Typically, trans fatty acids are bad for health, but scientists at the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture have coaxed out significant health benefits 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 CLA enhances the immune system and lowers cancer and diabetes risks.

Studies have also shown that people eating diets rich in CLA reduced body fat and waist size, Proctor says.

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

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 says. Beef and dairy products contain less than 1%.

Proctor has received a $275,000 USDA grant to build a pilot plant that will process a greater volume of oil in less time.