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“Healthy” Potato Chips

The term “trans fat” leaves a bad taste in the mouths of health-conscious consumers. Typically, trans fatty acids are bad for health, but scientists at the Division of Agriculture have coaxed out health benefits by juggling the molecular structure of soy oil.

Andrew Proctor, professor of food science, and graduate student Vishal Jain produced soy oil rich in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). Studies show it gives the immune system a boost and helps reduce the risks of cancer and diabetes.

Studies also have shown that humans eating diets rich in CLA reduced body fat and waist size, Proctor said.

Proctor and Jain have used the converted oil to produce potato chips that contain high concentrations of CLA. Proctor calls them “healthier potato chips.”

“It is still important to have a low-fat diet and we do not propose increasing the fat intake, but a few chips will provide needed CLA,” Proctor said. “Our goal is to develop a popular food item that offers high concentrations of CLA without increasing saturated fat intake. Potato chips suit this purpose well.”

Proctor said their process uses only refined soy oil, which does not introduce the health risks associated with hydrogenated oils. When CLA is synthesized, the result is a trans fat oil with health benefits.

Proctor and Jain experimented with an instrument that exposes oil to ultraviolet light more evenly and produces significantly higher CLA content of soybean oil. The photo-irradiated oil contains 25 percent CLA, Proctor said. Beef and dairy products contain less than 1 percent.

Proctor has received a $275,000 USDA grant to build a pilot plant that will process a greater volume of oil in less time.

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