Right now there seems to be a global consciousness toward healthy eating and living; unmatched by any other time in modern history. The food science industry and the research the industry reveals has a significant impact on how countries, companies and organisations chose to invest. This in turn, will impact how we buy, what we buy. It’s common for a new piece of popular research to significantly impact our buying and consuming behaviour. Just think Tim Noakes and Banting and you get the idea.
Over the last fifty years, general nutritional wisdom has been to recommend moderate consumption of fat, lower the intake of saturated fats and cholesterol, and increase the consumption of polyunsaturated fats and carbohydrates. Recent research conducted by Credit Suisse in their Global fat in nutrition report has turned much of this on its head.
Most consumers’ and doctors’ perception on fat seem to be aligned with the current official nutritional recommendations. Yet, according to this new research, consumers around the world are clearly making new choices. Consumption of butter is growing globally at a rate of 2-4% a year, and in the first half of this year sales volume of whole milk in the U.S. grew 11%, while skim milk shrank by 14%.
WHAT IS ‘FAT’?
Fat is one of the three macronutrients of any diet; protein and carbohydrates are the other two. Macronutrients are the fuel that allows our bodies to produce energy and is widely present in much of the food we eat. It is the most efficient macronutrient we can eat because it’s easily absorbed and stored in our body for future energy needs – some of us know this a little too well.
Technically, fats are compounds of long chain organic acids. They’re made of carbon and hydrogen atoms. There are saturated fats which are generally solid at room temperature and are natural fats from animal or plant sources, and unsaturated fats, which are usually liquid at room temperature, are found in vegetable oils. There are two main types of unsaturated fats, polyunsaturated (liquid in fridge too) and monounsaturated fats (solidify in fridge). Trans fats are rare in nature. They are created in food by processing other types of fats, giving them a different structure. For example the way margarine is made from oil.
Fat is an essential part of our diet, but it is not easy to determine precisely how much fat or protein a person ingests daily. It’s rare that one would eat foods that are made entirely of fat or of protein. Most foods contain fat, protein and carbohydrates in varying proportions.
The key question remains; how much fat should we consume? Does it vary with age, gender or genetics? Do people in different countries benefit from eating different levels of fat? Contrary to what you might think, recent research is now suggesting we probably don’t consume enough fat; not enough saturated fat and too many carbs. The research found this particularly true in the western world.
OUR NEW WORLD
So what will the new world of fat mean for us? The report has made a few predictions on what might happen to our food between now and 2030. The report suggests the substitution of saturated fat by sugar will reverse. Sugar accounts for around 9% of all the calories we consume today and this percentage is already declining. We’ll consume fatter milk, fatter dairy products and fatter cheeses.
The substitution of saturated fat with omega-6 oils or margarine should also reverse. Companies will typically use the cheapest source of fat available and vegetable oils do have a price advantage. Sales of margarine should continue to decline.
Our predicted consumption of better meat, dairy and more fish will initiate an increase our daily intake of omega-3 overall. Meat consumption is expected to grow 23% over the next fifteen years and the report predicts red meat’s reputation for being a “bad” source of saturated fat will improve. Chicken will still remain the cheapest source of meat.
The trend towards using natural oils will continue. As saturated fat becomes seen as a “good” fat, coconut oil is predicted to be the fastest growing oil product on the market. Fish, nuts, butter and cheese are expected to make a big dietary appearance, too.
The one food predicted to gain the most from this new research is eggs; they are an amazing source of both fat and protein. Egg consumption is expected to grow around 4% a year. By 2030, the report predicts each of us will be eating close to 300 eggs per year.
KEY TAKE OUTS
So, what’s the resounding conclusion of all this new research? “The conclusion of this report is simple. Natural unprocessed fats are healthy and key to the evolution of a society that focuses on developing healthy individuals, not just on treating those who are sick. Natural foods high in monounsaturated and saturated fats are one of the preferred sources of energy for our bodies to use and store. Omega-3 has strong protective properties for our heart and brain. Welcome to the new world of fat.”
Much of this research does a myth-busting job on some common-sense perceptions of how we’ve been eating and treating food. Contrary research findings seem to be the only constant prediction in the food and health industry; chiefly because each outcome depends on a variation circumstances specific to the test subjects’ context. This makes it difficult to draw up a concise ‘how-to’ guide on healthy eating for anyone and everyone. Perhaps the best thing we can learn to do is carefully listen to our bodies – they know best, after all.
[BOX] Food & Their Fat
Polyunsaturated fats include: Omega-6 fats such as soybeans and oils, sesame and sunflower seeds, most nuts and their oils, corn oil, omega-3 fats found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout, herring, sardines and tuna.
Monounsaturated fats include: Canola oil, peanut oil, olive oil, avocados and nuts like almonds, pistachios, pecans and cashews.
Trans fat: usually found in commercially baked goods, fried foods, frozen foods and processed foods like salty snacks, donuts and chocolate coatings.
Foods high in saturated fat include: full fat dairy products like butter, milk, , cheese and cream, fatty cuts of meat and poultry skin and processed foods, such as pies, pastries, doughnuts, cakes and biscuits. Saturated fat is also found in tropical oils, like palm kernel or coconut oil.
DID YOU KNOW: Itey, Queen of Egypt around 1490 BCE is depicted in carvings as grossly obese. In one particular carving she’s pictured standing next to her diminutive husband and a tiny donkey. Under the donkey (in a delightful bit of Egyptian humour) is the inscription “This donkey had to carry the queen.”