Search :
Guilt-Free Fats

– Sharon Omahen


Chocolate may never become an official food group, but it could become healthier, thanks to research by University of Georgia food science professor Casimir Akoh.

Akoh is developing fat substitutes, called structured lipids, for added health benefits (Research Reporter, Summer 1997). Structured lipids may not sound appetizing, but Akoh is convinced they can be every bit as tasty as fatty foods. And their health benefits are undeniable. Akoh has shown that his fat substitutes reduce overall cholesterol by 49 percent and LDL-cholesterol — the “bad” cholesterol — by 35 percent. They also may help reduce weight gain.

This past spring, Akoh received a patent on his new, enzyme-produced structured lipids, which combine fatty acids from various vegetable and fish oils.

But canola oil in chocolate? Sounds peculiar.

Akoh thinks it could sell.

To make healthier fat substitutes, Casimir Akoh (left), a food science professor, and postdoctoral associate Subramani Sellappan (right) purify structured lipids, make them into fat substitutes and add them to beverages and other foods.

“We’re creating various structured lipids and adding them to products like mayonnaise, salad dressing, beverages, confectionary coatings and even dark chocolate,” he said. “By adding healthy oils like these directly to foods that already call for fat as an ingredient, we can get them into mainstream consumer products.”

Akoh also is studying ways to make the structured lipids creamier, more stable and less prone to oxidation, which affects flavor. And he has looked at other physical properties, including melting properties. For example, cocoa butter, the most expensive ingredient in chocolate, is brittle at room temperature but melts completely at body temperature.

But before Akoh’s new oils can make it to grocers’ shelves, they have to pass consumer tests for characteristics like flavor, color, aroma and aftertaste.

“We recently introduced the new canola-oil based structured lipid to a consumer panel,” he said. “The oil was blended into a nutritional supplement drink. They tasted one with the new fat and one with the traditional fat ingredient.”

Sixty-one percent of the taste test panelists said they could tell a difference between the two drinks, but half of those said they were either guessing or that the distinction was hard to make. Those who could taste a difference rated the new-fat drink as sweeter and less foamy than the traditional-fat drink.

Akoh said his structured lipids also have potential as ingredients in margarines, dairy products, sauces and dips, candies, snack foods and baked goods.

Using enzymes, he breaks apart short-, medium- and long-chain fatty acids from vegetable, plant, animal and fish oils and then reassembles them in new combinations to create low-calorie fats that are nutritionally and medically beneficial. The long, unsaturated fatty acids “are known to enhance immune function, reduce blood clotting, lower serum triglycerides in the blood and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease,” he said.

Akoh’s nutritional fat substitutes are designed for rapid absorption, faster metabolism and quick energy release.

“These properties make them important for premature infants, hospitalized patients and people who have problems absorbing fats,” he said. “We’re trying to develop these new oils for specific groups, like people with cystic fibrosis or AIDS.”

His new fish-oil fat also would be a boon for healthy people who want to stay that way — for example, people who want the health benefits of fish oil but don’t like fish.

“These new oils are a step in the right direction,” he said. “We want people to eat a healthier kind of fat that will do some good for them and not clog their arteries. So when you make a batch of cookies, you can include a fat that wouldn’t increase your cholesterol.”

For more information, e-mail or access

— Sharon Omahen



Research Communications, Office of the VP for Research, UGA
For comments or for information please e-mail the editor:
To contact the webmaster please email: