According to Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists, trans-fat free nonhydrogenated soybean oil will be available in two years, while soybean oil that will rival olive oil for its monounsaturated fats is four years away.
In addition, a new study from the Pennsylvania State University suggests that trans fat-free NuSun sunflower oil could provide a health solution to frying and manufacturing heart healthy foods.
The driving force behind such changes is the new FDA regulation that comes into force January 1 2006. Nearly all food products on sale in the US must comply with the new law, and clearly mark whether the product contains trans fats.
This, coupled with growing consumer concern over the dangers of trans-fats, has motivated food manufacturers to modify their formulas to cut out trans fats. Products with ingredients that contain lower or no trans fatty acids are already gaining consumer recognition.
According to New York-based AC-Nielsen, US sales of products already labeled "no trans fat" increased 12 percent to $6.4 billion for the 52 weeks ended Oct. 2, 2004, compared with the previous 52-week period.
As a result, improving oil quality has become a top priority of the industry. ARS biologist Rae Ritchie and her colleague, geneticist Niels Nielsen, have used a genetic tool called TILLING (Targeting InducedLocal Lesions in Genomes), which has enabled them to develop heart-healthy soybean oil and higher-protein soybeans.
This breakthrough could enable oil manufacturers to really capitalize on the move away from trans-fats and towards healthier oils. Similarly, the National Sunflower Association claims that substituting only two tablespoons per day of NuSun sunflower oil for saturated fat could significantly lower total cholesterol by nearly five percent and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL) by nearly six percent.
Subjects on the NuSun diet lowered blood cholesterol levels compared with the average American diet, whereas a diet with olive oil did not. The study "Balance of Unsaturated Fatty Acids is Important to a Cholesterol-Lowering Diet: Comparison of Mid-Oleic Sunflower Oils and Olive Oil on Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors," is published in the July 2005 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
Some food manufacturers have already started using NuSun sunflower oil in their commercial products, including Frito-Lay SunChips, Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, and the J.M. Smucker Company's Crisco 0 Grams Trans Fat Per Serving All-Vegetable Shortening. The result is a product that can be labeled "0 Grams Trans Fat," without an increase in saturated fat.
Trans fat is formed when liquid oils are made into solid fats like shortening and hard margarine, a process that increases the shelf life and flavor stability of foods. But the substance has been found to contribute to elevated cholesterol levels and can lead to coronary artery disease.
The January 1, 2006 requirement will affect nearly all FDA regulated food labels. Not since 1993, when compliance for the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 became mandatory, have so many labels required revision.
Food companies must comply, and the winners are likely to be those that see the change as an opportunity to tap the health market.