Foods with a high fat quality are essential for healthy diets.Ann Nutr Metab. 2009; 54 Suppl 1:15-24.AN
Fat is generally a highly valued element of the diet to provide energy, palatability to dry foods or to serve as a cooking medium. However, some foods rich in fat have a low fat quality with respect to nutrition, i.e., a relative high content of saturated (SFA) as compared to unsaturated fatty acids, whereas others have a more desirable fat quality, i.e., a relative high content of unsaturated fatty acids as compared to SFA. High-fat dairy products and fatty meats are examples of foods with low fat quality, whereas vegetable oils (tropical oils such as palm and coconut oil excluded) are products with a generally high fat quality. The aim of this paper is to explore the nutritional impact of products made of vegetable oils, e.g. margarines and dressings, and how they can be designed to contribute to good health. Since their first industrial production, the food industry has endeavored to improve products like margarines, including their nutritional characteristics. With evolving nutrition science, margarines and cooking products, and to a lesser extent dressings, have been adapted to contain less trans fatty acids (TFA), less SFA and more essential (polyunsaturated, PUFA) fatty acids. This has been possible by using careful fat and oil selection and modification processes. By blending vegetable oils rich in the essential PUFAs alpha-linolenic acid (vegetable omega-3) or linoleic acid (omega-6), margarines and dressings with both essential fatty acids present in significant quantities can be realized. In addition, full hydrogenation and fat rearrangement have enabled the production of cost-effective margarines virtually devoid of TFA and low in SFA. Dietary surveys indicate that vegetable oils, soft margarines and dressings are indeed often important sources of essential fatty acids in people's diets, whilst providing negligible amounts of TFA and contributing modestly to SFA intakes. Based on empirical and epidemiological data, the public health benefit of switching from products with a low fat quality to products with a high fat quality can be predicted. For example, switching from butter or palm oil to a soft margarine shows a substantial improvement in the nutritional quality of the diet. These simple, practical dietary adaptations can be expected to contribute to the healthy growth and development of children and to reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease.