Q: Why are trans fats problematic from a health standpoint?
A: Research, especially from the past two decades, has equivocally established the dangers of consuming foods containing trans fatty acids (TFAs). The spectrum of adverse effects, first thought to be just confined to coronary heart disease, has now expanded to include an increased risk for a number of diseases, such as diabetes. TFAs may also impact obesity and adversely affect normal fetal development in pregnant women.
Q: Why is the trans fat replacement issue so critical to bakers?
A: In baking, there is a requirement for the solids to impart functionality, so the baked products are texturally pleasing to the consumer. In most baked products, the use of liquid oils is less than ideal and often proves unsuitable, for example, in pastries. A solid fat thus is required. Traditionally, these functional bakery fats were achieved by partial hydrogenation, which resulted in TFAs. The challenge now is to find non-hydrogenated fats that provide similar functional and textural characteristics of TFAs containing partially-hydrogenated fats. Palm oil is leading in this arena and helps the baking industry reduce or even eliminate its dependence on partially hydrogenated fats.
Q: Even if saturated fats pose less of a health risk than trans fats, how do you convey this message to consumers who may have a negative perception of saturated fats, and may be confused about fats in general?
A: This is indeed a major challenge since consumers have been advised for nearly five decades to avoid saturates because they are cholesterol raising. Some recent surveys suggest that consumers are beginning to view and even tolerate saturates as preferred alternatives to trans. The baking industry may need to embark on a consumer education campaign about saturates and how their moderate consumption, as part of an overall balanced diet, pose no threat to health. We may be aided in these efforts, since certain segments of the industry and even the health fraternity, are beginning to petition the FDA that some saturated fatty acids are neutral or non-cholesterol raising. The complicated science in these strategies needs to be broken down into simple messages consumers understand.
Q: How might a trans fat alternative used for a frying application requiring high oxidative and flavor stability differ in composition from a trans fat alternative used in cookies or pies?
A: The primary consideration in a frying fat is oxidative and flavor stability. The presence of polyunsaturated fatty acids (fats containing two or more double bonds), linoleic (18:2, n-6) and linolenic (18:2, n-3), in excessive amounts triggers oxidative damage along with flavor reversion leading to rancidity. Low or zero trans frying fats can be presented as liquid or solid shortenings. Palm oil and palm olein are proven frying fats because of their high oleic and palmitic acid content. In addition, the high vitamin E content in these oils also aids oxidative stability. These oils are bland and mostly do not impart any flavors of their own; rather they tend to enhance the flavors of the foods fried in these oils. During baking, the heat stress on the fat is significantly lower compared to that of frying.
Q: What types of trans-fat alternatives are in the research pipeline?
A: Most trans fat alternatives are beginning to use palm and palm fractions as part of their ingredient list in finding trans-free alternatives. In some cases, palm oil may be one of the major ingredients, but in a large number of other products, palm tends to remain mostly a minor component. End-users need to be educated about these proportions.
There is a move towards high stearic containing genetically modified fats on the assumption that stearic acid, among the common saturated fats consumed in the human diet, is mostly neutral to plasma cholesterol. However, caution is advocated since nutrition science does not have comprehensive data to suggest population outcomes should stearic acid become a major saturated fatty acid component in our diet.
The use of interesterification, especially enzymatic interesterification, is increasingly advocated. This may again require critical evaluation before it can be featured as a major trans fat alternative.
Meanwhile, the most viable solution may lay in the combination of the two most common edible oils in the world today — soya and palm. When blended and optimized for the desired functionality and characteristics, these combinations still provide the most viable trans-free alternatives.
How has the MPOC addressed an industry-wide need for trans-fat oil alternatives?
MPOC has undertaken and published clinical dietary trials that provided sound evidence that TFAs containing partially hydrogenated fats were cholesterol raising compared to palm oil. Based on such evidence, along with other experts in the field, we advocated for separate labeling of trans from saturates. We undertake technical and consumer education programs in different parts of the world where there is a thirst for knowledge about trans fats and the desire to find palm-based alternatives. In many such situations, MPOC even facilitates pilot operations to ensure functionality and consumer acceptance of these palm-based alternatives by providing technical assistance through our sister organization, the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB).
Describe how palm oil meets bakers' needs as a replacement for hydrogenated shortenings and other fats containing trans fatty acids?
Research as well as collaboration with industrial partners resulted in a number of palm-based formulations for shortenings, margarine and bakery fats that were palm- based and devoid of trans content. These have allowed the industry to quickly find solutions for trans-free products. The switch was often completed at minimum costs and loss of productivity. Consumer acceptance of such products has mostly been encouraging, often without loss of sales volumes. These are some of the examples through which we have made palm oil the choice ingredient in the pursuit of trans-free shortenings and bakery fats.
How can I learn more about palm oil and the MPOC?
MPOC regularly publishes a number of monograms that explain palm oil, and these are mostly provided free of charge to the industry and consumers. Also, visit our Web sites: