[Foodplanning] News: Trans-fat Oils Appear To Be On the Way Out
vasishth at usc.edu
Sat Dec 31 19:01:02 PST 2005
Something's different .?.?.
Favorite brands shed harmful oil
By ELIZABETH LEE
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 12/30/05
There's something missing from the Oreos rolling into stores in coming weeks, something that took 30,000 hours and 250 revised recipes to remove.
If everything goes as planned, Oreo lovers won't notice the change. The chocolate cookies will still crunch and the filling will be as creamy as ever.
Darlene McBee keeps an eye on the piping-hot chipotle cheese straws coming out of the oven Wednesday at Geraldine's Bodacious Food Company in Jasper. Ben Gray/AJC
But when shoppers flip over the package to study the nutrition label, they'll see a "0" on the line by trans fats. Getting that zero has motivated many of America's food manufacturers, including Kraft Foods, maker of the Oreo, to make unprecedented efforts to reformulate some of their most popular products.
From microwave popcorn to margarine, potato chips to frozen waffles, processed foods are shedding an ingredient that Harvard University researchers estimate contributes to up to 30,000 deaths from heart disease every year.
Until now, food manufacturers have not had to list trans fat content on package labels. That changes Jan. 1, with some short-term exceptions. Since the Food and Drug Administration announced the new labeling requirements in July 2003, many food makers have chosen to take out the trans fats rather than list any amount of what scientists consider the most dangerous dietary fat. Even Girl Scout cookies are shedding it. When girls start selling cookies in North Georgia in January, they'll offer two varieties without trans fats.
As the Oreo project shows, taking out the trans fats has been no easy task.
The partially hydrogenated vegetable oils that contain trans-fatty acids make baked goods and fried foods crispy or crunchy. They make doughnuts creamy. They extend shelf life, are solid at room temperature, and are cheaper than other types of fat. They affect how a product tastes, sometimes in hard-to-duplicate ways.
For the Oreo, a star performer whose package proclaims it "America's favorite cookie," getting it right was critical. Kraft introduced trans fat-free Golden Oreos earlier this year. But getting a satisfactory version of the flagship cookie was one of the toughest challenges the company faced in reducing or eliminating trans fats in more than 80 percent of its cookies and crackers, said Laurie Guzzinati, a senior manager for Kraft Foods.
"Oreo, to many people, is such an icon," Guzzinati said. "The Oreo is central to our portfolio. It was important that we came out with an Oreo that would meet consumers' expectations."
Kraft tested a variety of oils to replace the partially hydrogenated soybean oil in the Oreo's sandwich cookies and filling, sending revamped cookies through the manufacturing process 120 times before settling on a blend of canola and palm oil. The old Oreos contained 2.5 grams of trans fats in a three-cookie serving. The new Oreos don't have any, although, like the old Oreo, they contain saturated fat, another dietary fat that contributes to heart disease.
Advice on dietary fat has changed over the years. Americans have long been urged to avoid saturated fat, which raises levels of bad cholesterol in the blood. Trans fats deliver a double whammy: Not only do they elevate bad cholesterol, as saturated fats do, but they also lower good cholesterol and make arteries more rigid. Yet for years Americans were urged to use margarine rather than butter because the partially hydrogenated vegetable oil in sticks of hard margarine was considered better than the saturated fat in butter.
Not anymore. A government nutritional advisory panel recently recommended consuming as few trans fats as possible, limiting them to 2 grams a day or less. Saturated fat should be kept to less than 10 percent of calories.
More than 80 percent of the trans fats in the food supply come from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils in shortenings, snack foods, fried foods and baked goods. The rest naturally occur in beef and dairy products, and nutritionists say that those shouldn't be a concern. To reduce trans fats, food industry involvement is key, according to a report from the federal Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.
It's not as simple as swapping one oil for another, though. Palm and coconut oil are high in saturated fat, another undesirable ingredient. Many types of vegetable oil aren't as stable as partially hydrogenated ones. They may not withstand the high temperatures required for deep-fat frying, or may turn rancid during the months of shelf life expected of processed foods. Kellogg announced this month it was replacing some partially hydrogenated oils with a genetically modified low-linolenic soybean oil but couldn't secure a large enough supply for all of its crackers, cookies and frozen foods.
Geraldine's Bodacious Food Company in Jasper, which makes Geraldine's Cheese Straws and a line of cookies, earlier this year replaced the margarine in its cheese straws with a liquid oil that costs nearly twice as much. That oil hasn't worked in the cookies, said David Hays, one of the company's owners.
"The cookies just don't rise, and they're not as crisp and light," he said.
The company could switch to butter, but that costs four times as much as vegetable oils and prices aren't as stable, an important factor for a small company, Hays said. Like other food manufacturers, Bodacious is concerned about losing business if customers don't like the taste of the reformulated cookies but faces pressure from supermarkets to remove trans fats. They hope to deliver a trans fat-free cookie by the end of 2006.
"For us, if it's not bodacious, it ain't right," Hays said. "We are the Bodacious Food Company, and that's why we haven't made a bodacious cookie with no trans fats yet. We think our cheese straws are still bodacious."
Since the FDA announced the labeling requirement, trans fat has become a buzzword beyond food industry and nutritional circles. In a survey by the market research firm NPD Group, shoppers put trans fats at the top of the list of things they're trying to avoid, ahead of sodium, cholesterol, caffeine and sugar. The FDA estimates that disclosing trans fat content on labels may help prevent up to 500 deaths from heart disease each year, and save up to $1.88 billion annually in medical costs and lost productivity.
"The accumulating data is, they're really a disaster," said Arthur Agatston, a Miami cardiologist who wrote "The South Beach Diet." "Trans fats are something that can be hidden in so many ways. If you see them, then boom, you know it's bad."
Food industry giants like ConAgra Foods, Kellogg, Unilever and Kraft have stepped up announcements of trans fat-free products in recent months. So have a handful of restaurant chains, including Jason's Deli and Ruby Tuesday. Others, including Wendy's, are quietly testing trans fat-free cooking oils and gauging their effect on restaurant operations, such as how frequently the oil must be changed, and how consumers react.
"The bottom line is always the bottom line: The consumer has to buy it," said Denny Lynch, a Wendy's spokesman. "If they don't buy it, we can't sell it."
Chick-fil-A has been studying trans fats for two years, searching for ways to remove them from its biscuits and desserts, said in-house nutritionist Jodie Worrell. The restaurant fries with peanut oil, which has no trans fats, but its waffle fries supplier par- cooks the potatoes in partially hydrogenated oil, another area where Chick-fil-A wants to make changes. Finding the right recipe without adding saturated fat to the biscuits has been tough, Worrell said, but the company was committed to reducing trans fats.
"We thought it was the best thing for customers," she said.
Unlike food manufacturers, restaurants need not disclose nutritional information. Many cooking oils used for French fries and other deep-fried foods contain trans fats, as do biscuits, doughnuts and other pastries.
"The restaurant industry hasn't stepped ahead of the curve on this one," said Bob Goldin, executive vice president of Technomic Inc., a consulting and marketing research company. "I don't think they've seen a need to do it, but at some point this is going to become a bigger, pressing demand among a large group of consumers."
Unless restaurants are required to list trans fats, health advocates say, Americans will continue to unwittingly consume them. Some fast-food chains do list trans fats in the nutritional information on their Web sites, and McDonald's will start including that information on food wrappers later this winter.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which petitioned the FDA in 1994 to add trans fats to nutrition labels, has again petitioned the agency, this time asking that restaurants be required to disclose the presence of trans fats and to remove partially hydrogenated vegetable oil from a list of food ingredients generally recognized as safe.
"There's been excellent progress among many of the large food processors," said Michael Jacobson, the health advocacy group's executive director. "All that said, nobody has figures yet on what reduction in trans fat consumption there will be thanks to these changes. I assume these changes will move the needle, because these are some big companies.
"Where there's been little or no change is in the restaurant industry, which is not covered by the labeling requirement, so they don't feel that pressure. People don't see those lists of ingredients."
© 2005 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
*** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed, without profit, for research and educational purposes only. ***
More information about the Foodplanning