Saturated fats in food down to below 11%

By Michelle Knott

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Saturated fat, Nutrition, Fat

The salt content of bread has been reduced by 20–30%
The salt content of bread has been reduced by 20–30%
The government’s new pledge aims to reduce saturated fats in food down to below 11%, reports Michelle Knott

Key points

Some 2,600 people die prematurely in the UK each year as a result of eating too much saturated fat, according to the Department of Health (DH). That could change if the new Public Health Responsibility Deal (PHRD) pledge succeeds in driving down consumption from 12.7% to 11% of food energy intake in the British diet.

“The long-term goal has been to get total fat down to below 35% and that’s been achieved. Now the government is going to be focusing on saturated fats and the new pledge will help get saturates down to below the recommended 11%,”​ says Sara Stanner, head of science at the British Nutrition Foundation.

Industry also welcomed the news. “The willingness of companies to act on saturated fat, even where it’s very challenging, makes this a very positive pledge,”​ says Barbara Gallani, director of the food safety and science division at the Food and Drink Federation. “The signatories to the first stage already represent around 50% of the retail market.”

Shift to sugar (Return to top)

However, cardiologist Aseem Malhotra put a dampener on proceedings by asserting in the British Medical Journal​ that the role of sat fats and cholesterol in cardiovascular disease had been exaggerated. Instead, he shifted the blame onto sugar.

This drew protests from Public Health England (PHE) – the executive agency of the DH that administers the PHRD – and the British Heart Foundation, among others.

“I am afraid he is rather poorly informed about the issues,”​ says Professor Ian MacDonald, chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) Working Group on Carbohydrates.

Others think any public spat risks causing confusion and diluting an important message. “Consumers like messages to be clear and consistent,”​ says Gallani. Stanner says there's no scientific case to suggest sugar plays a role in heart disease beyond that of providing added calories that can lead to obesity. “There’s no evidence for any other mechanism, although replacing fat with high levels of sugar is not going to be much benefit if it pushes up the energy intake. If you’re removing sat fat you want to replace it with healthy or wholegrain carbohydrates where possible.”

More guidance on the role of carbohydrates in health should help settle any lingering doubts next year, when SACN is expected to complete a major new review of the evidence. PHE says there is no firm timetable for publication yet.

All the PHRD pledges are voluntary. And while some campaigners would prefer compulsory measures, most observers admit the results achieved under existing PHRD pledges bode well. Trans fats are a good example.

“Trans fats are no longer a public health problem in the UK,”​ says Stanner. “Unless you’ve got a very, very poor diet, they're going to be less than 2% of your intake.”

UK is ahead of the game (Return to top)

On salt, even the harshest critics admit the UK is ahead of the game. “Reduction started in 2005 and with one or two hiccups we’ve been progressing since then,”​ says Graham MacGregor, who chairs the Campaign for Action on Salt and Health.

Research confirms that overall salt consumption has been falling, says Stanner: “Urinary excretion analysis shows that's the case.”

The 2012 salt pledge is being overhauled and proposed new targets have been published by the DH. These revisions, which took account of the failure to meet the 2012 targets in a number of areas, were discussed by the PHRD’s High Level Steering Group in December and a new pledge with revised targets will be published this Spring. These are expected to show a relaxation for a number of product categories where the 2012 targets were not met because of technical and acceptance problems.

MacGregor says it’s important to keep up the pressure on industry, which typically cites consumer tastes and technical barriers as challenges: “The consumer acceptance thing is complete and utter balderdash. We’ve already taken bread down 20–30% in salt content without one complaint,​” says MacGregor. He also maintains the issue of shelf-life is exaggerated.

Stanner is more cautious and says education is key: “People mustn’t start rejecting products. We have to keep the impetus up with consumers.”​ She notes that the government​s Change for Life programme will be campaigning to raise awareness around salt in the new year.

“We want to congratulate the food industry for what they’ve done and we want to congratulate them in five years for doing more,” says MacGregor. “Anyone who doesn​t will be hearing from us.”

Sat fat reformulation strategy (Return to top)

Companies looking to reduce sat fats have two basic options: substitute them with healthier fats or oils, or with low-fat alternatives.

Healthy oil substitution is easier in applications that don't require solid fats. Many snack makers, for instance, have already phased out palm oil (around 50% sat fat) and standard sunflower oil (12%) in favour of high-oleic sunflower oil at 8% saturates. But even healthier alternatives are emerging.

Plant breeders at Dow AgroSciences have been developing oil crops to produce omega-9 (monounsaturated fat-rich) sunflower and rapeseed oils, which promise sat fat concentrations of just 3.5% and 7% respectively.

The rapeseed oil is available in Europe from spring-planting varieties grown in Russia and Ukraine and autumn-planting varieties for farmers in western Europe. Dow also says it will have commercial levels of omega-9 sunflower oil available in Europe in two to three years.

As well as enabling sat fat reductions and associated health claims, there are processing and shelf-life advantages with omega-9 oils because they’re resistant to oxidation. The Oxidation Stability Index (OSI) of palm is 23, but regular sunflower oil offers an OSI of nine, leading to a rapid build-up of unwanted deposits in frying equipment and a shorter shelf-life. High-oleic sunflower oil raises the OSI to 20, but omega-9 sunflower oil will boost it back up to 23, according to healthy oils market manager for Europe, Richard Burrell.

With oils and fats adding around 9kcal/g to the diet, compared with carbohydrates at 4kcal/g, some firms will want to reformulate with lower overall fat levels, and that’s where ingredients such as starch-based fat replacers come in. For instance, Ulrick & Short says its Delyte fat replacer is mixed with water to deliver a combined calorie count closer to 1kcal/g of starch-plus-water when in use.

Flavour companies are also offering solutions targeting the mouthfeel of fat, such as Givaudan’s TasteSolutions toolbox.

Salt replacement solutions (Return to top)

The British Nutrition Foundation’s Sara Stanner stresses that there should be a focus on gradually changing the nation’s tastebuds, rather than simply replacing traditional salt with ingredients that indulge an unhealthy desire for products that taste as salty as they always did. Nevertheless, ingredients suppliers have come up with a range of solutions designed to maintain an appealing flavour as manufacturers reformulate.

Tate & Lyle’s Soda-Lo, for example, uses microspheres of sodium chloride that have a much higher surface-to-volume ratio than conventional salt crystals and so deliver a saltier experience at lower concentrations.

Alternative mineral salts are also attracting interest but they can be bitter. Various approaches are being used to mask that. For instance, Barentz has imported Nu-Tek potassium chloride technology from the US. The patented production process changes the underlying morphology of the potassium chloride crystals for a less-bitter result.

Meanwhile, Akzo Nobel and Givaudan have teamed up to supply a range of OneGrain ingredients, which combine Akzo’s sodium chloride and potassium chloride with flavours from Givaudan to make solutions for specific applications, such as adding flavour and succulence to meat products.

Simplicity tends to be a key selling point of solutions based on potassium chloride, with both Nu-Tek and OneGrain offering a straight one-for-one substitution, for example.

Other solutions rely on a bespoke approach. For example, Givaudan’s TasteSolutions are tailored for each application.

This is also true for solutions based on yeast. “There are a lot of different yeast extracts with different compositions and different effects when it comes to salt reduction,”​ says Dennis Rijnders, business manager for savoury ingredients yeast extracts at DSM.

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