A number of health studies have indicated a link between trans fats and increased heart disease. As a result, the Food and Drug Administration has proposed that food products be labeled with their trans fat content.

Concerns about both saturated and trans fats have prompted the food industry to look for new frying options, said Nurhan Dunford, Oklahoma Food and Agricultural Products Research and Technology Center oil/oilseed chemist.

"Many major food companies including McDonald's and Frito Lay have announced plans to change food preparation methods to reduce trans fat content," Dunford said. "A fairly recent trend is the development of nutritionally advanced cooking oils for food applications."

A previous FAPC Flash covered a new fat-fighting cooking oil called "Enova." Recently, another nutritionally enhanced cooking oil, Nextra, has been introduced as "The Next Generation Cooking Oil."

Nextra is a premium blend of oils developed by General Mills and Brandeis University, Dunford said. It is promoted as an alternative to partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.

"Nextra does not contain trans fats from hydrogenation, unlike chemically modified partially hydrogenated vegetable oils," she said. "The patented process eliminates unhealthy components from the product. Nextra is being described as a breakthrough for food service providers who want a nutritionally advanced cooking oil with longer fry-life and superior food taste and appearance."

Hank Cardello, chief executive officer of Source Food Technology, said consumers prefer food prepared in Nextra because of its superior taste, appearance and aroma. In-store tests of Nextra have shown that fry-life has been extended up to two times.

Cardello claims that Nextra's nutritionally balanced fat profile may help lower total cholesterol levels and improve the HDL/LDL cholesterol ratio. Nextra sears food more quickly allowing less oil absorption. The foods fried in Nextra are better tasting, crispier and less greasy.

Also, Cardello said consumers preferred foods cooked in Nextra over the foods cooked in partially hydrogenated vegetable oil by two to one at the sensory tests conducted on the West Coast and at the Mall of America in Minneapolis.

The May, 2003, issue of Prepared Foods magazine reported that several new products also are in the developmental stage, including oils containing omega-3 fatty acids, which are linked to several health benefits such as improved cardiovascular health.

The latest news on nutritionally enhanced cooking oils is, "A new cooking oil designed by McGill University (Canada) researchers may soon offer relief to calorie counters and cholesterol watchers."

Forbes Medi-Tech, which holds the patent to this new "Functional Oil," funded two clinical trials. The "Functional Oil" lowered cholesterol levels by over 13% as compared to olive oil that reduces cholesterol levels by 4.5%. The "Functional Oil" contains 67% tropical oil, 13% olive oil, 6% coconut oil and 5% flaxseed oil.

According to the study, the oil is not stored in the body as fat and increases fat metabolism, which is a key in maintaining a healthy body weight.

New oils with reduced levels of polyunsaturates from sources such as sunflower also have been shown to have excellent frying properties, Dunford said.

"Through the 'Better Bean Initiative,' scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture have been working on the development of a low-saturated fat and low linolenic bean, which can be used to produce frying oils," she said.

The Europeans also developed a product that is a blend of specially refined sesame and rice bran, Dunford said.

"The addition of this patented blend to bulk oil extends fry-life and even protects the finished product," she said. "It contains natural antioxidants and is a natural product."

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