Magazine article Science News

Striking Oil: High-Pressure Processing Minimizes Trans Fats

Magazine article Science News

Striking Oil: High-Pressure Processing Minimizes Trans Fats

Article excerpt

Improvements to the techniques used to hydrogenate vegetable oils could soon fill store shelves with packaged foods containing reduced quantities of unhealthful trans fats.

Manufacturers use the process of hydrogenation to make vegetable oils more solid at room temperature and thus suitable for use in margarines, shortenings, and commercial baked goods. However, hydrogenation creates unnatural trans fats that have unhealthy effects on cholesterol concentrations in the blood (www.sciencenews.org/articles/20040410/food.asp).

Beginning next Jan. 1, food companies must label products to reveal their trans fat content (www.sciencenews.org/articles/ 20030719/food.asp), and some companies have already begun doing so. The Food and Drug Administration permits claims of zero trans fats on products containing less than half a gram of those fats per serving.

Increasing the gas pressure at which an oil is hydrogenated reduces trans fats' formation. But because high pressure is expensive to apply, companies haven't traditionally explored that avenue, says Fred J. Eller of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Peoria, Ill.

In several experiments, Eller, Gary R. List, and their collaborators at USDA applied 200 pounds per square inch (psi) of hydrogen gas to batches of soybean oil inside a 2-liter vessel. They simultaneously heated the vessel to between 140[degrees]C and 170[degrees]C, a range below the temperature used commercially to hydrogenate soybean oil.

The resulting hydrogenated oils contained 16. …

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