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Industry Switch to “Healthier” Cooking Oil

Saturday, November 2, 2002
filed under: Utilization/Trade: NuSun

NuSun May Benefit by Industry Switch to “Healthier” Cooking Oil

Increased Demand Will Need to be Met by Increased Acreage, says ADM Official

A recent switch by McDonalds and Frito Lay to using “healthier” cooking oils may hasten industry demand for such products, and NuSun sunflower oil may be a prime beneficiary.

McDonalds made national headlines on September 3, when the fast food giant announced that it was changing the cooking oil used in over 13,000 McDonalds restaurants in the U.S. to a healthier, new oil that will reduce trans fat levels by 48%, and saturated fat by 16%, and raise polyunsaturated fats by 167% in an order of fries. McDonalds calls this the first step in eventually eliminating trans fat in their cooking oil used for preparing fried food menu items.

In a corporate news release, McDonalds stated that it had worked with Cargill food scientists to produce a cooking oil with less trans and saturated fats, without losing the distinctive taste profile of McDonald’s fries. Some in the vegetable oil industry say the new cooking oil now used by McDonalds is a blend of different types of vegetable oils, but it does not include NuSun, which would have eliminated trans fat in the cooking oil. The new cooking oil McDonalds now uses only reduces trans fat and still contains some amount of hydrogenated oil.

Weeks later, on September 24, PepsiCo, owner of Frito-Lay announced that it is eliminating trans fats in Doritos, Tostitos and Cheetos, some of the company’s most popular snack food brands, and introducing reduced-fat versions of Lay’s potato chips and Cheetos. Frito-Lay has also announced that it will introduce a natural line of chips

that feature organic and natural ingredients. NuSun sunflower will be the oil used in this product line, and it may also be used in the company’s other new product changes as well.

“We’re taking several steps that will change the way America snacks,” said Al Bru, president and CEO of Frito-Lay North America, in the new product announcement. The company worked with Dr. Kenneth Cooper, a leading health expert, to help develop healthier snack foods. “The obesity epidemic has spurred Americans to take action and embrace proper nutrition and physical activity,” said Cooper, in a corporate news release.

Why are some of the biggest names in the global food business changing the makeup of some of their most famous products? In part, because of growing criticism that fast food restaurants and snack food manufacturers are supersizing the waistlines of Americans with “supersized” menu options.

According to The National Center for Health Statistics, more than 30% of Americans were obese as of 1999-2000, compared to under 22% in a similar survey in 1994. Obesity and the resulting negative effects on health (and health care costs) are now considered a U.S. health problem of epidemic proportions, with remedies being debated by government officials.

New nutritional recommendations and labeling requirements are also prompting food leaders such as McDonald’s and Frito-Lay to be pro-active in making their product ingredients healthier.

Just days after McDonalds announced the change in how its fries will be fried, the National Academies of Science’s Institute of Medicine released a major nutritional report, two years in the making. While a healthy diet could contain up to 35% fat calories, those fat calories should come from healthy fats, such as NuSun oil. The report recommended that the consumption of trans and saturated fats be kept as low as possible; that trans fatty acids and saturated fats raise total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol, posing a heart health risk. The report also pointed to research which indicated that, unlike saturated fats, trans fats may have the added negative impact of lowering HDL-(good) cholesterol levels.

New labeling requirements for trans fats may be on the horizon. In 1999, the Food and Drug Administration set in motion a proposal that would add trans fat content to the nutritional labels of packaged food. Trans fat content is currently included in the total fat grams, but not listed separately. Final approval of this proposal is now expected in early 2003. The FDA estimates that nearly 43,000 food products found on grocery store shelves contain trans fats. The labeling change is bound to make the public more aware of trans fats, and prompt more restaurants and food companies to use ingredients that are free of trans fats.

This should be good news for NuSun, which is low in saturates and would eliminate trans fats. NuSun matches the recommended healthy fat profile, and delivers cooking performance desired by manufactures, and taste demanded by consumers. Other oil choices to meet trans fat objectives include corn and cotton oil. Cotton oil may have some market limitations, however, because of its 27% level of saturated fatty acids, compared to 9% in NuSun.

The changes by McDonalds and Frito-Lay, along with the new recommendations about trans fat, reconfirms the sunflower industry’s move to NuSun sunflower oil, says Ed Campbell, technical director for ADM, Decatur, Ill.

“It’s tremendous news for the sunflower industry,” he says. “When you have industry leaders (such as McDonalds and Frito-Lay) redefining their product objectives, it gets others to think likewise. But no company of their stature will make a significant commitment without a stable supply, in my opinion. They won’t want oil they can’t get.”

About 40% of all oil sunflower acres in the U.S. were NuSun this year, about the same as last year. Campbell says that amount needs to expand to meet market potential. “It’s a matter of getting growers and all of the seed companies behind it,” he says. – Ruth Isaak, Tracy Sayler

About Trans Fats, and NuSun

Trans fats result from a process called hydrogenation. Hydrogenation is a process of chemically adding hydrogen gas to a liquid fat in the presence of a catalyst. Oil is hydrogenated to varying degrees to give it extra stability in a fryer, increase shelf life in packaged products and to allow for better product consistency. It became a widely-used practice in the food industry when vegetable oils replaced more highly saturated animal and tropical fats.

In 1995, leaders of the National Sunflower Association decided that the industry needed to develop a mid-oleic sunflower oil, in anticipation of increasing concerns about trans fat among consumers and health officials. The result was NuSun™ sunflower oil, now produced on about 40% of oil sunflower acreage in the U.S.

The stability and performance characteristics of NuSun comes from the natural balance of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated portions of the oil. NuSun does not need to be hydrogenated to be used as a frying oil, thus there is no production of potentially harmful trans fats (sometimes referred to also as trans fatty acids).

NuSun sunflower oil works extremely well in industrial cooking and frying, with a clean, light taste. It also offers industrial users excellent shelf-life, and since it was developed by standard sunflower breeding techniques, it offers users the selling point of being a natural, non-biotech cooking oil.

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