- While the world’s largest food manufacturers are reducing the levels of sodium and sugar in many of their products, they’ve been significantly increasing the amount of saturated fat, according to an article in the Washington Post.
- Many of the experts quoted in the article point to the difficulty in reformulating processed foods. When one or two ingredients are cut back, another must be added to compensate for the loss.
- The Washington Post article is based on a new, peer-reviewed government report that suggests these changes have not made packaged foods more healthful overall.
There are three pillars in processed food: salt, sugar and fat. A combination of the three can create delicious and affordable treats that run the gamut from sweet to savory, cheesy to crunchy. But when food manufacturers start tinkering with recipes to reduce one or more of these key ingredients, they have to compensate elsewhere.
Sugar would likely take the top spot as most villainous ingredient for today’s consumers, with sodium as a close runner up. Many large CPG makers are cutting sugar to meet consumer demand and voluntarily reducing sodium levels in accordance with the FDA’s proposed goals for the food industry, However, the saturated fat level is often higher.
As many consumers are trying to eat better, why don't food producers don’t just cut back on salt, sugar and fat altogether to create a truly healthy product? The trouble seems to be that food scientists need one of these three pillars to keep the product flavorful and cheap to make.
The Washington Post spoke with one industry expert, Ryan Dolan, chief operating officer of PTM Food Consulting, who compares product nutrition to a pie chart. If you reduce the slices of sodium and salt, another slice has to expand to make up for the loss. When reducing just one ingredient, the shift isn’t as noticeable. But when cutting back on two, expect a significant surge in another.
Food insiders mentioned in the article were not surprised by the government’s new report, chalking it up to common industry practices. It will be interesting to see if consumers start taking note of the elevated levels of saturated fats in their favorite processed foods. If saturated fats become the next outlaw ingredient, expect more reformulations (and more sugar or salt).
However, saturated fats are probably considered the lesser of those three evils today. Recent research has found the link between saturated fats and heart disease to be questionable, even though the American Heart Association still recommends a diet with healthier types of fats. And while nobody is saying saturated fats are healthy, consumers are not as concerned about fat content as they once were. With more than half of the world's consumers checking labels for sugar content first, manufacturers' new focus makes sense.