Are dietary fats and oils really good for us after all? And if so, what types and how much should we consume to achieve a health benefit? How realistic is the dietary advice about fats and oils? These questions and more are discussed in a scientific supplement published in the peer-reviewed journal, Advances in Nutrition. The authors find that the answers are not always clear due to continued consumer confusion about the role of dietary fats and oils in the diet and ongoing controversies about using and replacing fats and oils in the food system that impact diet quality and product innovation.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating between 25-35% of calories from fat and substituting saturated (or solid) fats with unsaturated fats. "Americans fail to meet dietary fats recommendations, although we have significantly decreased trans fatty acid consumption, especially from potato products," says the supplement's co-coordinator Eric Decker, PhD, professor and head of the Department of Food Science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. "As dietary recommendations have changed over the years -- from the use of animal-based fats to tropical oils to hydrogenated oils -- our fatty acid intake has also changed, but we still have to question whether that has led to real health benefits. The need for more research is pressing, particularly in light of the many roles of fats in foods and the difficulties in changing the type of fat used in many foods."

The May 2015 Advances in Nutrition supplement, "Fats and Oils: Where Food Function Meets Health," published by the American Society for Nutrition, features an executive summary and 10 papers by leading food and nutrition scientists that explore the impact of dietary fats and oils on health, challenges of using healthy fats in foods and new fats in the food supply, and developments in new technologies to make healthier solid fats, stabilize liquid oils and decrease calories in fats.

The supplement covers a range of topics, including the sensory, nutritional and physiological aspects of dietary fats; how fats and oils can affect the food supply and diet quality; the opportunities and challenges of producing healthier fats and oils for the food supply, and how regulatory and policy-making decisions affect the food supply and consumers.

The supplement also details how food science research and collaborations with food processors have led to healthier French fried potatoes and other potato food products. The potato industry made the quickest and largest adjustments to virtually eliminate trans fatty acids from processed potatoes -- an important source of potassium and dietary fiber -- without increasing saturated fatty acids. The oils used to cook French fried potatoes, including those served in quick serve restaurants, are now predominantly trans-fat-free, all-vegetable oils that contain primarily mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Further, the latest consumption data from NHANES show that French fried and other processed potatoes are eaten in moderation and are not a significant source of saturated or trans fats in the diets of Americans of all ages.

The journal supplement is the outcome of a November 2013 University of Massachusetts - Amherst invitational roundtable highlighting research, product innovations and nutritional impact of fatty acids in the food supply. The forum was supported by an unrestricted grant by the Alliance for Potato Research and Education, a non-for-profit organization dedicated to expanding and translating the latest scientific research and information on potato nutrition, consumption and affordability.