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FOOD INDUSTRY SHIFTING AWAY FROM TROPICAL OILS

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The food industry has gotten the message about tropical oils, which is bad news for Malaysia and other countries that produce them but probably good news for cookie lovers.

Tropical oils - examples are palm and coconut oil - are vegetable oils that contain more saturated fat than most animal oils, such as beef lard. Diets rich in saturated fat lead to higher levels of cholesterol in the blood, which contribute to the risk of heart disease.Because they are very stable and have a subtle taste, tropical oils have been used to mass-produce pastries and crackers of all types.

Within the past couple of years, however, the public has clamored for foods that reduce rather than add to heart disease risk. The pressure has grown to replace tropical oils in snack food with other oils that contain far less saturated fats.

That shift is now in full swing. You can look at almost any label and see non-tropical vegetable oils where once there was palm or coconut. These oils are considered better for keeping cholesterol levels down, though the "hydrogenization" - or hardening - process they generally go through reduces that effect somewhat.

Keebler, the cookie maker, says the total reformulation of its product line will be complete by the end of this year. Most other companies will soon follow.