The War on Trans Fats (Part 1)

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Trans fats have been making headlines over the last few weeks. As explained in January, food processors and manufacturers are now required to include accurate information on trans fat content on nutrition labels so consumers can make wise food choices. We also offered Fat Tips for Heart Health—advice on replacing saturated and trans fats with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.


Trans fats are used in prepared foods because they increase shelf life and flavor stability. Unfortunately, they are major artery cloggers, and consumer watchdog groups have been pressuring restaurants and food manufacturers to switch to alternative fats in light of America’s obesity epidemic.

On Oct. 30, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) joined Wendy’s, Ruby Tuesday, Chili’s, Legal Sea Food and several other restaurant chains in making the switch to trans fat-free oils. KFC will soon use low-linolenic soybean oil that has zero trans fat—a move that led former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona to “encourage other companies to follow their lead.” (Note: KFC will fry its chicken in the new oil, but trans fats will still be found in the chain’s biscuits, pot pies and desserts. All menu makeovers are scheduled for April.)

So, why is a nonorganic fast-food establishment of interest to readers who buy natural and organic foods?

As readers revealed in one of our most controversial blog posts, A Mountain of Meat and Cheese, everyone “cheats” once in a while. More relevant for parents who embrace organic living is what their children and teens eat when faced with peer pressure and the allure of burgers stacked with cheese and bacon.

“The idea of a heart attack years from now has no meaning for a teenager,” says Jeff Novick, director of nutrition for the Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa.

The good news? Educated parents can teach their children to eat a healthful diet.

“Teens and young adults can learn how to take care of themselves and can understand the value of health,” Novick tells “I have taught these lessons to my own children, and I have taught these lessons to young people who take athletic performance seriously and understand the difference good nutrition can make. But it’s true: Many young people have a hard time understanding the consequences of their actions.”

Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), is pushing other fast-food restaurants with a high percentage of teenage customers to make public health a consideration.

“What are McDonald’s and Burger King waiting for now?” he asks. “If KFC, which deep-fries almost everything, can get the artificial trans fat out of its frying oil, anyone can. Colonel Sanders deserves a bucket full of praise.”

According to CSPI, safe, inexpensive and tasty trans-fat alternatives are available from major vegetable oil producers—all of which could prevent tens of thousands of fatal heart attacks annually. CSPI’s goal is to remove trans fat-containing partially hydrogenated oils from our food supply.

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2: The New York City Board of Health is considering a citywide ban on the sale of restaurant food made with trans fats.

Photo courtesy of KFC Corp.

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