The Foodservice Lens on Healthier Fats
Posted by , MS, RD, LD, FADA

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According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2013 What’s Hot Survey of 1,800 professional chefs, 55% of those surveyed indicate they are trying to make dishes and recipes more healthful.  Another 37% indicate they have tried, but that not all recipes are easily adjustable.  Today, the goal is to explore how the restaurant and foodservice industry is managing fat as they strive to meet the needs of today’s health conscious consumer.

When considering the shortenings and oils to use in their operations, restaurateurs look for functionality, flavor, and versatility in addition to nutritional value.  Functionality is important as some cooking methods like sautéing, deep frying, and grilling require very high heat. Oils like olive oil, for example, only have a smoke point of 325 degrees whereas canola and peanut don’t smoke until 396 degrees.  The flavor decision revolves around whether it’s important for the ingredient flavors to shine through or if the oil flavor is desirable in the finished dish.  Many foodservice establishments want fewer products on the shelf, making a versatile oil like canola beneficial for work flow.

Historically, to meet these considerations in the foodservice kitchen, operators had to rely on oils which had trans fats, because of their attributes.  According to Joy Dubost, PhD, RD, Senior Director of Nutrition at the National Restaurant Association, “hydrogenation of oils provides a number of functions including increased melting point, texture/flavor/mouth feel attributes, and shelf life extension”. She continues, “  Typically many of these hydrogenated oils were lower in cost relative to oils recently introduced to the market.”

When asked about the Food and Drug Administration’s proposed ban on trans fat from partially hydrogenated oils,  Dubost indicates that the industry has been working to remove trans fat for the past 10 years.  She indicates that “the addition of trans fats to Nutrition Facts panels on packaged foods in 2006 provided motivation to restaurants to remove/replace artificial trans fats. Additionally, the state of California and various cities including New York City and Philadelphia have laws that ban restaurants from using oil, shortening or margarine containing 0.5 grams or more of artificial trans fat per serving.”

So what options are restaurants turning to in order to get the functionality, flavor, versatility and cost they need?  According to Dubost, “restaurants have turned to a number of alternatives such as traditional palm, canola and soybean oils and now high oleic canola, sunflower and soybean oils. High oleic oils have a number of nutritional benefits given their low percentage of saturated fat, zero trans fat and a high percentage of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. They have also been shown to perform well in terms of flavor and stability for frying as well as fry life and shelf life. High oleic oils have grown in popularity and are now used in many restaurants.”

Today’s consumer has broadened their definition of healthy food to include sustainability metrics, which impact the choices they make when dining out.  In response, the National Restaurant Association launched their ConserveSM Program, an effort to preserve resources, promote sustainability and help restaurateurs make smart, sustainable decisions.  Managing waste and recycling are important elements of this program, and Dow AgroSciences Omega-9 Oils supports these efforts as the exclusive oil sponsor of the Conserve program.   In addition to providing health benefit, Omega-9 Oils has a nutrition profile of more than 70% oleic acid and less than 3% linoleic acid, which contributes to longer fry life.  In a study from the University of Lethbridge, it was found that these oils perform up to 50% longer than other common fry oils, resulting in fewer oil changes per year, reducing packaging as well as product and labor costs.

Every foodservice operation uses shortenings and oils in a variety of ways, and their need for functionality, flavor, versatility and cost are considerations equally important to nutrition.  Fortunately, there are now options available to the industry to meet foodservice needs and consumer demand.