"Although many food manufacturers continue to use highly saturated oils like palm, palm kernel and coconut oils, there is at least one . . . product in every food category made with low saturated oils," said the American Soybean Association, which commissioned the survey.
The risk for consumers who eat many snacks is that they are taking in a lot of saturated fats, which have been shown to raise cholesterol levels in the blood and increase the likelihood of heart disease.
The survey, which checked more than 2,300 products on supermarket shelves, found that cracker and popcorn makers have made the most significant changes in shortening use, said Nancy Chapman, a Washington nutrition consultant who conducted the survey.
Chapman identified Archway, Sunshine, Nabisco, Lance, Mrs. Paul's and Frito Lay as major brands that have cut back on vegetable oil shortenings high in saturated fats.
Vegetable oils do not contain cholesterol, which is only produced by animals. But saturated fats in vegetable oils can increase the body's own production of cholesterol more than some foods that actually contain cholesterol, Chapman said.
Edible oils low in saturated fat include canola, corn, olive, safflower, soybean and sesame seed. Coconut and palm kernel oil, so-called "tropical oils," have about the highest levels of saturated fat.
Manufacturers are not currently required to specify which vegetable oil a product contains.
The soybean association, a growers' organization, has unsuccessfully sought to require food-label identification of tropical oils, which are imported primarily from Malaysia and the Philippines.
The American Heart Association and other health groups support more precise indentification of vegetable oils. And the National Research Council, in a major study released this month, recommended greater disclosure of cholesterol information on product labels.
Congress and federal officials thus far have refused to order more specific labeling of tropical oils, saying such a requirement would constitute an illegal trade barrier.
Therefore, Chapman said, consumers concerned about lowering their cholesterol levels must look beyond labels saying "no cholesterol" or "100 percent vegetable oil," to see whether a food specifically contains an oil low in saturated fats.
In addition to finding manufacturers who had switched shortenings, the survey found that the percentage of products made with low-saturated fat shortenings such as soybean or corn oil has increased in several categories when compared with a similar survey taken last year.