Focus groups conducted by the International Food Information Council suggest that there is a lack of knowledge concerning fat replacers among consumers as well as among health professionals. For example, very few consumers realized that the fat removed from low- and reduced-fat foods is replaced with another ingredient. And although health professionals understood that product reformulation replaced the taste and texture of fat, they typically had very little specific information (11).
Usually a fat replacer is not itself a fat. Some fat replacers, however, are lipids, but because of their structure, they may be undigestible or only partially digestible. Most fat replacers are limited in their use. Some are good thickening agents; others provide creaminess; still others make food moist. Having a variety of fat replacement options available allows manufacturers to use a "systems approach" to formulating low-fat and fat-free foods with the functional and sensory characteristics of their full-fat counterparts. The combination of fat replacers used in a product depends on which properties of that product are being duplicated. Combinations may include proteins, starches, dextrins, maltodextrin, fiber, emulsifiers, and flavoring agents. Some fat replacers are themselves blends of various ingredients (see Table 7).
Fat replacers fall into three functional categories (5,7,12):
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