Scrutinizing saturated fats

by Jeff Gelski
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Research studies, Food and Drug Administration warning letters and American Heart Association recommendations all lend credence to efforts under way to reduce the amount of saturated fats in products, with grain-based foods being a prime example. Yet other voices, and not just those from the palm oil industry, are saying the effects of saturated fat on heart health may need to be re-examined. A recent on-line article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition is one example.

“A lot of people just accept that saturated fat is really bad,” said Gerald McNeill, vice-president of R.&D. for Loders Croklaan, Channahon, Ill. “They don’t have the time or perhaps the training to go look at the raw data itself.”

A re-evaluation may be needed concerning the overall effect of saturated fat on cardiovascular health, said Jeffrey B. Fine, director of new products and technology for AarhusKarlshamn USA, Inc., Newark, N.J. Very few studies have ever shown a significant relationship between saturated fat intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, he said.

“I think the last word on saturated fat has not yet been written,” Dr. Fine said.

Roger Daniels, director, R.&D. for Bunge North America, said, “There may be indications that there are classes of saturates that are neutral. The science is really, really preliminary on that.”

It’s still probably safe to say saturated fats face a public health image problem. Several recent warning letters about product labeling from the Food and Drug Administration touched on both saturated fats and trans fats. For example, the F.D.A. ruled Mrs. Smith’s Classic Coconut Custard Pie is misbranded. It bears the phrase “0g TRANS FAT PER SERVING” on the principal display panel of the product label, but it does not have a disclosure statement that refers the consumer to nutrition information for total fat (17 grams), saturated fat (9 grams) and cholesterol (65 mg), according to the F.D.A. A food that bears a nutrition content claim such as 0 grams trans fat per serving must bear a disclosure statement if it contains more than 13 grams of total fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, or 60 mg of cholesterol per labeled serving.

The American Heart Association, Dallas, recommends limiting consumption of saturated fat to less than 7% of daily calories and trans fats to less than 1% of daily calories. Finally, according to the 2009 “Consumer Attitudes About Nutrition; Insights into Nutrition, Health & Soyfoods” from the United Soybean Board, only 7% of consumers view saturated fats as very/somewhat healthy. Trans fats register at 9% for the same view.

Thus, grain-based foods companies understandably are seeking ways to reduce both trans fats and saturated fats.

Customer requests concerning trans fats have come in three waves, Mr. Daniels said. First, grain-based foods companies, including Bunge’s customers, wanted a way to get trans fats out of products quickly, knowing such activities would have limitations. For the second wave, customers wanted improved ways to get trans fats out. They wanted a drop-in replacement and a way to produce a consistent product.

The third wave of requests is happening now, Mr. Daniels said. Companies want to get the saturated fat level in the products back to where it was before the trans-fat issue.

“At Bunge Oils, our approaches for reducing saturated fats in our shortening and oils ingredients is via novel hydrogenation, proprietary blending and the use of next generation oils,” Mr. Daniels said.

For its novel hydrogenation, Bunge has developed and patented a means of conditioning catalysts to minimize build up of trans fats and to make the base oil more shelf stable, Mr. Daniels said.

The oil blends often involve palm oil and other more liquid oils such as soybean oil and canola oil. Two next generation oils, low-linolenic soybean oil and high-oleic canola oil, are already on the commercial market. High-oleic soybean oil continues its progression through the commercial approval process.

“Oleic acid is a monounsaturated oil,” Mr. Daniels said. “This means that this fatty acid has one double bond or site of unsaturation. With one site of unsaturation, oleic acid-based vegetable oils have better oxidative stability or shelf life properties than vegetable oils comprised of multiple double bonds. Food manufacturers value this oil as a component in shortenings for baked goods or as a spray oil as it helps to maintain the freshness of their products through distribution.”

AarhusKarlshamn also offers ways to cut out both trans fat and saturated fats. EsSence products offer three main benefits — no trans fat, no hydrogenation and a low amount of saturated fat, Dr. Fine said. Products may be as low as 20% saturated fat. Shortenings in the EsSence line are based on a blend of a liquid oil of a customer’s choice and a proprietary hardstock derived from palm and palm kernel oils. Canola, soybean, sunflower or safflower oils may be used in the blend.

Palm oil has acted as a drop-in replacement for companies wanting to rid their baked food products of trans fats. However, palm oil also is about 50% saturated fat.

Thus, a meta-analysis published on-line Jan. 13 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition may be looked upon favorably by the palm oil industry. The meta-analysis summarized evidence related to the association of dietary saturated fat with the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and cardiovascular disease in epidemiologic studies. It involved 21 studies. In the results of the meta-analysis, during 5 to 23 years of follow-up of 347,747 subjects, 11,006 developed coronary heart disease or stroke, but intake of saturated fat was not associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke or cardiovascular disease.

The opinion of the authors of the meta-analysis was published on-line Jan. 20 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The opinion said, “Clinical studies have not yielded consistent evidence for adverse effects of saturated fat on CVD (cardiovascular disease) risk factors other than L.D.L. cholesterol, although reduced insulin sensitivity and increased inflammation have been reported in animal and cellular studies.

“Thus, given the changing landscape of CVD risk factors and the increasing importance of the atherogenic dyslipidemia associated with obesity, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, the relative effect of dietary saturated fat on CVD risk requires reevaluation.”

The meta-analysis blended different studies together into one big study that took into account many ages and fat intakes, Dr. McNeill said. The bigger study made researchers more confident of their statistical differences, he said.

“The meta-analysis is a very significant development,” Dr. McNeill said.

