Fat Replacers In The Context Of Functional Foods

101 Toxic Food Ingredients

101 Toxic Food Ingredients

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The link between fat replacers and functional foods has not previously been made. However, that an association does exist, as will be demonstrated here, is worth pointing out amidst the current high level of interest in functional foods.

One definition for a functional food states that it is a food which positively affects physiological functions of the body in a targeted way as a result of it containing ingredients which may, in due course, justify health claims (Roberfroid, 1995). Taking this issue broadly, it can be argued that all foods with reduced fat content can be considered as functional foods given the nutritional benefits of fat reduction as discussed in

Section 1.1. Most of the ingredients used to replace fat, of course, do not provide any special positive physiological benefits themselves. However, fiber-based fat replacers can claim such benefits since there is a growing recognition for the role of dietary fiber in disease prevention, particularly in relation to colonic cancer and heart disease (e.g., Asp et al., 1993; Stark and Madar, 1994; Kritchesky, 1994).

Thus, a number of fat replacers have been launched based on fiber from a number of different sources, such as oats, sugar beet, soy beans, almonds, and peas. For instance, Advanced Oat Fibers manufactured by the company Williamson Fiber Products in Ireland were first introduced in 1988. Oat fiber is also a good source of b-glucan which is claimed to have cholesterol-lowering properties (Duxbury, 1990). Oatrim fat replacer, developed and patented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture is obtained through the enzymic modification of oat starch in the oat flour or bran, and contains from 1 to 10% of b-glucan (Inglett and Grisamore, 1991). Both ConAgra and Rhone-Poulenc/Quaker Oats Company are currently producing Oatrim under separate license agreements. Another fiber ingredient, Fibercel, developed by Alpha-Beta Technologies, is composed of 85 to 90% P-glucan obtained from a food-grade yeast product (Jamas et al., 1990). A range of cellulose-based fat replacers should also be mentioned as a source of fiber (see Appendix). Moreover, in the particular case of inulin fat replacers (for instance Raftiline® from Orafti, Belgium, and Fibruline® from Cosucra SA, Belgium), positive physiological benefits arise from their bifidus stimulating properties (Roberfroid, 1995).


Gradually, the realities of the market place began to shift away from the mythical "one ingredient can solve it all" and toward a more holistic strategy. Moreover, meanwhile, commercial pressures were moving the goal-posts of fat reduction to well beyond the 50% mark, thus making it even more difficult to achieve fat replacement without a holistic strategy in which ingredients such as, gums, emulsifiers, thickeners, stabilizers, and bulking agents, along with gelatin and other proteins and untreated starches could play crucial roles. Previously, this group of ingredients had been overshadowed by the orientation toward discovering the "optimal" fat replacer.

However, the important role of these well-established ingredients is clearly evident when examining low-fat or zero-fat products currently on the market (Bavington et al., 1992). While in many cases, these ingredients are used in conjunction with those developed purposely for replacing fat, in some products, fat reduction has been achieved by structuring the water phase using only gums and stabilizers (e.g., Kraft's "Free Choice" Vinaigrette Style Fat-Free Dressing). Thus, the role of ingredients such as gums, stabilizers, thickeners and emulsifiers needs to be firmly emphasized in the context of fat replacement. That is why this group of ingredients has been placed in a separate category in the classification of ingredients given earlier. Details on the uses of gums, bulking agents and emulsifiers are given in Chapters 9, 10, and 11, respectively, and cellulose-based stabilizers, and their use for fat mimicking purposes, is discussed in Chapters 7A and 7B. The scope for utilizing functional food ingredients in fat replacement was further highlighted in 1991 by the commercialization of Slendid®, a proprietary pectin developed by Hercules, Inc., and marketed by Copenhagen Pectin A/S (see Chapter 7C).


The launch of the N-Lite range of fat mimetics by National Starch & Chemical Corporation in January 1992, as well as widening the scope for the use of starch-derived ingredients for fat replacement purposes, was of considerable significance because it established a new trend. This was the development of combination systems (i.e., blends of ingredients) for use in fat replacement in specific product applications. For example, N-Lite F, specifically designed for use in icings, fillings, frozen desserts and dry mixes, was a blend of modified starch, non-fat milk solids, polyglycerol ester and guar gum. In effect, therefore, the necessity for the holistic approach to fat replacement has been acknowledged. Most notably, it was in this context that modified starch was shown to have a useful role in fat replacement.

In fact, some blends were on the market before 1992. Indeed, a number were launched in the second half of the 1980s, but received few headlines, because, at the time, the search for the single "magic" ingredient was the dominant theme. Developments in the use of blends as fat replacers have taken a number of forms, but, in the main, the approach has been to prepare a formulation containing three or more ingredients which, either could be more universally applied, or, were designed for a specific product category. The latter approach has tended to dominate (for obvious reasons), and the blends typically included as ingredients are gums, stabilizers, thickeners, and emulsifiers, together with standard protein sources (see Appendix for a list of blended ingredient systems that are on the market).

Most combination systems are composed using a passive approach, whereby each ingredient has its particular functionality, and it is the sum of those functionalities that is devised to result in optimal product characteristics. However, one group, interactive combination systems, is based on the principle that a particular combination of ingredients interact during processing, resulting in different characteristics to those that would have been expected from each of the ingredients separately or together. A good example of an interactive combination system is the Slimgel® range launched by P.B. Gelatins, Belgium, at the end of 1993. It is composed of gelatin and galactomannans, and its performance is based on thermodynamic incompatibility between these two hydrocol-loids, which, in turn, leads to phase separation (Muyldermans, 1993, see also Chapter 12).

The advantage of blends, ideally, is that they shorten the time and effort required to develop new low-fat or fat-free products. However, the disadvantage is that when significant development work is required to best match a given full-fat variant, the use of a blend might prove too inflexible, and inhibit the ingredient optimization process, since the precise composition of the main functional system used is not known. The concept of using a range of ingredients in an attempt to reproduce the different functions of fat in the full-fat product goes some way toward a holistic strategy. This was particularly necessary by early 1990s, by which time, partly due to commercial pressures and partly due to new legislative restrictions regarding claims (see Chapter 5), the goal-posts for fat reduction had moved yet again, this time toward the ultimate limit — i.e., zero fat.

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