January 1, 2006 — Deep-fried fish could get healthier with a new protein-based batter extracted from the muscle of discarded fish parts. When coated onto the fish it forms a barrier, locking in taste and moisture while blocking out fat.
GLOUCESTER, Mass.--Low-fat, fried food sounds like a contradiction, but those types of products may soon be popping up at your local grocer.
Fish sticks slathered in oil and deep-fried are tasty, but the after-effects can take a toll on your waistline. The love affair with food usually ends when it's time to weigh in. Now, a new discovery may tip the scales in your favor when it comes to eating some of your favorite fried foods.
Stephen Kelleher, a food chemist at Proteus Industries in Gloucester, Mass., says, "People like fried food, but there's a lot of bad things associated with fried food." Understanding the bittersweet fondness for fried cuisine, Kelleher invented a way to cook low-fat, fried food.
The protein solution is extracted from fish muscle. When coated onto the fish it forms a barrier, locking in taste and moisture, but blocking out fat and carbohydrates. "These protein molecules after we treat them and extract them the way we do, they form these very, very, micro-thin films that -- when they are sprayed onto the surface -- become this invisible, impenetrable, film that forms on the surface," Kelleher says.
The protein molecules go through a treatment process. Water and other ingredients are filtered then added to the batter. Kelleher says the finished product has 25-percent to 75-percent less fat. Plus the added protein cuts down the carbohydrates by 15 percent.
When put to the test, comparing traditional fried batter to the special protein coating, both food tasters agreed there was nothing fishy about the low-fat, fried meal.
The process is FDA approved and can be used to fry low-fat chicken, too. They are also testing the application on other foods, like potato chips.
BACKGROUND: A chemist has created a protein solution that can be used to coat chicken. When the chicken is then deep-fried, it contains 50 percent less fat than if it had been deep-fried without the coating.
HOW IT WORKS: Chicken is bathed in a liquid of water and protein molecules that have been taken from a slurry of chicken or fish tissue. This forms a thin shield around the meat, and when it is then submerged in oil, the coating keeps fat from being absorbed from the fryer.
GOOD FATS VS. BAD FATS: Fats should account for no more than 30 percent of the total calories we consume, but good health also depends on whether those are "good" fats or "bad" fats. Mono-unsaturated fats, like olive oil and canola oil, are considered good because they can help lower cholesterol. Saturated (animal) fats are thought of as bad because they clog the arteries. A third type of fat is made when corn oil or other fats that are usually liquid at room temperature are solidified through heating. This type of partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, called trans fatty acid, is a main ingredient in vegetable shortening and margarine. It is the worst kind of fat. In the body, the enzymes responsible for processing fats have trouble breaking down trans fatty acids and spend so much time trying to do so that it interferes with the processing of essential fatty acids.
WHAT ARE EFAs? There are two types of essential fatty acids (EFAs): Omega-3 and Omega-6. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in foods like fish, flax and pumpkin seeds, and walnuts. Omega-6 fatty acids can be found in corn oil, sunflower oil and soybean oil, for example. EFAs have been shown to protect against heart disease, but the body can't make them, so we must consume them in food. Ideally, these should be balanced in the diet at a ratio of 2-to-1; in most Western diets, that ratio is 20-to-1.
WHERE THE BODY STORES FAT: Men and women store fat differently because they have difference sex hormones: testosterone and estrogen. Adult men store fat in the chest, abdomen, and buttocks, producing an apple shape. Adult women carry fat in the breasts, hips, waist and buttocks, creating a pear shape.
Note: This story and accompanying video were originally produced for the American Institute of Physics series Discoveries and Breakthroughs in Science by Ivanhoe Broadcast News and are protected by copyright law. All rights reserved.