Another study involving saturated fats was published on-line Feb. 11, 2009, in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It investigated associations between energy intake from monounsaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids and carbohydrates and the risk of coronary heart disease. Data from 11 American and European studies were pooled. During 4 to 10 years of follow up, 5,249 coronary events and 2,155 coronary deaths occurred among 344,694 persons.

For a 5% lower energy intake from saturated fatty acids and a concomitant higher energy intake from polyunsaturated fatty acids, there was a significant inverse association between polyunsaturated fatty acids and the risk of coronary heart events.

For a 5% lower energy intake from saturated fatty acids and a concomitant higher energy intake from carbohydrates, there was a modest significant direction association between carbohydrates and coronary events.

The authors concluded the associations suggest replacing saturated fatty acids with polyunsaturated fatty acids rather than monounsaturated fatty acids or carbohydrates prevents coronary heart disease over a range of intakes.

Other fats and oils solutions

Clear Valley — Cargill, Minneapolis, has launched Clear Valley low-saturate canola oil, a high-stability canola oil with 4% to 4.5% saturated fat, or 25% less than the saturated fat in conventional canola oil.

Cottonseed oil —This vegetable oil is free of trans fat. It consists of 18% monounsaturated (oleic acid), 52% polyunsaturated (linoleic acid) and 26% saturated fatty acids (primarily palmitic and some stearic), according to the National Cottonseed Producers Association, Cordova, Tenn.

NovaLipid — Oils and shortenings in the product line have 0 grams of trans fat per serving, according to Archer Daniels Midland Co., Decatur, Ill. The line includes nature stable oils and fats, trait-enhanced oils and fats, margarines and shortenings, and custom blends.

NuSun — The sunflower oil has no trans fat and is less than 10% saturated fat, according to the National Sunflower Association, Mandan, N.D. Oleic levels range between 55% to 75%.

Omega 9 — Omega 9 canola and sunflower oils from Dow AgroSciences, Indianapolis, are about 75% monounsaturated fats and 7% saturated fats. Dow AgroSciences develops the oils from its Nexera canola and sunflower seeds, which are more than 70% oleic acid. The Omega 9 oils are liquid oils, but Dow AgroSciences works on trans-fat-free, low-saturate shortening systems, which may include fat more friendly to baked foods structure such as palmitic acid. Adding Omega 9 oils to the blends may reduce saturated fat 25% to 50%.

SansTrans RS39 — A blend of palm oil fractions and canola oil, the shortening has 30% less saturated fat than palm oil and offers the same performance and stability, according to Loders Croklaan North America, Channahon, Ill.

Trancendim — Caravan Ingredients, Lenexa, Kas., markets Trancendim, a product line that offers a variety of ways to make products with 0 grams of trans fat and a significant reduction in saturated fat without a sacrifice in taste, mouthfeel or flavor release. Trancendim works in such applications as cakes, cookies, donuts, Danish, icing, frying, puff pastries and laminated products.

Fish oil ingredients appear at baking show

Efforts to add fish oil ingredients into baking applications appear alive, judging by supplier booths at the American Society of Baking’s BakingTech 2010 held Feb. 28 to March 3 in Chicago. Scientific studies on the omega-3 fatty acids from marine sources such as fish oil continue as well.

Omega-360 branded ingredients from Denomega Nutritional Oils, which has an office in Boulder, Colo., offer a way to fortify products with eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), both forms of omega-3 fatty acids. The ingredient comes with no odor or taste, according to Denomega. Potential bakery and cereal applications include bread, energy bars, biscuits, cookies, cereals and pizza.

Omega-360 in bread typically is added at 0.5% to 1% in the final product. The International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids (ISSFAL) recommends daily intake of 500 mg EPA and DHA. A typical dose is 10% to 30% of the ISSFAL recommendation, according to Denomega.

Supercoat omega-3 powder from The Wright Group, Crowley, La., may come with an approximate range of 55 to 70 mg of EPA and 25 to 35 mg of DHA.

GTC Nutrition, a business unit of Corn Products International, distributes a Nu-Mega range of microencapsulated powder products with DHA for improved processing stability, protection against oxidation, protection against undesirable taste and odor, ease of powder use, improved shelf life, stability in non-refrigerated storage, and temperature tolerance.

Martek Biosciences Corp., Columbia, Md., actually uses vegetarian DHA from algae in its life’sDHA branded product. The company at BakingTech promoted a new DHA powder specifically designed for use in a variety of products such as bread, rolls and muffins. Martek successfully has fortified bakery products with 32 mg of DHA per serving with no impact on the final product’s sensory characteristics. DHA is important for brain, eye and heart health, according to Martek.

A study appearing on-line Feb. 24 in the Journal of Nutrition evaluated the association of DHA with cognitive functioning during middle adulthood. It involved researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and 280 community volunteers between the ages of 35 and 54. The findings suggest DHA is related to brain health throughout the lifespan and may have implications for clinical trials of neuropsychiatric disorders.

A workshop report appearing on-line Feb. 26 in the British Journal of Nutrition examined dietary intake of EPA and DHA in children. Researchers were from the University of Munich Medical Centre in Munich, Germany, the University of Chile in Santiago, the Universitat de les Illes Balears in Spain, Wageningen University in The Netherlands, Maastricht University in The Netherlands, Unilever Food and Health Research Institute in The Netherlands, and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

The researchers said, “In conclusion, the available information relating dietary EPA and DHA in children aged 2-12 years to growth, development and health is insufficient to derive dietary intake recommendations for EPA and DHA. Adequately designed studies addressing dietary intakes, measures of status and relevant functional or health effects across this age group are needed.”

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