The projects in the EU’s 7th Framework Programme show a trend towards research into mental health and cognitive function. The connection between fat in the diet and lifestyle illnesses will be an important subject for research. This applies to how fat affects mental health, brain function and ageing (Alzheimer), obesity, metabolic syndrome and cancer and also optical health and osteoporosis.
Fat researchers and the food industry met up at Den store fettdagen (the Big Fat Day) at Nofima Mat in February. The event was organised by NTP Food for life, NHO Mat og Drikke and Nofima Mat.
Two new technologies, lipidomics and nutrigenomics, will be important for research into fat. Lipidomics is used to study how the body takes up fat and the effects it has. Analysis of many types of fats and metabolites in tissue samples, blood samples and faeces and urine samples provides a better insight into the mechanisms.
“97% of the fat we eat gets taken up by the body. Many interesting things occur in the intestine; the interplay between components in our food could affect uptake, the regulation of fullness and the immune apparatus. So research into what happens in the intestine will be important,” claimed Bente Kirkhus, a Senior Research Scientist at Nofima Mat.
Nutrigenomics is the study of the relationship between genes and food. The researchers want to find out for instance if some people are more predisposed to obesity than others. The aim is to achieve personal nutrition.
“To put it another way: if you have information about the cells in your body, you will be better able to put together a diet that suits your genes in future,” continued Bente Kirkhus.
Many new sources of Omega 3
In Europe there are two crops that have not been exploited commercially to any great extent. Camelina and Echium are vegetable sources of Omega 3, and they should be made use of. Rapeseed, turnip rape and soya are currently the most important sources, but other crops like raspberries, blackcurrants, kiwi fruit and hemp also have an unnaturally high Omega 3 content and according to the researchers they will come to be used much more as ingredients in products.
Palm oil on its way out
While new kinds of oil are on the way in, others, like palm oil, are on the way out.
“Palm oil is the big bad wolf, if you ask me. Replacing trans fat with palm oil is not a good idea,” said Professor Jan I Pedersen of the University of Oslo’s Department of Nutrition, who went on to explain that the total amount of fat should represent about 30% of a person’s energy intake. Of this, saturated fatty acids and trans fatty acids should not represent more than 10% of the energy intake.
Research Scientist Gjermund Vogt agreed that palm oil should be replaced:
“Trans fat was replaced with palm fat some years ago. Now the Norwegian food industry is looking for replacements for palm oil. A lot is going on among the manufacturers. Potato crisps are being fried in sunflower oil instead of palm oil. Chips are being fried in rapeseed oil. Fat replacements are being found, like replacing solid fat with liquid in minced meat products,” said Gjermund Vogt.
People don’t know enough about fat
The food industry and researchers are worried however that people don’t know enough about fat. Several of the speakers said that people’s knowledge about different types of fat is too limited.
“Fat is largely unknown territory for Norwegian consumers They don’t know enough about saturated fat, unsaturated fat, trans fat and polyunsaturated fat,” said Gjermund Vogt. Mills is one of the few companies in the industry to have made it their strategy to inform consumers about fat. One way of doing this is by declaring types of fat on their products.
Tine is reviewing its entire product portfolio to see if it can make healthier alternatives in all categories.
Tine’s new cheese
Tine recently launched a new cheese called Engfrisk, which is a good example of research based innovation. As part of the project, a feed concentrate was developed that affects the fat content of the milk used to make Engfrisk. Tine has also reduced the amount of saturated fat. The cheese contains 19% fat in all, and despite its low fat content it gets a good score among consumers.
“This project is a good example of how important it is to run research and product development in parallel, said Tine’s Nutrition Manager Anne Sofie Biong.
New products are taken off the supermarket shelves too quickly
“Hundreds of new products are launched every year. Half of these are withdrawn after a short time. The market is sluggish. The supermarket chains in particular are quick to throw out products that don’t sell well enough, and to a certain extent the producers do the same. That’s a pity,” said Gjermund Vogt.
Linda Granlund, Research and Nutrition Manager at Mills, confirms that products get too short an exposure:
“Many of our products are recalled after three months. We don’t get the shelf space in the supermarkets if the products haven’t sold enough after three months. We think this is a pity, because we would like to have alternatives in the shops and new products take time to establish themselves in the market,” said Linda Granlund.