The question that we have examined in this chapter is whether or not reduced-fat foods, especially those utilizing fat replacer technology, are useful in reducing the current trend to overconsume dietary fat in Western societies. This question is difficult to answer considering: (1) only since the 1980s has dietary fat consumption been the focus of nutritional research and (2) many of the advancements in fat replacer technology are even more recent. What we do know is that we consume foods that taste good more readily than those that do not taste good. Therefore, it seems reasonable that the availability of low- or no-fat foods that are also highly palatable may aid in compliance to low-fat diets that were previously bland and unsatisfying. However, although fat-replaced foods may offer new food choices to consumers, it still should not be assumed that the use of fat-replaced foods will bring about significant reduction in fat and energy intakes.
The research cited in this chapter regarding currently available fat replacers supports the notion that such products may aid in reducing dietary fat intake but perhaps not overall energy intake. Most studies using traditional low-fat foods and currently available fat-replaced foods have resulted in compensation for energy reductions, but not macro-nutrient compensation. Results from sucrose polyester studies are equivocal in respect to energy and fat compensation, with some reporting energy compensation while others do not. More tightly controlled, laboratory-based human studies are needed to determine how useful fat replacement will be in reducing overall fat and energy intakes.
It is also not known how consumers will use new and existing fat-replaced products. Will they be used as a one-to-one substitution for foods previously high in dietary fat or as license to overeat other rich foods? It may be that the key to the successful use of fat-replaced products lies in the motivation of the consumer to bring about a reduction in his/her intake of dietary fat. Again, more naturalistic studies exploring the potential usage patterns of fat-replaced products are needed to determine their usefulness in bringing about desired dietary changes.
Because overall energy intake has been shown to be a factor in weight loss and weight maintenance, the use of fat-replaced foods alone should not be expected to produce spontaneous improvements in body weight management or obesity. Such improvements will still be dependent upon long-term behavioral changes that include not only modifications in fat intake, but also modifications in overall energy intake and increases in energy expenditure. Because fat is the most energy dense macronutrient, substituting low-fat foods can substantially reduce the energy density of the diet provided these foods are also low in energy. If the energy density of the diet is reduced and volume of intake remains constant, reductions in energy intake are likely.
These caveats stated, fat-replaced foods could aid motivated individuals to reduce their intake of dietary fat and energy. In this regard, fat replacers may prove to be a useful tool in reducing fat intake, but as with most novel approaches more detailed investigations should be conducted to determine the efficacy of such products in reducing fat intake. Future studies are needed to resolve issues of fat and energy balance using fat-replaced foods, and whether it is the energy density, the fat content, or the total energy of the diet that is critical for the prevention of such disease states as obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Additionally, longitudinal studies (both in the natural environment and the laboratory) need to be conducted to determine the best strategies for long-term compliance to a low-fat diet.
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