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Finding the Best Trans Fat Alternatives

Now that trans fats are out of many snack foods, what’s in?

Trans Fat Alternative 2: Invent Something New

The trans fat alternative involves creating an entirely new vegetable oil -- either by rearranging molecules to form a new oil, or by interbreeding various plants to create a new oil.

Kellogg's is one company moving in this direction, using genetically engineered soybeans to create a product low in trans fat but high in taste and convenience.

But dietitians are wary of the concept. After all, Heller notes, we developed the hydrogenation process to make trans fats because researchers thought those fats would be healthier, but they weren't.

"Coming up with a replacement for trans fat is a little like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. And we just hope the rabbit is healthy," Heller tells WebMD.

Trans Fat Alternative 3: Use Saturated Vegetable Oils

Still another option is to reexamine the usefulness of saturated vegetable fats -- including the "tropicals" such as palm, palm kernel, and coconut oils.

Tropical oils have a creamy consistency that can mimic the kind of chemistry found in saturated fats from animal sources, such as butter. Thus, they can offer similar tastes and textures when used in packaged cookies and crackers. But because they come from plants -- and not animals -- some believe their saturated-fat content may not be as bad for health.

"The golden rule has always been to stay away from the tropical oils because, although they are vegetable oils, they are saturated fats," Pappa-Klein tells WebMD. But now, she says this philosophy is changing, as more and more studies begin to show that not all saturated fats are equally bad for health.

"It's possible there could be some redeeming values in these oils after all -- and that they are not as harmful as we once thought," says Pappa-Klein.

Indeed, a study conducted by the French Agricultural Society and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2008 suggests that the negative of effects of trans fat may be largely the result of the hydrogenation process - and that trans fats found naturally in foods do not carry nearly the same level of health risks.

Moreover, the Organic Trade Association reports renewed interest in oil that comes from the fruit of the palm -- not the seed, which makes palm kernel oil. Oil from the fruit, they say, is only 50% saturated fat; the rest is 40% polyunsaturated and 10% monounsaturated. In fact, some studies show that the fat in palm oil (known as palmitic acid) may actually help lower blood cholesterol.

Some food manufacturers are turning to tropical oils, but, again, many dietitians are wary. Says Heller: "Any product that reduces trans fat is good, but when trans fats are replaced by saturated fats it's not necessarily a healthy alternative.

Check the nutrition facts panel for the best snapshot of what is contained in the product and choose products with the least amount of saturated fat.

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