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Spotting Trans Fats in Fast Food

Some fast-food chains have successfully eliminated trans from their menus. For example, in October 2008, Chick-fil-A announced they were eliminating trans fats from every menu item. Other chains, such as McDonald's and KFC, have dropped trans fats from cooking oil and in many products, but not all.

Check the nutritional information for the chains you frequent the most. As the movement against trans fats sweeps the nation, fewer and fewer foods will contain it. But be sure you're not switching to a heavy load of saturated fat, known to contribute to heart disease. Nutrition and fat facts are almost always available on a fast-food chain's web site, in pamphlets at the restaurant, or on a poster displayed at the restaurant. 

Here are specific types of fast foods to check out carefully:

  • Pastries, pie crust, and biscuits
  • Breaded or fried chicken and seafood 
  • Deep fried potatoes: Many fast-food restaurants have started using a blend of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated cooking oils in which to fry potatoes and food. But some still use trans fats for cooking oil. Ask at the counter or -- better yet -- check the restaurant's nutrition information.
  • Desserts: Even desserts that sound healthy may include trans fats.
  • Breakfasts

Don't Forget to Look for Saturated Fat

While you are looking at nutrition fact labels or fast-food nutrition information charts, you might notice that where there is trans fat, there is usually saturated fat too. Add them together and you've got the total of the "bad" fats in the meal.  

So, keep a close eye on the grams of saturated fat in the food you buy. Saturated fat, like trans fats, is linked to heart disease. You don't help your health if you avoid trans fats, but instead choose foods loaded with saturated fat. 

Dietary guidelines recommend we get no more than 7% to 10 % of our fat from saturated fat. That comes to 14-20 grams of saturated fat if you eat 1,800 calories a day, or 17-24 grams of fat if you eat 2,200 calories a day.

It's especially easy to overdo saturated fat when you eat at fast food restaurants. Consider that the sausage, egg & cheese biscuit can contain 19 grams of saturated fat and 1 gram of trans fat, giving you 20 grams of "bad" fat.

So, while progress has been made in eliminating the trans fat from food, there is still more work to be done. Read nutrition labels carefully -- especially on pot pies, microwave popcorn, frozen pizzas, pastries, cookies, and convenience foods. Avoid ordering fast food that has 1 or more grams of trans fat. The health you protect is your own.