Many U.S. fast food chains will eliminate their use of trans fats by the end of the year after being fried by health practitioners and consumer pressure to get rid of the oil.
Since the FDA began requiring trans fats listings on food labels in January 2006, food producers have made a conscious effort to reduce their use of it and to find alternative fat sources.
In 2002, McDonald’s pledged to eliminate trans fats from its menu, according to the Center for Science and Public Interest. Although testing is underway, the corporation has not yet switched to healthier oils.
CNNMoney.com reports that more than 1,200 of McDonald’s U.S. restaurants have switched to trans fat-free frying oil.
A meal consisting of McDonald’s Chicken Selects Premium Breast Strips and an order of large fries contains 12 grams of trans fats. This amount is more than a person should eat in six days, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, which contains trans-fatty acids, was created in the 1900s. It was meant to serve as a replacement for natural fats, including butter and lard. The synthetic fat was believed to have several benefits compared to its cousin, saturated fat.
“The chemical process in the body turns trans fat from a liquid to a solid,” Dawn Clifford, a dietician at CSU’s Hartshorn Health Services, said. “Trans fats may increase the risk of some cancers. That is why we are so adamant about getting it out of America’s diet.”
Trans fats have been proven to raise low-density lipoprotein, or “bad” cholesterol. Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil was originally used because it was “cheaper, performed better under high heat and had a longer shelf life,” according to MSNBC.
Realizing its harmful effects, New York City has established a ban on artificial trans fats used for cooking. The law will take effect July 1 of this year.
Lawmakers from nearly a dozen states, including Florida, are choosing sides in the trans fats debate and are proposing bills to ban or limit the use of artificial fats in school cafeterias as well as restaurants, according to the Rocky Mountain News. A national plan may go into effect as early as 2008.
Besides possibly causing cancer, trans fats increase the risk of coronary heart disease. This silent killer causes the hardening of arteries and its effects can be seen even in children, Clifford said.
“There is no certain recommendation for trans fats. Right now, we are recommending zero grams,” Clifford said. “You should limit your intake amount. Having fast food once a month is not going to kill you or cause heart disease. Other places where trans fats tend to hang out are in baked goods, cookies, crackers and frozen entrees.”
When eating fast food, Clifford recommends ordering smaller portions and having something healthy, such as a vegetable salad with light dressing, to balance out the rest of the meal.
Restaurants are starting to follow suit, Clifford said.
Wendy’s International Inc. has already started cooking with oils that are free of trans fats. KFC and Taco Bell, both owned by Yum Brand Inc., have announced they plan to do the same. Burger King Holdings Inc. and Starbucks Corp. are planning on implementing changes as well.
Good Times Restaurants Inc., a Colorado-based company, was one of the first restaurants to join Wendy’s in the campaign against trans fats. The process to change to healthier cooking oils began in 2006. Good Times’ decision was based on consumer input, said Nick Biegel, Good Times’ director of purchasing.
“We decided to switch to cooking oil without trans fat because it was the right thing to do,” Biegel said. “A lot of other players out there haven’t made the conversion. Good Times is a 50-unit chain and we were able to move more quickly. We made sure the quality and taste of our food was not affected by the change. Consumers cannot tell the difference between trans fat and canola cooking oil.”
Other people, however, are not so convinced that fast food will ever be entirely free of trans fats. Jeanette Rodriguez, a CSU junior majoring in microbiology, said she is worried by the slow progress some fast food chains are making.
“(Trans) fats are one of the leading causes of obesity in America,” Rodriguez said. “McDonald’s doesn’t advertise things like that. I think people are becoming aware of trans fats and showing more interest in food.”
Staff writer Amy Robinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.