Healthy potato chips

Monday, 15 January, 2007


Scientists at the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture have coaxed significant health benefits out of trans fatty acids 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. Proctor also pointed out that studies have also shown that humans eating diets rich in CLA reduced body fat and waist size.

Proctor and Jain used the converted oil to produce "healthier potato chips' that contain high concentrations of CLA.

"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. Subsequent studies may include development of high-CLA salad oils and dressings," Proctor said.

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

CLA occurs naturally in beef and dairy products, but at such low levels that no benefit is obtained in a normal, healthy diet, according to Proctor. In an earlier experiment, Proctor found that CLA could be synthesised in soy oil by irradiating it with ultraviolet and visible light, although that first process still produced only low amounts, similar to that present in beef and dairy.

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

The term "trans fatty acids' refers to the manner in which carbon atoms are bound together in the oil molecules. Jain adds iodine as a catalyst to destabilise double bonds that connect the carbon atoms. Proctor said energy from the photo irradiation causes those double bonds to shift position, a chemical change that results in the formation of CLA. Later, the iodine is filtered out of the product.

"Changing the position of the double bonds makes all the difference in the world," Proctor said.

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