Bay State Restaurants Still Using Artificial Trans Fat Despite Health Risks
New Test Results Indicate Need for Statewide Phase-out, Says CSPI
BOSTON—Even though artificial trans fat promotes heart attacks and early deaths, major chains—including Massachusetts-based Friendly's—are still serving foods containing partially hydrogenated oil—the only artificial source of trans fat. But chains as diverse as McDonald's, Legal Sea Foods, and Uno Chicago Grill use healthful oils for deep-frying, which, the Center for Science in the Public Interest says, shows that any chain could easily serve foods free of artificial trans fat.
CSPI says that the trans fat levels found in fried foods at Burger King and Friendly's make a compelling case for cities and state legislatures to pass measures that would require restaurants to phase out their use of artificial trans fat. The city of Boston's health department is holding a hearing on a citywide trans-fat phase-out today, and a statewide bill, sponsored by Rep. Peter Koutoujian (D-Waltham), is pending. Brookline passed a prohibition on restaurants' use of artificial trans fat in June. Elsewhere, New York City, Philadelphia, and several counties have required restaurants to stop serving foods with significant amounts of artificial trans fat.
According to independent laboratory tests commissioned by CSPI, a 5.5-ounce serving of French fries from Friendly's has a decidedly unfriendly two grams of trans fat—an entire day's worth. The fries highest in trans fat were found at Burger King: 6 grams of trans fat in a 4.6-ounce large order, according to both CSPI's test results and the company web site. The trans fat could come from frying oil used in the restaurant, the par-frying oil used by the chains' suppliers, or both.
"With all the medical evidence we have about artificial trans fat and heart disease, and with supplies of natural trans-fat-free oils and shortenings in such abundance, there is truly no excuse for Burger King, Friendly's, and other chains to be using this dangerous substance," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. "One advantage it has is that it can be used over and over again in the deep-fryer without being changed as often. But considering that it clogs arteries and shortens lives, it's just not worth it."
Massachusetts voters seem to agree, according to a recent 7News/Suffolk University poll. That poll found that two-thirds of Massachusetts voters are concerned about artificial trans fat and favor the bill to phase it out of the state's restaurants.
"The tide is definitely turning toward the use of healthier cooking oils, with many restaurants voluntarily making the switch to healthier alternatives," Koutoujian said. "Massachusetts residents understand that by forgoing the use of artificial trans fats, we can live healthier lives without negatively affecting the taste of any foods."
Artificial trans fat is more dangerous than any other fat in food because, like saturated fat, it raises one's LDL, the "bad" kind of cholesterol that promotes heart disease, but unlike saturated fat, it also lowers one's HDL, the "good" kind of cholesterol that guards against heart disease. For that reason, leading trans-fat researcher Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, calls trans fat a "metabolic poison." Federal rules now require trans fat to be listed on food labels, a move that has spurred most large makers of packaged foods to switch oils. Rep. Koutoujian’s bill, like others pending around the country, only applies to the trans fat that comes from artificial sources and not the small amounts that occur naturally in some foods.
Among the big three national burger chains, Burger King is the only one that has not released a timeline for phasing out artificial trans fat. A King-size order of onion rings has 6 grams of trans fat, according to the company. A meal of a regular-size order of Chicken Tenders with a large order of French fries would have eight grams of trans—or more trans fat than should safely be consumed in four days. CSPI's litigation unit is suing Burger King in Washington, D.C., to seek an injunction preventing the company from using partially hydrogenated oil.
Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at]cspinet.org) or Ariana Stone (astone[at]cspinet.org).