10 September 2009

The food industry is on your side

The economic downturn hasn't stopped food manufacturers from being innovative. Here are four trends to get excited about - our hearts and waistlines can benefit.

The economic downturn hasn't stopped food manufacturers from being innovative. During the past year, a number of novel food products have been launched.

The good news for us is that, in many instances, food manufacturers have specifically developed products that are better for our hearts and waistlines, and for our children's health. And as the recession has meant more in-home eating, it's now more important than ever to have a wide variety of healthy foods on our supermarket shelves.

Here are four food-industry trends to get excited about:

Innovations in cooking oil
From animal fat to sunflower oil, and on to canola and olive oil. Over the past few decades, we've come a long way in terms of the cooking oils we use. Today, we're spoilt for choice when it comes to products that contain more monounsaturated, and less saturated, fats.

Innovation in this field is ongoing, and exciting new products have recently been developed. One example that was launched late last year is Nola Cholestro Go, South Africa's first cholesterol-lowering sunflower oil. It contains healthy plant sterols, which help to reduce "bad" LDL-cholesterol.

Although many foods such as sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, peanuts, rice and corn naturally contain plant sterols, most of us don't consume enough for any significant cholesterol-lowering benefits. But, according to the manufacturers, just four tablespoons of Cholestro Go will provide the recommended daily intake of plant sterols.

Another exciting innovation is cold-pressed avocado oil, which can be used for cooking and frying. What makes this oil particularly noteworthy is that it retains its nutritive value for longer: a high smoke point of 260 degrees Celsius makes the oil, and the health-boosting antioxidants and omega-oils it contains, stable at high cooking temperatures.

Innovations in fat reduction
Dieticians worldwide agree: a low-fat, high-fibre diet is the healthiest approach to weight loss. Now the food industry is coming to the party with clever solutions for lower-fat products that don't compromise on taste.

One great example is McCain HomeFries. McCain has developed a special quick-frying method that ensures exceptionally crispy fries, which absorb less oil during the cooking process. These chips are free of unhealthy trans fatty acids and cholesterol – and they're very tasty.

Two other great new products are Clover Reduced Fat Cream and Clover Fat-free milk. Both contain less fat, yet are remarkably creamy. By adding skimmed milk and stabilisers to their reduced-fat cream (10% fat vs. 37% in regular cream), and milk solids to their fat-free milk, Clover has raised the bar on lower-fat dairy. What's more, they've managed to extend the shelf life of their cream from 11 to 30 days, simply by using clever packaging in the form of sterilised foil and convenient bottle caps.

More solutions by food manufacturers to help us reduce our intake of unhealthy fats are the development of carbohydrate-, protein- and fat-based fat replacers. For example, carbohydrate-based fat substitutes like guar gum, polydextrose and xanthum gum have the creaminess of fat, but don't provide as many kilojoules. They also don't contain unhealthy saturated or trans fats.

A move from artificial to natural colorants
After a 2007 University of Southhampton showed that artificial colorants and preservatives had a negative effect on the behaviour of kids, food manufacturers have been under pressure to use less of these additives in their products.

The result has been a shift to using more natural, non-synthetic colours, extracted from fruits, vegetables and spices. The use of nature-identical colours, for example blue pigment from spirulina and yellow pigment from curcumin, has been growing. But we're particularly excited about innovations in colouring foodstuffs – extracts from fruit and vegetables that provide rich colour without any carriers or additives.

The interesting thing is that you won't necessarily be able to tell from the label whether these natural colours have been used, as manufacturers merely have to list the raw fruits and vegetables on the ingredients list. But be on the lookout for products that make the "no artificial colorants" or "100% natural colours" claim. Many of the sweets and confectionary at Woolworths, for example, are made with colouring foodstuffs.

A wider range of gluten-free products
Gone are the days when "wheat-free" translated into hours spent in the kitchen, preparing rice and corn flour baked goods from scratch.

Nature's Choice is among a group of local companies that are making gluten-intolerant consumers smile: a wide range of convenient gluten-free products, ranging from cereals to cookies, pastas and pre-mixes are now available in selected supermarkets, and more seem to be added by the day.

Also be on the lookout for gluten-free products from Schär, Pouyoukas, Health Connection and Orgran.

(Carine Visagie, Health24, September 2009)

- The South African Food Review: The Journal for Food and Beverage Manufacturers, September 2008, January 2009 & July 2009

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