Sponsored by American Palm Oil Council
Q Can saturated fats be part of a healthy diet?
A: Removing trans fats from baked products requires determining what alternatives are optimal for taste, texture, shelf life and health. In some cases, a liquid fat will work– but in other applications, only a solid fat may be used. Although polyunsaturated fats have been linked to better cardiovascular outcomes, a diet cannot be composed entirely of polyunsaturated fats. Eating a balance of fats and fatty acids is a key part of a healthy diet. Moderation also is an important factor.
Saturated fats have garnered a bad reputation primarily because, for decades, scientists and physicians have suggested that foods that cause an increase in serum or LDL cholesterol, or “bad” cholesterol, are linked with an elevated risk for heart disease. Saturated fat generally is linked to an increase in LDL cholesterol, so clinicians recommend avoiding it to reduce risk of heart disease.
Researchers discovered that HDL cholesterol, “good cholesterol”, has the opposite effect of LDL cholesterol on the risk of heart disease; higher levels of HDL cholesterol not only have a protective effect against cardiovascular disease, but they also partly offset any effect related to an increase in LDL. The medical profession looks at a ratio of HDL to LDL when evaluating cholesterol levels. Saturated fats, in general, increase serum levels of HDL cholesterol.
Q What does this mean when evaluating alternatives to trans fats? Are some saturated fatty acids better than others?
A: Studies have shown that different fatty acids have independent effects on HDL and LDL. There are four major saturated fatty acids present in saturated fat; each has a somewhat unique effect on LDL and HDL cholesterol. The two most common fatty acids are palmitic acid (found in all fats and oils, especially palm oil) and stearic acid (found in products such as beef fat and chocolate). Palmitic acid raises both good and bad cholesterol; stearic acid does not raise or lower good or bad cholesterol. To give a sense of context, trans fats do not raise good cholesterol at all and significantly raise bad cholesterol.
When considering using a saturated fat as a trans fat replacement, there are important tradeoffs to consider. In their natural states, both stearic acid and palmitic acid have similar health profiles; however, in order to make stearic acid functional for baking applications, chemical processes must be applied that appear to alter stearic acid’s health profile. Since palmitic acid’s natural format is readily usable for baking applications, no change to its health profile appears to occur.
Q What does this mean for baking applications?
A: Using fats with a balanced saturated and unsaturated fatty acid composition, such as palm oil, as a replacement for trans fats is an ideal solution for baked products. In addition to being a more healthful option than trans fats, palm oil’s naturally solid state and smooth character make it an ideal choice for creaming, without any chemical processing needed. Fat with a balanced saturated and unsaturated fatty acid composition, such as palm oil, generally have a longer shelf life than liquid oils, and palm oil has virtually unlimited functionality: It can achieve a variety of textures for baked items.
ASK THE EXPERT
Dr. Gerald P. McNeill, Director of Research and Development, Loders Croklaan NA
Baking Management: What options does the baking industry have, given the recent push away from trans fats and consumer concerns about saturated fats?
Dr. Gerald McNeill A stable, semi-solid fat is needed to create the functionality, taste and long shelf life that is necessary for most baked products.
Traditionally, animal fats provided the desired texture and flavor that characterized a wide range of products. But concern about possible negative health effects caused by saturated fats resulted in widespread use of hydrogenation, a process that converts unstable, nonfunctional liquid oils into a semi-solid. Unfortunately at that time we knew almost nothing about the health effects of trans fat, the solid component of hydrogenated oils. It turns out that trans is in fact much worse for your arteries than saturated fat–perhaps as much as 7 times worse. Ironically, substitution of trans fat with saturates is a healthy option!
Some have suggested that substitution with unsaturated fats is even healthier. While this may be correct, liquid oils are not functional in most bakery applications. And the health benefit of unsaturated fat compared to saturates is not as great as we once thought. Saturated fat has recently been found to raise ‘good’ cholesterol as well as ‘bad’ cholesterol.
BM: How has recent attention toward trans fat in media and public policy circles affected your customers? The industry?
Dr. GM: The discovery that trans fat is significantly less healthy than saturated fat has caused a major upheaval in the bakery industry. In the retail sector the compulsory labeling of trans fat content on the nutrition panel of food packages has encouraged many manufacturers to completely eliminate trans fat from their products. In some cases, products with specific health claims may have contained trans fat, as the content of trans fat had not been taken into account by the FDA when the original claims were made.
Most foodservice operations did not eliminate trans fat at that time because it was difficult to know the trans fat content in the foods served at restaurants. In a limited number of cases, restaurants voluntarily displayed nutritional information and committed to eliminating trans fat. Realizing that voluntary elimination of trans fat was ineffective, health officials began banning the use of trans fats in restaurants, culminating in a ban by the state of California. The foodservice industry is now undergoing the same upheaval experienced by retail manufacturers in 2005.
BM: Based on your conversations with customers, scientists and others, what is the biggest challenge facing the baking industry today? How is Loders Croklaan responding to that challenge?
Dr. GM: In today’s economic environment, cost control is one of the main drivers for the baking industry. Consumers still demand healthy choices and nutrition is a key driver for the industry. As a major supplier of edible fats and oils, Loders Croklaan is well positioned to supply the baking industry with low cost healthy solutions.
Loders’ parent company is one of the largest producers of palm oil in Malaysia, making us a fully-integrated supplier of commodity palm oil. Using a physical process called fractionation, Loders delivers a highly diversifi ed portfolio of products suitable for almost every kind of bakery application. This means that trans fat can be eliminated using the SansTrans line of palm-based products without increasing the cost in most cases.
Palm is sometimes called a “saturated fat” implying that it is somehow less healthy. In fact it is a natural balance of unsaturated and saturated fat, containing an equal amount of each. For every ounce of saturated fat added to the mixing bowl, an ounce of unsaturated fat also is added.
In fact saturated fat is not as unhealthy as once believed. While saturates are known to increase LDL or ‘bad‘ cholesterol, recent science has discovered that it also increases HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol. e beneficial effect of the HDL cholesterol partly neutralizes the LDL cholesterol. The net effect–saturated fat doesn’t really do anything. Recognizing that good news about saturated fat will take time to filter to consumers, Loders has developed a range of reduced saturated fat shortenings with the same performance as regular palm oil.