The purpose of fat-replacement strategies is to reduce the percentage of fat in various foods, without taking away the appealing taste of the food. There are three broad categories of fat-replacement strategies: (1) adding water, starch derivatives, and gums to foods, (2) using protein-derived fat replacements, and (3) using engineered fats.
The addition of water to foods lowers the quantity of fat per serving in the selected food item. When starch derivatives are added to food, they bind
to the water in the food, thus providing a thicker product that simulates the taste and texture of fat in the mouth. Examples of specific starch derivatives include cellulose, Z-trim, maltrin, stellar, and oatrim. The problem with starch derivatives, however, is their limitations as a fat replacement in foods that require frying.
Protein-derived fat replacements are made from egg and milk proteins, which are made into a microscopic globule of protein. They give the sensation of fat in the mouth, although they contain no fatty acids. One such product is Simplesse, which is used mostly in frozen desserts. Because its chemical structure is easily destroyed by cooking or frying, its use is limited in most other foods.
The third fat-replacement strategy includes the use of engineered fats, which are made by putting together various food substances. One popular engineered fat is olestra, which is made by adding fatty acids to regular table sugar molecules (sucrose). This process results in a product that can neither be broken down in the digestive tract nor absorbed. It therefore cannot provide energy, in terms of carbohydrates or fatty acids, to the body. Olestra
is the first engineered fat to be used in fried foods. It does have its drawbacks, however. Olestra can cause abdominal cramping, loose stools, and it can bind beneficial substances that are normally absorbed, such as the fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K) and carotenoids.
In addition to fat-replacement strategies, there are low-fat or fat-free versions of many foods on the market. Some products made to be low-fat or fat-free include milk, yogurt, some cheeses, and deli meats. As a general rule, products that claim to have reduced amounts of fat should conform to the following stipulations: (1) a product labeled "reduced-fat" must have at least 25 percent less fat than the normal product, (2) a "low-fat" product can have no more than three grams of fat per serving, and (3) a "fat-free" product most have less than 0.5 grams of fat per serving. But one does not always need to look for foods made to contain less fat than normal, as there are plenty of natural foods that contain very little fat, or no fat at all, including most fruits and vegetables. Other foods that fit into the category of low-fat or nonfat foods include egg whites, tuna in water, skinless chicken, and pasta.
Foods that are low in fat are important for a healthful diet. While fats are essential components for bodily function, excess consumption of fats can lead to health problems such as obesity and heart disease. A healthful diet therefore consists of balanced proportions of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.