Of course, the newly released guidelines suggest many potential ways to reduce caloric intake, including reducing portion sizes and switching nutrient-poor high-calorie foods for nutrient-rich lower-calorie foods. But food technologists are also working on ways that Americans can continue to enjoy foods that are similar to those they consume at the moment, in the same portion sizes, while providing better nutrition and fewer calories.
IFT president-elect Roger Clemens told FoodNavigator-USA.com: “Many major companies have made a commitment to reduce caloric density in their foods and increase nutrient density and they are doing a great job of that.
“There are many technological challenges to reducing energy… The food technologists of tomorrow will have fewer tools to work with in many respects but more opportunities to be creative.”
Apart from excessive caloric intake overall, almost 70 percent of the US population has high blood pressure, or is at risk of developing it. Sodium is one risk factor for that and the new guidelines put in place stricter upper limits for sodium consumption for groups that represent about half of all Americans – 1,500mg a day, down from the 2,300mg limit that still stands for other groups.
The flip side of too much sodium is that most Americans do not consume enough potassium, which helps to counterbalance some of sodium’s effect on blood pressure. Clemens said he expects to see more research into ways to mitigate the bitterness that is associated with potassium as well as ways to ensure food safety despite reduced sodium levels.
“The overall opportunity here is an increase of legumes in the food supply,” he said. “Meat and legumes fall in the same category, the protein group…I think the food industry will look very closely at that.”
For example, food technologists could develop new formulations for patty and nugget-type meat and fish products, still based on meat and fish, but complemented by other protein-rich foods, like soy. Clemens suggested that these could provide multiple nutrition benefits by reducing sodium, calories and saturated fat.
Other challenges presented by the new guidelines include increasing whole grain consumption, which Clemens said could be particularly difficult for the food industry.
“Somehow we need to get more dietary fiber and more whole grains in the food supply,” he said. “They change color; they change texture; the cook time is different. It will take time to add whole grains to the food supply.”
Meanwhile, food technologists will be looking at extending foods with fruits, berries, vegetables and grains in order to lower their calorie content and improve their nutrient density. Clemens also suggested that stearic acid, a saturated fatty acid that has been found to have a healthier profile than other saturated fats, could be used to replace trans fat, as it has similar functionality in terms of improving shelf life and stability.
He is hopeful that these changes could lead to a shift toward more positive messaging about foods, focusing on what they contain instead of what they do not – although Clemens says he is not referring to on-pack health claims.
“Food is not a medication,” he said. “…Food is a lifetime commitment to your health.”