Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: Fast-food trans fats aren't good at home, abroad

Heart Beat

Fast-food trans fats aren't good at home, abroad

Now that food labels must list trans fat content, it's easier to spot these unhealthy fats, at least at the grocery store. The new labels are also spurring food companies to find healthier replacements for these mostly man-made fats. A similar push is happening much more slowly in restaurants, which aren't required to provide nutrition information.

A prime source of trans fat is partially hydrogenated oil, which many fast-food restaurants continue to use for deep frying. To see if this differed by country, three Danish doctors determined the trans fat content of French fries and chicken nuggets bought in 24 McDonald's and KFC restaurants on four continents. As shown above, a large fries-and-nuggets combination delivered 10 grams of trans fat in New York City but less than a gram in Denmark, which limits the use of trans fats. A similar serving of fries and chicken nuggets in a KFC in Hungary delivered a whopping 25 grams of trans fat.

In the summer of 2006, the American Heart Association became the first major medical organization to put specific limits on trans fat consumption. In a statement published in the July 4, 2006, Circulation, it recommends limiting trans fat intake to less than 1% of calories, or under 2 grams a day for the average person. Harvard School of Public Health researchers estimate that replacing trans fats with healthier unsaturated fats could avert somewhere between 72,000 and 228,000 heart attacks and deaths from heart disease a year.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »