THOSE FAT and calorie-laden donuts you grabbed for breakfast this morning could soon be considered "health" food. In an effort to lower the fat in donuts, scientists with USDA's Agricultural Research Service are using rice to reduce the oil content of the deep-fried breakfast pastry.

In preliminary trials at USDA's Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans, scientists have found that donuts made from dough containing small amounts of modified rice starch and rice flour absorbed as much as 70 percent less oil during frying than traditional, all-wheat donuts.

When mixed in with wheat flour, the rice-based ingredients seemingly help reduce oil uptake by making the dough more tender, consistent and moist. Though less oil, the donuts' taste, texture and other sensory properties as comparable to traditional cake donuts, according to Fred Shih, an Agricultural Research Service chemist focusing on developing value-added products from rice.

Compared to all-wheat donuts, which had 24 to 26 grams of oil, some of the wheat-rice flour donuts had about 8 grams of oil each.