For years, partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), also known as trans fats, have been allowed to lurk in the American food industry despite health concerns that they raise the risk of heart disease and stroke. Luckily, healthier alternatives are in the works.
Food manufacturers started working on other oil options when evidence began mounting steadily after a major study in 1990. The amount of PHOs in food in the US was reduced by 50% between 2006 and 2008 and by 85% in 2015 according to the Grocery Manufacturers Association (1). In 2015, the US Food and Drug Administration decided that food manufacturers had to totally remove trans-fat from their products by 2018 (2).
There are several forms of PHOs and they serve various functions. They may be lurking in the deep fryer of a national fast-food restaurant or snuck into a popular packaged baked good. They’ve made an appearance in coffee creamers, microwave popcorn, and even cereal bars. So, what will it take to replace them? A mix of liquid and solid fats and some serious cooperation from oil-producers, fast food chains ,and makers of packaged foods (3).
When trying new products produced without PHOs, consumers won’t likely be able to tell the difference. Many have been eating them for years. All are improved from a nutritional standpoint thanks to partially-hydrogenated soybean oil. The high content of “good fats” (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) and low levels of “bad fats” (saturated and trans fat) have been highlighted by food makers. Oleic acid, AKA omega-9-fatty acids, improve the stability and health quality of these oils.
One caveat is that the new oils are liquid, which makes baking with them require some added solid fat. Palm oil, which is mostly saturated, is often the ingredient of choice.
Dow Chemical Company’s Dow AgroSciences LLC has a non-GMO omega-9 canola oil with levels of saturated fat that are below olive oil. It has a clean, light flavor and is being utilized by national and regional foodservice chains and snack manufacturers, according to the company.
Plenish, by DuPont Company’s DuPont Pioneer subsidiary is a new trans-fat free oil with similar characteristics. The company reduced saturated fat in soybean oil by 20% and increased the omega-9 fats to compare to olive oil via genetic modification and this is being used in packaged goods.
Vista Gold, by Monsanto is another genetically-engineered soybean oil to be released. It also contains high omega-9 fatty acids, low saturated fat and improved stability compared to regular soybean oil. Currently, high oleic canola oils are popular because they have been present longer in commercial quantities compared to soybean oils (4).
Edible oils, which contain high-oleic sunflower oil, are also available, but in lower quantities.
Qualisoy, a blended high-oleic soybean oil is a possible competitor in the soybean industry (5).
The new soybean oils have a more favorable nutritional profile than new canola oils according to Thomas Brenna, a Human Nutrition professor at the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas Austin. Although omega-9 fats are important, the omega-3 and omega-6 fats that are found in polyunsaturated fats need to be in the right proportion with each other. Omega-3s in canola oil were decreased below ideal levels in order to accommodate for omega-9 fatty acids, which makes them less healthful than soybean oils. Still, Brenna believes that these options are better than PHOs (6).
Consumers need to know that while new products may be trans-fat free, they should not be consumed with abandon. Fried snacks, baked goods, and French fries are still foods that should be consumed in moderation. And, olive oil and canola oil are still healthful oils to include in your diet.
By Lisa Andrews, Med, RD, LD
- University of Minnesota. (2010, July 15). Fast food chains have significantly decreased trans fats in cooking oils, study finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 16, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100714104103.htm
PDF Infographic: Trans Fat Infographic
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.