Fat reduction and fiber: just what the doctor ordered – Food Development

Marty Friedman

Although fat reduction/elimination is making headlines in the “nutri-foods” arena, other ingredient extraction/augmentation products continue to enter the marketplace.

The food industry has not yet embraced the era of “pharm-foods.” But, thanks to rapid advances in biotechnology, prescriptive foods,” as described by Susan Harlander, assistant professor of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota, soon will reach the experimental stage. These genetically designed foods may be able to protect against cancer, heart disease, and other significant ailments.

In the mean time, producers and consumers must settle for relatively modest improvements in the nutritional content of their foods.

While the Food and Drug Adminstration wrestles with meaningful definitions of the terms “light” and “lite,” manufacturers continue to launch products with these ubiquitous and often questionable brand descriptions.

Quaker’s Gatorade Light and Tropicana Twisters Light are two new beverage lines that offer lower sugar content.

“Light” or “lite” typically connotes fewer calories, either through fat- or sugar-reduction, or both. Cake mix manufacturers such as General Mills, Pillsbury and Procter & Gamble are in national or test area distribution with reduced-calorie “light” cake and ready-to-spread frosting mixes. Hunt-Wesson’s Wesson Lite No Stick Cooking Spray cans are flagged “Less than 1 calorie per serving.” Virtually every bakery in the nation offers a line of “light” breads with “Only 40 calories per slice” as the compelling selling thrust.

Perhaps the most advanced new product is Nestle’s Fruition Fruit & Nutrition 100% Juice Blends, which are naturally rich in beta carotene and advertised with the headline, “The Surgeon General’s Report states that foods high in beta carotene protect against a variety of cancers.”

Fiber-rich foods took a sharp hit last year when oat bran, touted as a cholesterol-reducer, appeared to be debunked by a limited Massachusetts study. However, even if high-fiber foods do not materially reduce blood serum cholesterol, they are still strongly recommended for preventing colon cancer.

Tree Top is testing Fiber Rich three juice blends with 3 grams of 100% natural fiber in every 6-oz. serving.” Bakeries, including Holsum, are distributing breads such as Kids Choice, touting “all the nutrition and fiber of 100% whole wheat bread with the taste and texture of the white bread they love.”

Sodium-reduced products are not getting the same attention they did a few years ago when Hunt, Del Monte, Campbell and others rushed out with sodium-curtailed lines of vegetables, condiments and soups. However, many consumers are still concerned about salt and hypertension.

Many meat packers appeal to this market with products such as Armour Leaner Than Bacon Pork and Turkey Breakfast Bacon, which has “50% less fat than average bacon before heating.”

Change is good, but take it slow

The total elimination of salt destroyed many products five years ago. Manufacturers have learned that when removing sensory ingredients it pays to make consumers trade off only a partial reduction in taste.

This gradual – versus – abrupt ingredient change philosophy may be somewhat responsible for the recent introduction of “50% less caffeine” coffees under the Hills Brothers, Taster’s Choice and Maxwell House labels. Clearly, consumer research showed that while coffee drinkers were concerned about excess caffeine, they missed the flavor and stimulation of a regular cup.

New product planners always face the dilemma of which nutritional parade their company should join. Excitement over a new food menace or godsend fills the medical, business and consumer press, only to be disavowed later after millions of product research dollars have been wasted. Remember the furor over nitrates, calcium and Omega-3 oils? On the other hand, calorie- and fat-reduction, as well as fiber enrichment, look like keepers” that will continue to motivate consumer sales response.

The question is,”what’s the next hot nutritional button?”

COPYRIGHT 1991 Business News Publishing Co.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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