Q. I was checking cereal labels and found that none have trans fat. How has it been replaced ? Is the replacement safer? — Jen Mount, Wichita, Kansas
A. Trans fat is on its way out, and good riddance. It not only raises bad cholesterol but drives down levels of good cholesterol, making it more dangerous than saturated fat. You should know that a "no trans fat" label doesn't necessarily mean no trans fat in the food. The FDA allows food manufacturers to make the claim as long as there is less than 0.5 gram of trans fat per serving. So companies assign small serving sizes to food—claiming that a snack-size bag of chips is two servings, for example. The best way to eliminate trans fat is to avoid products that list partially hydrogenated oil as an ingredient.
Where possible, food makers are using unsaturated oils, such as corn, soybean, and safflower—and that's a good thing. But unsaturated fat is liquid at room temperature and spoils sooner than trans fat or saturated fat, so it has limited commercial use. Saturated tropical oils like palm offer the same qualities as trans fat, but palm contains heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. Experts can't say whether the oils are actually good for you, but they are confident that they're better than trans fat.
What's more, tropical oils appear to be a better choice than a scientific creation that's replacing trans fat: interesterified fat. A recent study suggests it drives down good cholesterol and raises blood sugar more than trans fat. It's not yet in wide use, but check the ingredients for the fat or its alias, fully hydrogenated oil.