Popular Foods That Might Kill You

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Dec 06 2006
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On Dec. 5, New York City’s Board of Health voted to ban the use of artery-clogging trans fats at all city restaurants, from local pizzerias to national chains to high-end hot spots. Restaurants will have to stop using frying oils with trans fats by July, 2007, and eliminate trans fats from all foods by July, 2008. But trans fats show up within your kitchen as well – margarine, candy bars, pound cake fresh from oven and so on.

What are trans fats? They are solid fats created by adding hydrogen into cooking oils. Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are used for frying French fries and chicken and for baking croissants, cookies, and donuts.

“Trans-fat raises the level of bad cholesterol in the body, which contributes to heart disease,” says Dr. Robert Eckel, a professor of medicine at the University of Colorado and former president of the American Heart Assn.

“If New Yorkers replace all sources of artificial trans fat, by even the most conservative estimates, at least 500 deaths from heart disease would be prevented each year in New York City – more than the number of people killed annually in motor vehicle crashes,” says Walter Willett, M.D., and chair of the Nutrition Dept. at the Harvard School of Public Health. “Trans fat from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil is a toxic substance that does not belong in food.”

J. M. Smucker Co. released its Crisco Zero Trans Fat Shortening (alternatives to trans fat) two years ago. It said that the newly formulated oil didn’t have additional saturated fat and would produce the same results as the original hydrogenated Crisco. And other big oil manufacturers including Cargill, Archer-Daniels-Midland (NYSE : ADM, quote), and Bunge (NYSE : BG, quote) are making substitutes.

So, why have some fast-food chains, bakeries, and food companies found it so hard to part ways with trans fat?

McDonald’s (NYSE : MCD, quote) says there aren’t yet good substitutes for trans fat and that switching may compromise the taste of its food. Using trans-fat frying oils also allows fast-food chains to trim costs, since the same oil can be used for weeks.

Food companies such as Kraft (NYSE : KFT, quote) and Sara Lee (SLE, quote) also have stuck with trans fat in certain products, since it can help extend the shelf life of baked goods and other products.

But some other companies have committed to make the necessary changes. Wendy’s (NYSE : WEN, quote) switched to a 0-gram trans-fat cooking oil in August at its 6,000 restaurants, and Yum! Brands (NYSE : YUM, quote), which operates 5,500 KFC and 4,200 Taco Bell restaurants, also committed to fry its chicken in trans-fat-free oil by April, 2007.

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Trans fat naturally occurs in some foods, like butter, but are also formed in the processing of some foods where product texture and shelf life are desired. I’ve learned a lot about this subject because I work with the National Association of Margarine Manufacturers. In addition, heart disease runs in my family so I’ve got a personal interest in this subject as well.

Have you looked at a margarine label lately? You won’t find any soft or liquid margarine that contain trans fat, and trans fat levels of stick margarines have been greatly reduced. Using new technologies, margarine manufacturers have met the challenge and eliminated or reduced trans fat in margarine products, making a good product even better. In fact, the margarine industry has led the food industry in removing trans fat content from its products. Soft, liquid and spray margarine products are now in sync with the recommendations included in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the MyPyramid food guidance system. Soft margarine products were elevated in their importance in that they “help meet essential fatty acid needs and also contribute toward Vitamin E needs” according to the 2005 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report.

When comparing margarine to butter, many margarine products are the recommended alternative as stated by of the American Heart Association, as well as the Federal government’s National Cholesterol Education Program. And yes, it’s still an economical choice for the consumer. For more information, visit http://margarine.org/qanda.html, http://hp2010.nhlbihin.net/cholmonth/chol_kit.htm and http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=1200000.

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