Consumer understanding of ‘processed foods’ needs to expand to take into account healthier products being introduced by industry, according to a presentation at the American Dietetic Association conference in Boston.
The concept of ‘food processing’ has come in for increasing criticism from diverse quarters, but Dr. Marilyn Schorin, principal of Schorin Strategies, and Melissa Musiker, director of science policy, nutrition and health at the Grocery Manufacturers Association, outlined why they think such criticism of processed foods may often be unjustified, in a presentation entitled “Packaged Food Gets a Makeover: Better Fat, Less Salt, Lower Sugar”.
Schorin gave an overview of the role of food processing in improving food safety and food preservation, as well as in meeting some of the challenges posed by demand for healthier products.
In baked goods, for example, fat coats gluten molecules giving a tender texture; sugar is important for browning; and salt modulates yeast, she said. But food industry innovations have found ways around these issues. Low- and no-calorie sweeteners that can be heated, for example, such as stevia and sucralose, “can reduce caloric intake.”
Schorin highlighted advances in soybean plant science to alter their oil composition, thereby helping to phase trans fats out of the food supply.
“The food industry has been looking for oils that provide this good flavor profile, extended shelf life, healthy nutritional profile, year-long supply and affordability,” she said.
The GMA’s Melissa Musiker also highlighted ways in which the food industry has aimed to keep pace with consumer demands.
“Taste is king, followed very closely by price. But we are beginning to see healthfulness starting to eclipse convenience as a priority for consumers and this is a big change,” she said, citing a recent International Food Information Council survey. “…Trans fat reduction has been a major public health success.”
Musiker said that consumer demand for reformulated products is clear, and the current business environment is “hyper-competitive”, helping to encourage innovation.
“Companies are competing on nutrition,” she said.