14.12.2016 change 14.12.2016

Marine algae instead of fat in the food

Gel produced from marine algae instead of fat? This solution is being developed by scientists, who want to reduce the caloric content of foods. The taste of fat substitute is expected to resemble the real thing. It will be first used, for example, in margarine.

85 percent foods consumed in developed countries are processed products that contain too much sugar, fat and salt. They contribute to a dramatic increase in the number of obese people, which has doubled in the world over the last twenty years.

"Because there is so much talk about diets and healthy lifestyles at the moment, many of us are trying to adhere to restrictive caloric regimes. A lot of products with reduced fat content are available. It turns out, however, that when you remove fat, this creamy texture that fat provides also disappears. A good example would be a full fat yoghurt, which has a distinctive flavour and texture. However, its low-fat and low-calorie version is much less popular, also because it is watery and does not taste the same" - told PAP Dr. Izabela Gładkowska-Balewicz of the British University of Leicester and the University of Birmingham.

Because many low-calorie products do not taste that well, despite our best efforts to stay on a diet, we are quickly discouraged, and as a result we do not want to eat them. The taste is in fact the most important factor that determines our dietary choices. The team, in which Dr. Gładkowska-Balewicz works, wants to replace fat contained in food products with gel, but in a form that will offer the distinctive flavour and texture of fat. This gel "fat" would allow for a real calorie reduction. Its calorific value would be close to zero, while the real fat provides about 9 kcal per 1 gram of product.

"We want processed products to be were healthier and less caloric, but we also try maintain the taste, texture and appearance of the product. For example, low-fat yoghurt should taste and look the same as yoghurt containing normal amount of fat" - explained the researcher.

This is a very difficult task, because fat has many different functions in food. It not only affects the consistency, taste and flavour, releasing a variety of flavours and fragrances, it is also a carrier of vitamins. Scientists carefully design the structure of a new substance - fat substitute - by manipulating the size of its particles, material properties, such as "hardness" and texture in the mouth during chewing.

"We use hydrocolloids - substances that allow to prepare gel, which is 95 percent water. Water is the basic ingredient in our structure. The rest are ingredients derived from nature: mainly algae" - told PAP Dr. Gładkowska-Balewicz.

The scientists want to start with replacing fat in a semi-liquid products, namely the consistency of margarine or mayonnaise. In the future, this new fat substitute could also contain vitamins or other nutrients, so that it not only reduces the caloric content of products, but also gives them greater nutritional value.

In previous studies, the researchers were aided by volunteers who compared the contents of samples with different versions of the gel with real products with fat. They were asked to indicate whether they were able to tell the difference between products with real fat and low-calorie products.

Dr. Gładkowska-Balewicz emphasised that at present the demand for this type of research and processed products with reduced content of sugar, fat and salt grows from year to year. This is also because, for example, in some countries, products with a high sugar content are subject to additional tax. "Companies themselves approach universities, asking how to reduce the content of these ingredients in their products, but without sacrificing their flavour" - said the researcher.

PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland, Ewelina Krajczyńska

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