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Finding the Best Trans Fat Alternatives

Now that trans fats are out of many snack foods, what’s in?
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Trans Fat Alternative 4: Use What We Have More Wisely continued...

Among the first fast food restaurants to move towards the use of healthier fats was Wendy's, which switched to a blend of non-hydrogenated corn and soy oil in 2006. The switch dramatically dropped the trans fat in some of their most popular fast-food items. Case in point: Adult-sized fries went from 7 grams of trans fat to 0.5 grams - and the kids'-size portion dropped to zero. Their fried chicken now contains zero grams of trans fat and 20% less saturated fat.

McDonald's is the latest to jump on the trans-fat free bandwagon, announcing recently the creation of a proprietary blend of canola and soybean oil to be used in cooking up their famous fries. And, they say, it's a product that reduces trans fat without increasing saturated fat - or altering the taste many consumers love. Still, what looks good in the lab - or the test kitchen table - may not necessarily work well for the snack food industry. The reason: Right now the cost of these blends is high, which could mean higher prices in the supermarket aisle.

Of equal concern: Do we have enough vegetables to produce the oil for these blends? By some estimates, it could take up to six years to turn over enough of a new vegetable crop to supply the food industry with what it needs to create blended oils for packaged foods and fast food.

Shopping Savvy for a Post Trans-Fat World

While the food industry searches for the best trans fat alternatives, what can consumers do?

First, read the nutrition label carefully. Products that claim they have 0 trans fat may be high in saturated fat - or simply very high in calories.

Second, understand that you're probably still eating small amounts of trans fats even if the package says 0 trans fats. According to the new FDA guidelines, a product can have up to nearly 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving and still carry the "0" trans fat label.

"This may not seem like much but it can add up," says Heller.

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