Fats play many roles in food production. They provide smoothness in dressings, tenderness in baked goods, and the creamy “mouth feel” of ice cream.
Fats also lend flavor to many foods. But too much of a good thing can be bad. High fat intake can lead to health risks, like high cholesterol and obesity.
It’s no surprise that health care organizations continue to encourage us to reduce our fat intake to less than 30 percent of total calories per day.
But how do we achieve that goal and still enjoy many of our favorite foods? One way is to incorporate reduced fat and/or fat-free food products into our diet to replace some of their higher calorie counterparts.
It is important that these fat modified foods are used in place of, and not in addition to, these foods. Remember that fat-free foods and reduced-fat products do have calories.
Since 1990, about 1,000 new fat-modified food products have been introduced every year. There are three major fat-reduction ingredient categories: carbohydrate-based, protein-based, and fat-based.
The use of starches and gums in foods as thickeners, bulking agents, moisturizers, and stabilizers has been common practice for many years. Replacing nine calories per gram of fat with four calories per gram of carbohydrate can help reduce fats and calories.
A process called microparticulation (MYkro-par-TIK-you-lay-shun) is used to turn proteins into tiny particles that imitate the “mouth feel” of fats. This is achieved by heating the proteins and then blending them at high speeds.
Some of the sources of protein for this process are soy, whey, and egg white. The resulting protein based product goes by the trade name Simplesse.
In fat-based ingredients, the actual fat molecule is changed so that it is only partially absorbed, or as in the case of Olestra, is not absorbed at all.
Caprenin and Salatrim are two brands of fat substitutes that are only partially absorbed, so they only provide about five calories per gram.
Olestra (trade name Olean) is the first true fat replacement. Olestra has all of the characteristics of fat without adding calories. This is because it is not absorbed into the body.
Olestra is a sucrose polyester molecule. It is so large that the enzymes in your digestive system cannot break it apart for absorption. It can be used to fry foods at high temperatures, which makes it the first fat substitute used to make potato chips and other fried snack foods.
But Olestra has its drawbacks.
Because it has the physical properties of fat, certain fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) and carotenoids (being digested at the same time as the Olestra) can be dissolved into the Olestra and eliminated from the body. Because of this, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) insisted that foods made with Olestra be fortified with fat-soluble vitamins.
Olestra may also cause gastrointestinal cramping and loose stools in some people.
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