The future of fats and oils

CHICAGO — It was Jan. 4, 1989, when The Keebler Co. announced it would eliminate saturated fatty acid-rich tropical oils derived from coconut and palm, as well as lard, from its cookies, crackers and snack foods. Other companies followed in an effort to make the products more heart healthy. The irony is that the fats were replaced with trans fats, which have since been deemed unhealthy and phased out by the Food and Drug Administration.

Jump ahead 25 years to the June 23, 2014, issue of Time and its “Ending the War on Fat” cover story. The article launched other media claims such as “fat is back” and “fat is no longer the enemy,” and perhaps set the stage for the butter board trend of this holiday season. Today, simple carbohydrates, namely sugars, bear the burden of being widely associated with an increased risk of obesity and diabetes, not fat.

While fat may be back, product developers must not forget fats and oils vary in fatty acid profiles. Keebler’s motivation to replace saturated fats more than 30 years ago still holds true. Science suggests eating too much saturated fat may raise the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood, and elevated LDL cholesterol levels are associated with a higher risk of heart disease and stroke, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

While saturated fats are not the focus of current nutrition headlines, it is bound to become an issue in the future, especially with tropical oils having found their way back into many products. They also have become the base ingredients for many plant-based meat and dairy alternatives.

The AHA recommends a dietary pattern that sources 5% to 6% of calories from saturated fat. A person who consumes about 2,000 calories a day, for example, should not consume more than 120 calories from saturated fat. That’s about 13 grams per day and not much when one considers the many sources.

Coconut oil is the No. 2 ingredient (after water) in a plant-based bacon currently in the marketplace. Compared to pork bacon, the product is said to contain 65% fewer calories and 75% less fat; however, the 2.5 grams of fat in each slice is 80% saturated fat. That’s 2…

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