Healthier Oils from Seed to Table
Health and Wellness
June 23, 2013
It’s obvious to consumers and health professionals alike that we have serious public health issues in our country today. Rates of childhood obesity, diabetes and heart disease as well as the cost of health care are frequent discussions in environments from worksites to government to health blogs to moms’ groups. While we’d like to think there is one solution to the public health problems in our country today, the reality is that the issues are complex. The answer lies in building positive momentum for preventative measures, which when combined over time will lead to a healthier nation.
While we don’t often think about the entire food supply chain as it relates to public health, intentional and impactful actions are underway along the growing, producing, manufacturing, and selling stages of the food chain, with potential for significant health improvements. In particular, fats are an interesting category to follow through the supply chain and examine where technology has been leveraged to create end products that lend well to healthier lifestyle behaviors.
In 2006, the negative health impact of trans fat (increased heart disease risk) led the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require the addition of trans to the Nutrition Facts Panel. With all the media hype around trans fat at the time, food manufacturers sought to remove it from as many products as possible. While this sounds simple in theory, it’s complicated in practicality. Trans, as well as other solid fats, have functionality in food. The flakiness of pie crusts, crackers, and croissants, for example, comes from the layer of flour and solid fats, a texture which isn’t always feasible with liquid oils. Solid fats have properties that can make them more effective for frying and add shelf life in some products, and are also easier than liquid oils to handle in production facilities.
With the implementation of trans fat labeling, the FDA was clear about one thing – they didn’t want the new requirement to lead to a replacement of trans with saturated fats. This, after all, would defeat the purpose of requiring trans fat labeling. While consumption of palm oil, which is high in saturated fat, had stable consumption at one pound per person per year, companies began replacing trans fats with palm oil in 2005, as it provided a similar functionality in prepared foods. Consumption of palm oil has now risen to nearly eight pounds per person annually1. Clearly, the industry needed a solution that would meet their technology and production requirements and at the same time provide a healthy solution for consumers.
Enter the seed industry and companies like Dow AgroSciences. Through investment in research and development, these companies have created oil crop seeds with a fat profile in line with recommendations made by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans – an intentional approach to improve the nutrition profile of food choices consumers make every day. Dow, for example, has created a seed that allows production of a canola oil which is 74% monounsaturated fat, 19% polyunsaturated fat and only 7% saturated fat. Not only is this fat profile one of the healthiest available, but the oil also works well in frying, increases the shelf life of snacks and baked goods, and has a clean flavor profile. “With the development of new technologies and new oil crop seeds, we’ve been able to remove more than a billion pounds of trans and saturated fat from the food supply,” says David Dzisiak, commerical leader of grains & oils at Dow AgroSciences. He adds, “since 2004, the industry has removed over 85% of partially hydrogenated oils, and we are proud that our research and technology has been a major contributor to this success.” The end result is a 100% increase in the use of mono- and polyunsaturated oils, which may lower the risk of heart disease when used to replace saturated and trans fat. Clearly the industry’s willingness to invest in research and development has helped to align eating habits more directly with recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
The most effective way for consumers to know if the products they purchase have an improved fat provide is if mono- and/or polyunsaturated fats are listed in the Nutrition Facts Panel. Today, this information is not required on the product package. Consumers can also look for canola or sunflower oil on the ingredient list as an indication of healthier oil use by the manufacturer.
From trans fat labeling to the development of healthier oil crop seeds, fats showcase how from seed to farm to producer to retailer, preventative actions have been taken along the food supply chain to improve health outcomes and help consumers live healthier lives.
1Informa Economics September 2012
Annette Maggi is the President of Annette Maggi & Associates, Inc., a nutrition marketing and communications consulting firm specializing in the interface between food manufacturers and retailers, and nutrition and regulatory affairs. Her clients include Dow AgroSciences. Maggi has extensive knowledge of the retail space with experience at Target and NuVal LLC, as well as in the manufacturing environment from Pillsbury and General Mills.