Does the 2010 Dietary Guideline for Americans (DGA) policy on saturated fat affect the usage of palm oil in the US?
In the past, the recommendations of the DGA have consistently encouraged Americans to reduce their intake of saturated fat at all costs. As a result, fats and oils that are considered ‘high’ in saturated fat, including palm oil, have been singled out as bad and should not be used in food. However the 2010 DGA has made a significant change in their recommendations. Reduction of saturated fat will only provide a health benefit if it is substituted by unsaturated fat. In fact replacing saturated fat with added sugar could actually increase risk of heart disease. Taking trans fat into account, saturated fat is quickly falling in the ranking of undesirable food ingredients. The 2010 DGA set the maximum recommended intake level for saturates at 10% of the diet, and indicated that the present intake level is 11%, already almost at the target level. Clearly saturated fat is no longer a major threat to public health.
What are the latest trends in fats and oils nutrition and how will it affect food formulation?
Michelle Obama is leading several important changes to the federal school lunch program that will significantly affect the formulation of food for that program. Trans fat content and the use of hydrogenated fats and oils will be severely restricted in the new program. This is the most significant change in the program in 15 years and affects other ingredients such as sodium an calories. At the same time Wal-Mart has announced a virtual ban on trans fat in its stores. Companies providing store brand products to Wal-Mart will be required to eliminate partially hydrogenated vegetable oils form their formulas. All other companies with products at Wal-Mart may soon have to follow suit. Removing trans fat will require reformulation but the good news is that trans-free palm oil products are already available for almost any application.
Can palm oil play a role in promoting global sustainable agriculture?
Modern palm oil production is a global model for the promotion of sustainable agricultural practices. In 2003, a multi-stakeholder organization called the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was created. The organization comprised of growers, processors, and social and environmental organizations, created a set of principles and criteria that defined sustainable palm oil. Today a strict third party audit system is in place to validate compliance to these principles. Already 6% of global palm oil production is RSPO certified, and expected to double every 3 years. The practical impact of RSPO sustainable palm oil practices is enormous. Sustainable plantations have been able to increase yields of palm oil per acre by 50%, with another increase of 50% predicted with the next 15 years.
Is there a market for sustainable palm oil?
The European Union has shown their support for RSPO certified sustainable palm oil and the majority of sustainable produced today is used in the EU. The main driving force for demand of sustainable palm oil is the protection of tropical rainforests and the native people and endangered species that live there. Demand for sustainable palm oil in the USA is beginning to increase. Several multi-national corporations including Kraft, General Mills and Kellogg’s announced commitments to completely switch to RSPO certified sustainable oil. Loders Croklaan, one of the largest processors of palm oil in the US landed their first shipment of sustainable palm oil in New Orleans in February this year in expectation of increased demand for the product.
Ask the expert
Dr. Gerald P. McNeill
Director of Research and Development
Loders Croklaan NA
How can palm oil contribute to the new wave of healthy oils for the food industry?
Although current science indicates that saturated fat is not as bad as we once thought, efforts are continuing to further reduce saturated fat in food. Palm oil is an essential part of this effort. New variants of traditional liquid vegetable oils with low saturated fat content are being produced. But liquid vegetable oils are not functional in many kinds of foods such as baked goods, snack foods, chocolate products and donuts. Palm oil is a natural balance of saturated and unsaturated fat, containing 50% of each, and is highly functional where a solid fat is required. It is a healthy alternative to trans fat, a source of solid fat produced by partial hydrogenation. But the versatility of palm oil allows it to reduce saturated fat in foods while maintaining functionality. This is achieved by blending different components of palm oil, called fractions, with liquid vegetable oils.
Will elimination of trans fat in response to recent health related initiatives cause an increase in formulation costs?
No. Palm oil is an excellent, cost effective alternative to partially hydrogenated oils. Global palm oil production is higher than any other vegetable oil and on average is cost neutral to soybean oil. Many shortening products based on palm oil are already commercially available and are in widespread use wherever a solid fat is required for functionality. The current palm oil products were developed in response to a government regulation that required compulsory labeling for trans fat on retail packaged goods, effective Jan 1st 2006. Palm oil is a natural balance of saturated fat and is virtually free of trans fat. Although it is a single natural product, it is extremely versatile and has been converted into a comprehensive range of products. More recent innovations by leading palm oil processors include reduced saturated fats without loss of functionality, cost savings and calorie reduction.
In addition to new product innovations, RSPO sustainable certified palm oil is now being produced in significant quantities and shipments have started to arrive in the United States. The sustainable oil is identical in performance to traditional oil and can be seamlessly converted to all applications.
Can palm oil be used to make non-hydrogenated confectionery products?
Palm oil and palm kernel oil (another component of the palm fruit) have been used to make non-hydrogenated confectionery coatings and fillings in the United States for several years. Unique fats and oils components can be extracted palm oil and palm kernel oil using a process called fractionation. Some of these fractions are hard and brittle at room temperature, but melt in the mouth. The characteristic is ideal for chocolate confectionery coatings and contains no hydrogenated fat. Several products are available that offer options such as low cost, high throughput, hard or soft texture, long shelf-life and reduced saturated fat.