April 13, 2006
BY LINDA A. JOHNSON
Order fries or hot wings at a McDonald’s or a KFC in the United States and you’re more likely to get a super-sized helping of artery-clogging trans fats than you would be at their restaurants in some other countries.
A study of the fast-food chains’ products around the world found remarkably wide variations in trans fat content from country to country, from city to city within the same nation, and from restaurant to restaurant in the same city.
The researchers said the differences had to do with the type of frying oil used, and the main culprit appeared to be partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, which is high in trans fats.
McDonald’s Corp., which promised in September 2002 to cut trans fat in half, and KFC parent Yum! Brands Inc. said the explanation is local taste preferences. But nutrition experts and consumer activists said it is about money: Frying oil high in trans fats costs less.
The Danish researchers tested products from the chains’ outlets in dozens of countries in 2004 and 2005, analyzing McDonald’s chicken nuggets, KFC hot wings, and the two chains’ french fries. The findings are reported in today’s New England Journal of Medicine.
At a New York City McDonald’s, a large fries-and-chicken-nuggets combo had 10.2 grams of the trans fat, compared with 0.33 grams in Denmark and about 3 grams in Spain, Russia and the Czech Republic.
At KFCs in Poland and Hungary , a large hot wings-and-fries order had 19 grams of trans fats or more, versus 5.5 grams for wings and fried potato wedges in New York . But in Germany , Russia , Denmark and Aberdeen , Scotland , the meal had less than a gram.
Harvard School of Public Health cardiologist Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian and colleagues wrote in the journal that although it may be hard for restaurants and food manufacturers to eliminate partially hydrogenated oil, other countries have replaced it with unsaturated fats without raising costs or reducing quality.
Doing so might prevent thousands of heart attacks and strokes each year in the United States , they wrote.
Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil: Trans Fats
Cooking oil that has been injected with hydrogen to harden it and give it a longer shelf life are called trans fats. Switching to liquid vegetable oils such as canola, corn, olive or soy eliminates the trans fat.
Trans fat raises bad cholesterol and lowers good cholesterol. Eating just 5 grams of it per day increases the risk of heart disease 25%, research shows.
~ Associated Press