OMAHA, Neb. - The recipe for Orville Redenbacher's and ACT II microwave popcorn will change next year to make the snack healthier.
By February, almost all the 120 different popcorn products made by Omaha-based ConAgra Foods Inc. will have 0 grams of trans fatty acids, which contribute to higher levels of LDL cholesterol. Known as the bad cholesterol, LDL can increase the risk of heart disease, which kills more than 500,000 Americans annually.
Orville Redenbacher's "Smart Pop" varieties will also have 0 grams of saturated fat to appeal to nutrition-minded consumers, spokesman Garth Neuffer said. The company's more buttery varieties will still have some saturated fat, Neuffer said, but the total saturated and trans fat content of those products will be about 20 percent less.
Saturated fat also contributes to higher levels of bad cholesterol.
The Food and Drug Administration is ordering trans fats to be listed on food labels by next month. The new dietary guidelines recommend Americans reduce their consumption of trans fats and increase their consumption of whole grains. Food companies have been removing trans fats from their products and adding whole grains because of the government guidance.
Consumers are becoming more aware of the dangers of trans fat, so companies don't want to have it on their product labels, said Nessie Ferguson, a registered dietitian with the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.
Ferguson said she'd likely buy ConAgra's popcorn if she knew it didn't have any trans fat.
"I think popcorn is a really healthful snack," Ferguson said. "But the problem was all the added fats."
Pat Verduin, ConAgra's senior vice president for product development, said this change to remove trans fat is part of a companywide effort to improve the nutritional value of its products, which includes name brands such as Banquet, Healthy Choice, Wesson, Hebrew National and Hunt's.
"We are working very, very hard to get trans fat significantly reduced or out of every product we make," Verduin said.
The reformulated popcorn has been in the works for two years. The company's spreadable margarines all lost their trans fats at the start of 2005.
ConAgra expects to minimize or eliminate trans fat in most of its products by the end of 2006.
The challenge in making these changes, Verduin said, is ensuring that the product tastes the same, and in the case of popcorn, that the new formula pops as well.
"You want to make it the same product people know and love without the trans fat," Verduin said.
ConAgra changed the oil and flavoring system in its microwave popcorn to achieve this change, Verduin said. Partially hydrogenated oil, which contains trans fat, will no longer be used in the popcorn, she said.
Company officials are also reminding consumers that popcorn is a whole grain snack that should help consumers eat more fiber.