Have you ever wondered why foods high in fat taste so good? Fat has sensory qualities. For instance, it enhances a food’s taste because it “carries” the flavor of the other ingredients. Fat effects the texture of food as well. The smooth and creamy consistency often associated with products such as ice cream, salad dressings, and mayonnaise comes from fat. And, that gratifying “melt in your mouth” sensation characteristic of high-fat foods is a result of the tenderizing and moisture retaining qualities of fat. Furthermore, fat effects the appearance of the foods you eat. It provides shape and promotes browning which gives foods, such as cookies, their visual appeal.
When fat is removed from food products, so are these characteristics. If no substitute is made, the result could be a dry, tough, and tasteless meal or dessert. In order to create nonfat and low-fat products that resemble their higher-fat counterparts, food manufacturers turn to fat substitutes or fat replacers to mimic the sensory qualities that the use of fat would provide. There are different types of fat replacers that food manufacturers can use. These include:
Carbohydrate-based fat substitutes:
- These include the use of plant polysaccharides such as gums, dextrins, cellulose, and modified starches.
- By combining with water, these fat substitutes provide bulk, retain moisture, and modify “mouth feel,” texture, and appearance to simulate the properties of fat.
- Non- and low-fat frozen desserts, salad dressings, baked goods, and confections are some of the products in which carbohydrate-based fat replacers can be found.
Protein- and microparticulated protein-based fat substitutes:
- These include the use of denatured or microparticulated protein from skim milk or egg whites.
- Provide smoothness, creaminess, and enhance appearance of food to simulate the properties of fat.
- Can be found in non- and reduced-fat baked goods, dairy products, and spreads.
Fat-based fat substitutes:
- Created by chemically altering fat so that it cannot by digested and absorbed by the body; thus, these substitutes contribute little or no calories to the food product. Olestra (brand name Olean) is one such fat-based substitute. It does not contribute calories because it cannot be broken down by the pancreatic enzyme, pancreatic lipase; therefore, it passes through the body. Another fat-based substitute is Salatrim, which can be absorbed by the body, but only partially. It contributes 5 calories per gram.
- Add moisture and modify “mouth feel” and texture to food.
- Found in non- and lower-fat versions of fried foods, baked goods, dairy products, and confections.
- Can cause gastrointestinal discomfort in susceptible individuals.
The Food and Drug Administration has deemed fat substitutes on the market to be safe. When used in a prudent manner as part of a reasonably healthy diet, fat replacers may help you to reduce the overall fat content of your diet without you having to make great sacrifices on taste, texture, “mouth feel”, and appearance of foods consumed. However, note that the long term health impact of fat substitutes is not yet fully known; and, it is uncertain as to what the cumulative effects from consuming multiple products containing these replacers may have on your health and overall well-being. If this is a concern, consider making more meals at home and use fruit purees rather than fat to add moisture, flavor, and tenderness to baked goods. Follow cooking methods that do not require fat for the cooking process – such as steaming, roasting, and poaching foods – to lower your daily intake of fat.
What is your favorite non- or reduced-fat product? Do you have any concerns about the safety and health consequences of consuming commercially made products that contain fat substitutes? Share with us, we want to know!
For additional information seek these sources:
American Dietetic Association’s Complete Food and Nutrition Guide, 3rd Edition, Duyff, R.L.
Circulation 2002;105;2800-2804, “Fat Substitutes and Health: An Advisory From the Nutrition Committee of the American Heart Association,” Wylie-Rosett, J.