from the 2009 NHANES. The study found the overall decrease in trans-fatty acids was 58%. For specific trans fatty acids, decreases were: elaidic acid (63%), linoelaidic acid (49%), palmitelaidic acid (49%) and vaccenic acid (56%).

Christopher Portier, director of the C.D.C.’s National Center for Environmental Health, said the findings from the study demonstrate the effectiveness of the efforts in reducing blood trans fatty acids and highlight that further reductions in the levels of trans fats must remain an important public health goal.

“If you trace the whole thing back you will see an assessment, quick response and a positive outcome,” Mr. Dzisiak said. “There was an article published by the Harvard School of Public Health that said there was a real public health need to get trans fats out of the diet. Then the labeling law was introduced, there was the quick replacement of hydrogenated oils, and we are starting to see the results.”

The New York experience

Research published on-line in the Annals of Internal Medicine July 17 show that the mean trans fat per restaurant purchase decreased by 2.7 grams in New York City between 2007 and 2009, according to a study examining consumption before and after the city restricted the use of artificial trans fat in restaurants. The cross-sectional study from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene included purchase receipts matched to available nutritional information and surveys of adult restaurant customers at lunchtime. The researchers randomly selected 168 New York City restaurants from 11 fast-food chains.

The final samples included 6,969 purchases in 2007, or before the trans fat restrictions were in place, and 7,885 purchases in 2009, or after the restrictions were in place.

Mean saturated fat intake per purchase increased by 0.55 grams from 2007 to 2009. Mean trans fat plus saturated fat intake decreased by 1.9 grams. Purchases with zero grams trans fat increased to 59% in 2009 from 32% in 2007.

In an editorial published in the Annals of Internal Medicine by Alice H. Lichtenstein, director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at the Jean Mayer U.S. Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging and the Gershoff professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, both at Tufts University, said, “What New York City’s trans fat ban has done is force the removal of unhealthy fats from foods that are eaten on a daily basis by many people. Creating a healthier default option is a powerful tool to improve diet quality independent of someone’s health literacy, awareness and motivation, or level of nutrition knowledge.”

Ms. Lichtenstein added that the study’s results were consistent at all restaurants surveyed, regardless of their locations, meaning that patrons at all income levels benefitted — and not just those who could afford to pay for a healthier option. Prior to the ban, Ms. Lichtenstein said one of the initial concerns was that the replacement of partially hydrogenated oils would drive up food prices and operational costs, but there is no evidence that has occurred.

“This is a really positive story,” Mr. Dzisiak said. “The plant breeding companies can take credit because they developed the new oils. The food companies changed and, despite what some believed, consumers did not reject products made with the new oils; they didn’t stop eating french fries or snack foods.”

Calories, menus and change

While the switch from hydrogenated oils to reduced or no trans fat options took place largely behind the scenes, Mr. Dzisiak sees the potential for a similar scenario to play out as more restaurant chains choose to add product calorie counts to menus.

“It may be the same thing with calories listed on menus,” he said. “It is useful for people to have an idea of how many calories are in a product. Calories have been listed on packaged foods for some time and now we are seeing it on certain restaurant menus.”

Reducing the amount of saturated fat in food products and menu items is one way to reduce the number of calories. Mr. Dzisiak doesn’t see it being difficult for restaurant chains to make a change.

“It obviously depends on the application, but the vast majority of food service applications are not difficult to alter,” he said. “You can get a lot of saturates out with a greater use of oils like canola oil.

“In certain baked applications it may be different, because the structure of fat is important. But there certainly are things that can be done to try and reduce saturates. For example a blend of palm oils with lower saturate canola oil is one option. The palm oil mimics the melting point of fat and the canola delivers a nice reduced saturate profile.”

Healthy oils at the I.F.T.

A few companies were showcasing new products, applications and services that have the potential to help food companies develop reduced fat, reduced calorie options during the Institute of Food Technologists annual meeting and food expo held in Las Vegas. Bunge North America, St. Louis, demonstrated the company’s saturate sparing shortening system, which is a functional plastic shortening with reduced levels of saturated fatty acids by the utilization of cellulose fibers and a triglyceride mis-match technology.

The system features a hard stock blend plus a fiber addition that, when combined, enable the shortening to trap and bind large amounts of free oil. The company said nutritional analysis indicates the system is virtually trans fat free with 40% reduced saturated fatty acid when compared to conventional reduced trans fat shortenings.

On July 24, Bunge North America opened a culinary center at its Bradley, Ill., innovation center. The facility includes an industrial kitchen and a corporate dining room.

“The culinary center enables customers to take our award-winning food ingredients and either test how they improve their existing products or develop new recipes,” said Soren Schroder, president and chief executive officer of Bunge North America.

The addition of the culinary center adds the capability to the Bradley innovation center to take products from creation to commercialization, according to the company.

Richardson Oilseed Ltd., Winnipeg, Mann., introduced a high-oleic canola oil during the I.F.T. The company said the new oil offers stability and functionality that may extend product shelf life.

“Our new high-oleic oil is ideal for food manufacturers looking to increase shelf life, maximize crispness and improve spice/seasoning adherence,” said John Haen, vice-president of nutrition. “Our goal is to provide our customers with functional products that retain the original flavor and texture of their products, ultimately satisfying customer demand for healthier food products that taste good.”

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