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New oil has no trans fats, lasts longer

What may be the next big thing in the quest for the perfect low-fat french fry will sprout from Iowa ground this summer.

Pioneer Hi-Bred says its genetically engineered soybean will make an oil that has no artery-clogging trans fats. The high-oleic oil is supposed to last three to five times longer in commercial fryers than most zero-trans-fat oils now available.

The Johnson, Iowa-based company, which is the second-largest producer of hybrid seeds for agriculture, will put the soybean through farm tests to determine if those claims are true. If so, then McDonald’s, Frito-Lay and other food companies may snap up the oil and promote heart-healthy fried foods and chips.

The consequences for Americans’ health could be out of sight.

“Zero-trans-fat oils are clearly healthier,” said Dr. David Lemon, a Des Moines, Iowa, cardiologist. “The American average diet contains 3 percent trans fats, and the percentage now recommended is 1 percent or less.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has required food processors to label foods by the amount of trans fat because medical researchers say trans fats promote bad cholesterol in the bloodstream. That can lead to heart disease.

“Any product that does the job translates into a gain for the population,” said Lemon.

Proof will come in fast-food kitchens

Most soybean oils require the injection of hydrogen to maintain stability under high heat. The hydrogenation adds trans fats to the oil, however.

The high-oleic oil would have oleic acids blocking the development of destabilizing linolenic acids.

Boosters of high-oleic oil say it will remain stable anywhere from three times to 10 times longer than the low-linolenic oils.

Fast-food and snack makers want frying oils that can hold up under 350-degree heat or more for hours without needing to be replaced.

Food companies are testing the high-oleic oils now, but they guard the results with zeal.

McDonald’s said it would be inappropriate to comment on its tests. Other companies such as Frito-Lay and french fry and tater-tot maker Simplot of Idaho declined to comment.

But the cooking oil industry is watching closely.

“We’re very excited about the high-oleic soybean,” said Bob Collette of the Shortening and Edible Oils Institute, a Washington, D.C., trade group representing the major oil processors, such as Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland and ConAgra.

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