The American Heart Association recommends that daily trans-fat intake be less than 1% of total calories. AHA also provides a list of foods containing high amounts of trans fat, which includes many bakery items.
More than nine months after mandatory trans-fat labeling was enacted, the baking industry is still abuzz with shortening and oil talk. There are new solutions, new opportunities and new innovations.
Most surprisingly, the majority of the debate, whether from bakers or ingredient suppliers, revolves not around new solutions, but around the court of public opinion and how it will affect future solutions.
"It's gone from a trans-fat issue to a nutritional issue," one leading shortening and oil supplier says. "The big companies know that. You can't just take the trans fats out and think you're good. That's like putting a big target on your forehead."
The biggest company to know this is Frito-Lay Inc., Plano, Texas. In May, the largest snack manufacturer in the country announced plans to reduce the saturated fat in its leading potato chip brands, Lay's® and Ruffles®, by more than 50%. The move marked a shift in the shortening and oil debate. As this leading shortening and oil supplier states, it is no longer a trans-fat issue.
That is not to say that no-or reducedtrans fat reformulations are slowing. In fact, most suppliers say just the opposite. However, Frito-Lay's announcement broadened the issue to include all types of fats, not just trans fats.
In 2003, Frito-Lay proved its industry leader status by eliminating trans fats across its line of snack chips, well ahead of mandatory trans-fat labeling. The company accomplished this by reformulating its products with corn oil.
Not satisfied with its products' fat profiles, the company furthered its reformulation efforts this summer by making the switch to NuSun™ sunflower oil. The company said the reformulation removes nearly 60 million lbs. of saturated fat annually.
In addition to reducing saturated fat content and eliminating trans-fat content, Frito-Lay also boasts NuSun's™ contribution of the good fats— monoand polyunsaturated fats. The promotion of good fats marks another milestone in shortenings and oils: companies' willingness to promote the good types of fat in their products.
"Once again, Frito-Lay is following sound science in switching to NuSun™, which is rich in mono-and polyunsaturated fats," Rocco Papalia, Frito-Lay North America's senior vice president of research and development, says. "To help consumers who are looking for foods that provide sources of these good fats, the nutrition panel on Lay's® will now list mono-and polyunsaturated content."
Sunflower oil consists largely of mono-and polyunsaturated fats with small amounts of saturated fatty acids. Scientific research has shown that these good fats lower total and LDL (bad) cholesterol.
No swoon in June
Frito-Lay's efforts to turn the transfat issue into a nutritional issue kickstarted what has turned out to be an eventful summer. In the month of June alone, four major news items cast trans fats again into the spotlight and broadened the issue's reach from supermarket shelves to the entire food industry.
The release of the American Heart Association's (AHA) new diet and lifestyle recommendations denounced trans fats, as the AHA established a specific trans fat intake, the first major American organization to do so. AHA recommends trans fat consumption to be less than 1% of total calories. AHA also recommended lowering saturated intake from 10% to 7% of total calories.
"The point is not to calculate the amount of saturated and trans-fatty acids in the diet, but to choose foods that minimize your intake," says Alice Lichtenstein, chair of AHA's Nutrition Committee and Gershoff professor of nutrition science and policy at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, at Tufts University in Boston.
Unfortunately, AHA's list of trans-fat filled foods includes many bakery items, including crackers, cakes, pies, bread, Danish and cookies. Even though bread products rarely contain any trans fats, they continually appear on many organizations' lists of foods that do.
By establishing a recommended trans-fat intake level, AHA provides answers to bakers, whereas Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) official regulations left many questions unanswered. Canada's governing body also one-upped FDA regulations by publishing a report from the country's Trans Fat Task Force. The Task Force recommends a regulatory approach to effectively eliminate trans fat in all processed foods or to reduce trans fats to the lowest possible levels.
"For all other foods purchased by a retail or foodservice establishment for sale to consumers or for use as an ingredient in the preparation of foods on site, the total trans fat content is to be limited by regulation to 5% of total fat content," the Task Force report says. "This limit does not apply to food products for which the fat originates exclusively from ruminant meat or dairy products."
The report claims that this regulation should decrease the average trans fat intake of Canadians by at least 55%. The Task Force recommends that this regulation be finalized by June 2008, and calls for a phase-in period of one year from the publishing of the final regulation.
Foodservice feels heat
When FDA proposed its trans fat regulations, foodservice products and institutions were noticeably absent from mandatory labeling. Although foodservice dodged the initial bullet, it is now feeling the heat, thanks in large part to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). After successfully waging a lawsuit against McDonald's, CSPI has set its sights on Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC).
CSPI and the Washington, D.C. law firm of Heideman Nudelman & Kalik P.C. filed a class-action lawsuit asking the Superior Court of the District of Columbia to prohibit KFC from using partially hydrogenated oil, or to force KFC to post signs at KFC outlets notifying customers that many of the company's foods are high in trans fats. Seeking to escape a lawsuit and unnecessary publicity, Wendy's announced plans to switch to nonhydrogenated cooking oil for its French fries and breaded chicken items. The company is switching to a blend of corn oil and soy oil, which limits the trans fats in its product to less than 0.5 grams.
"This is the right thing to do," Kerrii Anderson, Wendy's interim chief executive officer, said in June. "Getting to this point has involved hard work by our suppliers along with rigorous consumer and operations testing."
Suppliers stay busy
With all of the trans fat actions this summer, it is not surprising that many shortening and oil suppliers say it has been a busy summer. However, one supplier points out that formulating trans-fat free products has become a lot easier.
"It's not rocket science," the supplier says. "We have never failed to reduce or eliminate trans fat because we couldn't come up with a solution."
However, the supplier reports that major obstacles occur when bakers are not sure what they want: elimination of trans fats or an overall improvement in the nutrition profile of a product. Despite apparent similarities,-these statements are different. Eliminating trans fat is possible in many bakery food formulas, but often results in the increase of saturated fats. As a result, the trans-fat issue has evolved into an overall nutrition issue. And as summer fades into fall, this nutritional issue is almost guaranteed to stay front and center in consumers' eyes.