Imagine if you could eat all your favourite foods without feeling guilty about the amount of salt, fat and sugar you are putting away. EU-funded researchers have been studying how to lower levels of all three ingredients in everyday foods, and the results are promising - reductions of up to 30% with no effect on flavour.
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These healthier options could be on the market in two years, lowering obesity levels and, in turn, healthcare costs.
Salt, fat and sugar have a role to play in a healthy diet. But today, many developed countries have alarmingly high levels of obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes due to overconsumption of all three... The goal of the TeRiFiQ project is to reduce the amount of these ingredients in the most frequently consumed food types: dairy, meat, bakery and ready-to-eat. At the same time, the team aims to maintain each food's nutritional quality, taste, safety and affordability.
“By reducing the level of these ingredients in processed foods, we could help prevent diseases and save many lives,” says the coordinator of TeRiFiQ, Christian Salles, from the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) in France.
This unprecedented research involves fine-tuning current product formulations using state-of-the-art technologies such as multiple emulsions – a process that combines oil and water to reduce fat content without compromising on taste or texture.
In addition, the quality of the fat in food is improved by partially substituting animal fat with vegetable fat. For sugar, natural sweeteners are being tested as substitutes. And the sodium reduction strategies use microcrystalline salt, which is only visible under a microscope but releases taste in the mouth the same as ordinary salt does, sometimes doing an even better job.
From the lab to the plate
To date, salt content has been reduced by an amazing 30 % in hard cheese, although achieving a similar result in soft cheese has proven more difficult as salt is necessary to keep the growth of microbes (bacteria and fungi) on the surface of the cheese under control.
In cooked sausages, the team has managed to reduce fat content by an equally impressive 30 % using multiple emulsions. The figure for salt in dry fermented sausages is 20%, although the team still needs to work on taste.
The TERIFIQ scientists have also developed ready-made sauces and meals with 30 % less fat and 20 % less salt. Consumer acceptance surveys confirmed the taste to be similar to that of the original product.
Bakery products are next on the list, the aim being to reduce both the sugar and fat content by up to 25 %.
In a supermarket near you soon?
In addition to demonstrating that it is possible to create healthier versions of the food we love, the researchers would like to show to what extent these new formulations could be commercialised. The first step is to test the new foods to establish whether they can be produced on an industrial scale – this is where the project’s SME partners come in. They are also reaching out to consumers for views on how the new products look and taste.
“Once the testing phase is complete, the SMEs should be ready to bring some healthier products to markets within two years,” says Salles.
Adding new formulations to their existing product portfolio would make these SMEs more competitive, creating jobs and boosting the EU economy, he adds.