Food Processors Respond to Consumer Demand for Healthier Oils

Food Processors Respond to Consumer Demand for Healthier Oils

February 18, 2015

Article Sponsored by Dow AgroSciences

When it comes to selecting the best fat for their packaged food, food processors have a difficult job. There are many different variables to take into consideration, including flavor, functionality, nutrition, cost and supply. 

As part of a cross-functional team, retail RDs are often expected to contribute their nutritional expertise to department directors and category managers who make purchasing decisions for the various departments across the store, including the bakery and the prepared foods section. A robust understanding of how food processors select fats and oils will better equip retail RDs to make evidence-based product and ingredient recommendations. 

Oil Performance Matters
Although partially hydrogenated oils are very functional, they do not deliver the nutrition profile consumers are looking for. And in light of the Food and Drug Administration’s proposal to remove the GRAS status for PHOs, many processors are looking to new innovations to meet their functional needs. For challenging applications like baking mixes, icings and popcorn, processors often blend a hard fat like palm oil with a high oleic oil to deliver the functionality the product needs without significantly interfering with the nutrition. Shelf life is another important factor to consider. Oils that are naturally stable (like high oleic canola oil) often reduce the needs for antioxidants such as tertiary butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ) to keep them fresh, which also provides an opportunity for a cleaner label. 

Taste Makes a Difference
Taste is another factor food processors consider. For a neutral taste, packaging companies will often turn to canola oil or soybean oil. Canola oil is higher in monounsaturated fats (omega-9), which help with the stability of certain products, while soybean oil is higher in polyunsaturated fats (omega-3 and -6). For a more distinct flavor, some processors will opt for olive oil, corn oil, grapeseed oil or sunflower oil.

Supply and Cost Can’t Be Ignored
When it comes to oil supply and cost, canola and soybean are dominant in North America. Sunflower and safflower oil are used frequently as well, although canola and soy have had the most stable prices over the last five years. Palm oil is derived from the fruit of a palm tree, which is primarily grown in Indonesia and Malaysia where there are sustainability issues to consider.  

Retail RDs Help Consumers Find Good Fats In Packaged Foods 
Considering more than half of the items in the grocery store are located in the center aisles, it is critical for retail dietitians to understand how packaged foods are created. Here are the top three tips for retail dietitians to give consumers about dietary fats when counseling in the supermarket:

  1. Look at the ingredients list first. If partially hydrogenated oils are used, that is a red flag. Consumers should look for healthier choices, such as canola oil. And if there are no preservatives like TBHQ, it’s likely that high oleic oil may be the main source of fat. 
  2. Aim for 22-55 grams of unsaturated fats daily. In an average 2000-calorie diet, the USDA recommends consuming 22-55 grams (10-25% of daily calories) of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats daily for maintaining heart health.
  3. Visit for more information. Good Fats 101 is loaded with the latest science on dietary fats, tools and handouts for dietitians and articles on hot topics. 

The FDA recently finalized menu labeling regulations, which will have a significant impact on retail RDs working in supermarkets where prepared foods are served. Although the center store is where most consumers need help locating good fats in the current environment, these regulations will create additional opportunities for dietitians to educate consumers on how to identify good fats throughout the whole store.