The New Scientist April 12, 2006


Fast food awash with
'worst' kind of fat

By Andy Coghlan

French fries and chicken nuggets from two major global fast-food

chains contain very high levels of artery-clogging "trans" fats,

researchers warn. And the level of trans-fats served by the chains

varies dramatically from country to country.


Researchers who analysed the fast food say that daily consumption of

5 grams or more of trans fats raises the risk of heart attack by 25%.

Half of the 43 "large"-sized fast food meals, 24 from McDonald's and

19 from KFC, examined in the study - purchased in outlets around the

world - exceeded the 5 gram level.


Trans fats are thought to pose a hazard by raising the proportion of

"bad" cholesterol in the blood, leading to the accumulation of fat in

arteries. Trans fats also increase the risk of arterial inflammation

and the development of an irregular heartbeat.


"That's why it's called 'killer fat'," says Steen Stender of the

Gentofte University Hospital in Copenhagen, Denmark, and lead author

of the analysis in The New England Journal of Medicine.


Some combinations of "large" fries and "large" chicken nuggets from

McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets contained between

double and five times the 5-gram danger level.


Industrial-grade oil


Stender says that consuming such food regularly could drastically

increase someone's risk of a heart attack, but the fast food

companies could solve the problem by changing the industrial-grade

oil they use to prepare the food.


"The good thing about trans fatty acids is that it's easy to remove

them," notes Stender. "When you enter a McDonald's or a KFC, you

should be entering a trans-fatty-acid-free zone," he adds.


In a review of trans fats in the same journal, Walter Willett at the

Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, US, and colleagues,

conclude that in the US alone, complete removal of the

industrially-produced trans fats from food preparation could prevent

up to 228,000 heart attacks per year in the US.


Peak levels


The fats are convenient for the fast food industry because they can

be used repeatedly to fry foods at high temperatures without breaking

down chemically. But manufacture of the industrial-grade cooking oils

vastly increases the proportion of trans fats in the oil, from zero

to as much as 60%.


In Stender's analysis, the fries and nuggets containing the most

trans fat had invariably been cooked in oil that was itself high in



The highest levels of all were found in a meal from a KFC in Hungary

which contained 25 g of trans fats, and had been cooked in oil

containing 35% trans fats. Levels were also high in KFC meals bought

from Poland (20 g), Peru (16 g) and the Czech Republic (15 g).


The highest-scoring McDonald's meal was from New York, US (10 grams),

cooked in oil containing 23% trans fats.


Corporate public relations


Both companies say they are committed to phasing out the trans fats

from their cooking oils. "We're at the early stages of reviewing

alternative oils options, which includes looking at local taste

preferences, supply availability, storage, as well as other factors

such as functionality," Christophe Lecureuil of KFC International

told New Scientist.

"McDonald's takes the matter of trans fatty acids seriously," says

Catherine Adams, vice president of worldwide quality systems, food

safety and nutrition at McDonald's. "Our reduction in the US is

taking longer than anticipated, as we have previously announced. But

we continue to progress in our testing and we are determined to get

it right for our customers."


Stender found that levels of trans fats were much lower in

merchandise from most West European countries, and were virtually

undetectable in fries and nuggets from Denmark, where it has been

illegal since 1 January 2004 to sell food with levels of trans fats

exceeding 2% of the total fat in a food product. "It took less than

three months for the industry to remove it," Stender points out.


Journal reference: The New England Journal of Medicine (vol 345, p 1650)


Related Articles

* Worldwide obesity epidemic affects both rich and poor countries


* 01 October 2005

* Supersize me


* 30 October 2004

* Burgers or nuggets? Check out the car, Bob


* 25 September 2004


* Harvard School of Public Health




* McDonalds


* New England Journal of Medicine


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