Trans fats will soon be replaced by edible oils that can be used for "diet therapy" to help halt the progress of illness or disease, a research analyst claims.
Trans fats and their affect on human health is the biggest issue facing the edible oils and fats industry today, according to W F Kee, analyst at Frost & Sullivan, which looks at market trends.
Kee said the trend is expected to steer towards "heart healthy and brain healthy" foods, with essential fatty acids such as omega 3 and other natural lipids such as sterols becoming more widely used.
Edible oils and fats will also be used on a wide scale as diet therapy where they can "halt the progress of diseases or regress the progress of illnesses", according to Kee.
An example of this is MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides) found naturally in coconut and other oils, which are believed to deliver nutritional benefits, particularly for people who have problems with absorption of fats or lipids. This is because MCTs are more easily absorbed, digested, and used as energy than normal fats and oils which contain long-chain fatty acids.
Trans fats are formed during the partial hydrogenation of vegetable oil that converts the oil into semi-solids for a variety of food applications. It is widely accepted that they are linked to health risks, predominantly cardiovascular disease, and studies have also shown links to prostate cancer.
On average people in the US consume 5.6 grams of trans fats per day compared with 2.4g in the EU. The main sources are cakes, margarine, cookies, fried foods and snacks
A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruling in 2006 required trans fat labeling on all packaged foods. Kee said: "The ruling has caused the majority of consumers to switch to food products offering low-trans and zero-trans fats.
"Since partially hydrogenated food products are the main source of trans fats in the human diet, thus oils and fats producers are now contemplating the alternatives to partial hydrogenation.
"The two leading replacement technologies appear to be blending with tropical oils such as palm oil and coconut oil, and interestification (a process which changes a fat's physical characteristics) of a mixture of oils."
Another options is to modify the genetic sequence of the oilseeds so that a more desirable fatty acid profile is expressed.
However, there are health concerns about the benefits of replacements. One new US-Malaysian study showed that interesterified fats may raise blood sugar levels and decrease insulin levels, as well as adversely affecting so-called 'good' cholesterol levels.
Action against risks
The risk factors of tran fats has led to a well-publicized bans in New York City restaurants and other cities such as Boston and Philadelphia will introduce similar measures this year.
It follows Denmark which effectively abolished the use of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils four years ago.
A growing number of firms have recently rolled out ingredients to food manufacturers eager to slice the trans fats out of their formulations, including the dairy ingredients group Land O'Lakes, vegetable oil giant Bunge and Iowa firm Asoyia.
The fast food group McDonald's has also started to use a blend of canola, corn and soybean oils to cook fries and other deep fried products.
Meanwhile Nestle's trans fats policy is that it will not make up more than three per cent of a normal consumption of its products, or one per cent of the total daily energy intake as recommended by the World Health Organisation.