KFC will slash trans fat as NYC considers ban
There are plenty of things in Kentucky Fried Chicken that are bad for your health — cholesterol, saturated fat and salt, to name a...
NEW YORK — There are plenty of things in Kentucky Fried Chicken that are bad for your health — cholesterol, saturated fat and salt, to name a few. But only one has the potential to get the colonel's recipe banned in New York City.
That ingredient is artificial trans fatty acids, which are so common that the average American eats 4.7 pounds a year, according to the Food and Drug Administration. City health officials say these so-called trans fats are so unhealthful they belong in the same category as food spoiled by rodent droppings.
Today, the Board of Health will hold its first public hearing on a proposal to make New York the first U.S. city to ban restaurants from serving food containing artificial trans fats. Restaurants are scrambling for ways to get trans fats out of their food.
KFC Corp. today is to announce plans to stop using partially hydrogenated vegetable oil — the primary source of artificial trans fats — at all of its 5,500 restaurants in the U.S. by April 2007.
"This is an important milestone," said Gregg Dedrick, KFC's president. "It has been a major focus for us."
Mike Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest — which sued KFC in June over the trans-fat content of its chicken — called KFC's move "an important step in the right direction."
"Assuming KFC goes through with it, it would be a tremendous improvement for the nutritional quality of their foods," he said.
Trans fat content
The trans fat content (in grams per serving) of some KFC menu items, which will change to zero in April 2007:
• Extra-crispy chicken breast: 4.5
• Crispy chicken strips: 4.5
• Honey BBQ wings: 4.5
• Potato wedges: 4.0
• Crispy Caesar salad: 3.5 w/o dressing, croutons
U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona said in a statement: "KFC is making significant changes to help Americans make healthier choices. I encourage other companies to follow their lead."
Trans fats significantly raise the level of so-called "bad" cholesterol in the blood, clogging arteries and causing heart disease. Researchers at Harvard's School of Public Health estimated that trans fats contribute to 30,000 U.S. deaths a year.
"This is something we'd like to dismiss from our food supply," said Dr. Robert Eckel, immediate past president of the American Heart Association.
Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, which was invented in the early 1900s, was initially believed to be a more healthful substitute for natural fats such as butter and lard. It was also cheaper, performed better under high heat and had a longer shelf life. Today, it is used for deep frying and as a shortening in baked goods such as cookies and crackers.
Ironically, many fast-food companies became dependent on hydrogenated oil about 15 years ago when they were pressured by health groups to do something about saturated fat. McDonald's emptied its fryers of beef tallow in 1990 and filled them with what was then thought to be "heart healthy" partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.
Wendy's, the national burger chain, has already switched to a zero-trans fat oil. McDonald's announced in 2003 that it intended to do so but has yet to follow through.
"We have been researching and testing alternatives," said Catherine Adams, McDonald's vice president of nutrition. "McDonald's is committed to significantly reducing [trans fat] in our cooking oil."
Two weeks ago Walt Disney said it will eliminate trans fats from food sold at its parks, and food giants including Kraft, ConAgra and Frito-Lay also have cut way back on trans-fat use.
KFC's move won't rid all of its food of trans fats, which will still be contained in the biscuits, pot pie and desserts. But Dedrick says the company is working on ways to rid those foods of trans fats, too.
New York's ban on trans fats, if approved, would affect only restaurants, not groceries, and wouldn't extend beyond the city limits. But experts said the city's food-service industry, with 24,600 establishments, is so large that any rule change is likely to ripple nationwide.
"It's going to be the trendsetter for the entire country," said Suzanne Vieira, director of the culinary-nutrition program at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I.
Richard Lipsky, a spokesman for the Neighborhood Retail Alliance, said many New York restaurant owners rely on ingredients prepared elsewhere and aren't always aware whether the foods they sell contain trans fats.
Consumer reaction remains to be seen.
New Jersey state Sen. Ellen Karcher said her office was flooded with threatening phone calls after she proposed a similar trans-fat ban in early October. A proposed ban in Chicago was ridiculed by some as government paternalism run amok.
Dr. Leslie Cho, medical director for preventive cardiology and rehabilitation at the Cleveland Clinic, said people might be less upset if they knew how bad trans fats are for the body.
"I don't know anything about politics, but what I tell my patients is that they should not eat any type of artificial trans fat," she said.
Do they listen?
"The majority of the people I deal with have had stents or bypass surgery," she said. "They are kind of motivated to change their lives."
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.
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