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The Top 10 Health Stories of 2006

Vaccines, Unsafe Food, Inhaled Insulin: WebMD Picks the Most Important Medical News of the Year

2. War on Trans FatsTrans Fats

Perhaps the biggest health announcement of 2006 was New York's ban on trans fats.

Described by some nutritionists as a man-made toxin, the fats must be gone from New York City restaurant fryers by July 2007 and from all restaurant food by July 2008. At that time, New York will join Tiburon, Calif., as the second trans-fat-free city in the U.S.

The New York announcement marked the end of a bad year for trans fats. On Jan. 1, the FDA required all foods to list their trans fat content on labels.

Paradoxically, trans fats -- also known as partially hydrogenated vegetable oils -- were invented as a healthier alternative to animal fats. Food makers quickly found that trans fats give fried food a tasty crunch and baked goods a longer shelf life.

It wasn't long before doctors realized that trans fats might be the unhealthiest fats of all. Just 2.6 grams a day oftrans fat raises your risk of heart disease. That's about half as much as you get in a typical serving of french fries.

Trans fats are particularly fattening. There's also a trans-fat/belly-fattrans-fat/belly-fat link. Trans fats not only build up belly fat themselves, but also appear to cause fat from other parts of your body to move to the belly. Abdominal fat is particularly dangerous and contributes to heart disease and diabetes.

Many foods contain trans fats. Some former culprits -- such as Oreo cookies -- are now trans-fat free.

Fast-food restaurants have been particularly quick to adopt trans fats. But many major fast-food chains are removing trans fats from their recipes. Prominent examples:

  • Longhorn Steakhouses uses trans-fat-free frying oil.
  • Souper Salad is now trans-fat free.
  • Arby's Restaurant Group says it has stopped serving french fries with trans fat. By May 2007, the restaurant says that three-fourths of its menu will be trans-fat free.
  • Taco Bell is switching to trans-fat-free frying oil Taco Bell is switching to trans-fat-free frying oil, the company announced in November. It expects to complete the change by April 2007.
  • KFC will use trans-fat-free cooking KFC will use trans-fat-free cooking, the company announced in October. It expects to complete the change by the end of April 2007. Biscuits will be the only KFC menu item that will continue to contain trans fats. Yum! Foods owns both KFC and Taco Bell.
  • Chili's says it's now using trans-fat-free frying oil.
  • Uno's says it has only two dishes that still contain trans fats -- scampi and a peanut-butter-cup dessert.
  • McDonald's said in 2002 it would change to a low-trans-fat cooking oil. That didn't happen, so a group called BanTransFats.com sued them. In settling the suit, McDonalds agreed to pay $7 million to the American Heart Association for trans-fat-reduction programs. Meanwhile, McDonald's has cut trans fats from its chicken items, lists the trans-fat content of all menu items both on its web site and in its stores, and says it's still working on a way to reduce trans fats in other menu items.
  • Jason's Deli became trans-fat-free in April 2005.
  • Wendy's restaurants have switched to trans-fat-free cooking oil for their french fries and breaded chicken items. Some of these food items sent to the chain's restaurants are prefried in oil containing trans fats. Wendy's says it's working to eliminate trans fat from all its menu items.

Eliminating trans fats will not make fatty foods good for you. Many food items -- particularly fried foods -- contain unhealthy levels of saturated fats.

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