A new study found that some American fast food contains much
levels of unhealthy trans fats than the same food sold in other
For decades, processed food manufacturers and restaurants have used
hydrogenated oil containing trans fats. This hydrogenated oil has
an extended shelf life and can be reused longer for frying. But
researchers determined that oil high in trans fat contributes to
heart disease, and efforts are underway to eliminate these fats as
much as possible.
Now a report just published in the New England Journal of
Medicine tested McDonald’s chicken nuggets and french fry combo
meals purchased in 20 different countries. In New York City, the
meal contained 10 grams of trans fat, versus 3 grams in Spain and
less than 1 gram in Denmark.
The cooking oil used for the McDonald’s french fries in the U.S.
contained 23 percent trans fatty acids, mainly from partially
hydrogenated vegetable oil. The low levels in Denmark are the
result of legislation restricting the use of industrially produced
trans fatty acids in food to a maximum of 2 percent.
For every 2-percent increase in the amount of calories from trans
fat, the risk of heart disease increases by 36 percent, according
to Walter C. Willett, chair of the Department of Nutrition at
Harvard University. By replacing that same 2 percent of calories
from trans fat with unsaturated fats, you can reduce the risk of
heart disease by as much as 53 percent.
McDonald’s claims that its cooking oils come from local suppliers
and the choice is based on consumer preference. But Dr. Steen
Stender, a cardiologist at Gentofte University Hospital in Denmark
who worked on the study, says partially hydrogenated vegetable oils
are mainly used to save money because they don’t spoil and can be
Michael F. Jacobson, executive director for the
Center for Science in the Public
Interest (CSPI), says, ‘while deep-fried foods will always be
high in calories, they do not necessarily have to be bad for your
heart. All restaurants should fry in liquid, non-hydrogenated
vegetable oil like canola or soy. If they did, fried foods would
become healthier overnight. But as long as they continue to use
such a dangerous artificial frying oil, they should inform their
Based on FDA data, CSPI estimated that 11,000 to 30,000 lives,
perhaps many more, would be saved each year if partially
hydrogenated oils were replaced with more healthful products. In
May 2004, CSPI petitioned the FDA to ban these oils altogether, and
organize a campaign against trans fat.
Processed food manufacturers are now under government mandate to
disclose trans fat content on nutrition labels, though restaurants
are not required to provide full nutrition labeling for their food,
unless nutrient claims are made, such as ‘low fat’ or ‘low sodium.’
Many fast food restaurants will provide nutritional information
about their products if you ask. For more information on better
food choices, visit the