Contact: Richard Hebert, 202/332-9110, ext. 370,
or Michael Jacobson, ext. 328
|French Fry Frauds|
It was a huge victory...or so we thought. In the late 1980s, pressure from CSPI and other consumer groups forced the major fast food hamburger chains to stop frying their potatoes, fish, and chicken in beef tallow.
"McDonald's French Fries to be Cooked in Cholesterol-Free, 100% Vegetable Oil," announced the company's press release in 1990.
It was only partially right. The switch was not to pure vegetable oil, but to partially hydrogenated vegetable shortening.
The distinction isn't trivial. Our tests show that, thanks to their trans fat, the french fries sold at McDonald's, Arby's, and Hardee's have roughly as much artery-clogging fat as if they were fried in lard. Burger King and Wendy's fries are even worse. They're a bigger threat to your arteries than potatoes cooked in beef tallow.
In each case, if you ask the order-taker for a nutrition brochure, you'll see only the amount of saturated fat the fries contain. Not a peep about trans. That means half the artery-clogging fat is invisible.
Until fast food chains make good on their promise to use 100% vegetable oil, keep in mind that, to your arteries, a large order of fries from McDonald's, Arby's, or Hardee's looks like a Quarter Pounder. And a large fries from Burger King or Wendy's looks like 1 Quarter Pounders. Some side dish.
What about frozen supermarket potatoes? Ounce for ounce, the two we tested, Ore-Ida Tater
Tots and Ore-Ida Snackin' Fries, were no different than fries from McDonald's, Hardees, and
Arby's. (Ore-Ida says that it has reformulated its Snackin' Fries to have less saturated fat, but the
newer incarnation is still bad news.)
For more on trans fat click here.
Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, notes that the sandwich provides about 600 calories, plus about half the recommended daily intake of fat, saturated fat, and sodium -- and that's without the extra 600-or-so more calories from a large order of fries and a Coke, typically ordered with hamburgers.
Jacobson said, "It's too bad for the public's health that McDonald's is expanding its line of unhealthful foods. Products like the Arch Deluxe contribute in a major way to heart disease and stroke. Obesity rates are soaring, yet McDonald's has come up with yet another strategy for stuffing more calories and fat into our meals."
According to McDonald's, an Arch Deluxe without bacon provides 560 calories, 32 grams of fat, 11 grams of saturated fat, and 960 milligrams of sodium. The bacon version contains 610 calories, 36 grams of fat, 13 grams of saturated fat, and 1,190 milligrams of sodium. The Food and Drug Administration's "Nutrition Facts" label recommends that Americans on a 2,000-calorie diet consume no more than 65 grams of fat, 20 grams of saturated fat, and 2,400 milligrams of sodium per day.
CSPI suggests that people who care about their health should either should choose the McGrilled Chicken sandwich or a salad -- or choose another restaurant.
CSPI is a nonprofit health-advocacy organization that was founded in 1971. CSPI is supported largely by the 750,000 subscribers to its Nutrition Action Healthletter. CSPI is well-known for its studies of theater popcorn, Chinese restaurants, and other foods eaten outside the home. Michael Jacobson is co-author of The Fast-Food Guide (Workman Publishing, New York).