6 Minutes To Skinny
6 Minutes To Skinny

Trans Fat and Fast Food

by Terri David

Trans fat and fast food issues are best described in this article called:

"Heart attack to go: Trans fats are the killer not listed on the menu" by Howard Cohen, The Miami Herald, Oct. 24, 2006; 

http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/living/15823819.htm

President Bush's message to terrorists -- "You can run but you can't hide" -- now has a corollary in restaurant kitchens. Trans fats, you're on notice: You're a killer and time is running out.

That's the message from a growing chorus of health officials, including a burgeoning movement to ban trans fats in all restaurant food in from fast food to five-star restaurants.

"This is a big issue. Few things can be done that would be so effective and cost effective for reducing heart disease and overall mortality by eliminating trans fats," says Walter Willett, chairman of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard.

A study earlier this year by Willett concluded that if trans fats were eliminated from the American diet, some 228,000 heart attacks -- and 30,000 coronary deaths -- could be prevented.

In fact, eating just five grams daily of trans fat increased one's risk of heart disease by 25 percent, the study found. "Now that we know trans fat does so many other bad things metabolically . . . long-term studies indicate it's more like 50,000 or 100,000 deaths per year that could be avoided." Some are listening:

* Last week, the Walt Disney Co. said that trans fats will be eliminated from meals at its domestic parks by the end of 2007.

* Last month, health officials proposed banning trans fats in the city's restaurants. [Trans fat and fast food]

* In August, Wendy's eliminated 95 percent of the trans fat from its menu items by switching to a non-hydrogenated corn-soy blend. Pollo Tropical spokeswoman Kim Miller says the chain wants to eliminate trans fats by the end of summer 2007. Currently, trans fat exists in its french fries, fried yuca and key lime pie. The first Pollo Tropical franchise in New York, arriving later this fall, will be a test restaurant -- free of trans fat.

The National Institute of Medicine and the American Dietetic Association recommend no trans fat a day, two grams at the most. Yet much of the fare at fast-food restaurants is double, triple or higher.

Trans fat and fast food

Consider:

• A KFC Chicken Pot Pie: 14 grams.

• Large fries: McDonald's, 8 grams; Burger King, 7.

• McDonald's Chicken Strips, 10 pieces, 9 grams.

• Dunkin' Donuts Double Chocolate Cake Donut: 5 grams.

[Trans fat and fast food] In 2002, McDonald's said it would test oils to reduce trans fats. Yet while the chain has added some healthier choices, the trans fats are still there. "McDonald's knows this is an important issue, and our testing for significant reductions is ongoing. We are making progress and remain confident we will achieve our objective of significant reductions," The company said in an e-mail to The Miami Herald.

Trans fat and fast food

Burger King issued a similar statement: "BK is monitoring the issues surrounding trans fats and is considering options. We are very mindful that our customers expect the quality and full flavor that our menu now offers."

Since January, the FDA has required that food manufacturers list trans fat content greater than half a gram per serving on supermarket foods. As a result, many food manufacturers have reduced or eliminated trans fats. But restaurants don't have to make such declarations.

Yet Americans are eating out more; Willett calculates we're consuming up to one-half of our trans fats in restaurants.That's a problem, says Cathy Nonas, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "You can't taste it and it's not listed."

Trans fat is produced when hydrogen is pumped into vegetable oil -- a process called hydrogenation. This, like saturated fat, raises the level of the L.D.L (the "bad cholesterol") but it reduces the H.D.L. ("good cholesterol.") Proponents say trans fat makes the food tastier and fresher. But those who've made the switch say consumers haven't noticed a difference in taste.

Trans fat and fast food

Take Wendy's. In August, the fast-food chain switched oils and eliminated trans fat from 95 percent of its menu offerings. "We had tested an alternative oil extensively at 370 restaurants in the U.S. and Canada, served millions of servings of french fries, and customers did not see any taste difference," says Wendy's spokesman Bob Bertini. "What was important. We had to make sure not to impact the taste of our food and not create any type of operational problems using the alternative oil."

Since making the switch, Wendy's average same-store sales increased 4.1 percent at U.S. company restaurants and 3.9 percent at franchised restaurants, according to third quarter preliminary results released in mid-October.

Says Willett: "It's important to have these positive examples, it shows it can be done and they don't go out of business and people aren't running out the doors." 

Trans Fat and Obesity 
Food with Trans Fat 
Trans Fat Definition 

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