Trans Fats Still Flowing at Burger King

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Last year, Wendy’s took the first step in fast food history in stopping the use of trans fats. Earlier this year, KFC successfully converted its deep-frying methods so that they no longer used trans fats. McDonald’s has begun its slow transformation, and restaurants in some U.S. cities use trans fat-free cooking oil. McDonald’s said that by the end of 2008, every restaurant will be this way. And in the coffee world, Starbucks now makes pastries without trans fats.

Amid this activity aimed at improving public health (and avoiding lawsuits), Burger King is nowhere to be found. That fact has been recently publicized by the “Center for Science in the Public Interest” (CSPI). The CSPI is a non- profit organization that advocates health, nutrition, food safety, and alcohol policy.

And it has just launched a lawsuit against Burger King. The CSPI claims that by using trans fats — also known as partially hydrogenated oil — Burger King is “knowingly increasing its customers’ risk of heart disease and early death.” They are asking for the fast food chain to stop using the unhealthy fats, or at least post warning signs on menus at its restaurants.

The CSPI says that Burger King is the largest chain not committed to stop the use of cooking oil that contains trans fats. It is forced to in New York City and Philadelphia, which passed laws against using trans fats, but elsewhere in the country they aren’t changing anything.

So what’s the uproar all about? Trans fats are not natural; they are made when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil. The goal is to make food have a longer shelf life in supermarkets and stabilize the flavor of the food. But that comes at a price to your body. The fats raise LDL (bad cholesterol) while lowering (good cholesterol). These effects put you at a greater risk of heart disease. In fact, increasing your intake of trans fats by only two percent of your calories equals a 23% increased risk of heart disease.

Thankfully, many food makers are phasing out the use of trans fats. That’s because consumers are aware of that danger. The CSPI says that some Burger King meals have up to five times as much trans fats as you should get in one day. Some quick numbers:

— Onion rings: 6 g trans fat — Chicken tenders with large fries: 8 g — Sausage biscuit with large hash browns: 18 g

The lawsuit is meant to spur Burger King into action so its 7,300+ restaurants in the U.S. become safer places to get a bite to eat.