How Much Trans Fat in Those Fries?
It Depends Where in the World You Buy Them, Study Shows
April 12, 2006 -- You may get more trans fat in chicken nuggets and french
fries bought at McDonald's and KFC restaurants in New York City than in France,
London, or Russia, doctors report in The New England Journal of
In a letter to the journal, Steen Stender, MD, and colleagues show that
trans fat levels vary worldwide -- and sometimes within the same country -- for
McDonald's and KFC chicken nuggets and french fries.
Stender works at Gentofte University Hospital in Hellerup, Denmark. While
traveling for other reasons between November 2004 and September 2005, Stender
and colleagues ordered a large serving of french fries (171 grams) and chicken
nuggets (160 grams) at McDonald's or KFC restaurants in 43 U.S. and
The researchers analyzed the foods' total fat and trans fat content.
Tracking Trans Fat
Trans fat, or trans fatty acids (TFA), are fats found in foods such as
vegetable shortening, some margarines, and many processed foods made with or
fried in partially hydrogenated oils.
Trans fat, like saturated fat and dietary cholesterol, raises the LDL (or
"bad") cholesterol that increases your risk for heart disease,
according to the FDA.
"It is recommended that the consumption of trans fat be as low as
possible," write Stender and colleagues.
Stender's team writes that "the content of trans fatty acids varied from
less than 1 gram in Denmark and Germany, to 10 grams in New York (McDonald's)
and 24 grams in Hungary (KFC)."
Those numbers combine trans fat content for the chicken nuggets and french
Trans Fat Levels Varied
For the McDonald's items, the top three locations for trans fat content were
New York, Peru, and Atlanta. The results for McDonald's restaurants didn't
include other U.S. cities.
For the KFC foods, the top three locations for trans fat content were
Hungary, Poland, and Peru, the study shows. The only U.S. location on the list
-- New York -- ranked eighth.
"The cooking oil used for French fries in McDonald's outlets in the
United States and Peru contained 23% and 24% trans fatty acids, respectively,
whereas the oils used for French fries in many European countries contained
only about 10% trans fatty acids, with some countries as low as 5% (Spain) and
1% (Denmark)," the researchers write.
What about french fries in France? Trans fat content was in the middle of
the range (15% for McDonald's fries and 8% for KFC fries).
The study doesn't cover every restaurant in every location. The findings may
not apply in other cities or restaurants. The study didn't do a head-to-head
comparison of McDonald's and KFC foods.
WebMD called the media relations offices of McDonald's Corporation and KFC
for their comments.
McDonald's replied by emailing a statement the company attributed to
Catherine Adams, PhD, RD, McDonald's vice president of Worldwide Quality
Systems, Food Safety & Nutrition.
"McDonald's takes the matter of trans fatty acids seriously," the
statement reads. "In fact, it is important to note that this Letter to the
Editor itself draws heavily from information provided by McDonald's web site --
a clear example of our commitment to transparency on this issue."
One of the five footnotes in the researchers' letter to the journal cites
McDonald's nutritional information.
"McDonald's continues to work diligently on ways to reduce TFA levels in
our fries," McDonald's statement continues. "Our reduction in the U.S.
is taking longer than anticipated, as we have previously announced. However, we
continue to progress in our testing and we are determined to get it right for
KFC sent an email to WebMD stating that "our product offerings vary from
country to country to reflect local taste preferences, and we do make
nutritional information available to our customers."