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Cutting trans fat won't make fast food healthy


There's been a lot of talk lately about trans fat, the chemically altered oil that makes such tempting treats as cookies, crackers, doughnuts and deep-fried foods like french fries taste so good.

Trans fatty acids have been shown to raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol and therefore increase the risk of coronary heart disease, even more so than artery-clogging saturated fat, some say.

Trans fat is so bad for you that New York City is considering requiring its restaurants to stop using cooking oils, shortening and margarine that result in anything greater than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving.

While I absolutely agree that trans fat should be avoided for health's sake and that everyone can play a part, Louisville, Ky.-based KFC Corp.'s recent decision to convert its partially hydrogenated soybean oil in all of its 5,500 restaurants in the United States to trans fat-free soybean oil worries me some.

It worries me not because Colonel Sanders' original recipe of 11 herbs and spices might taste different fried in a new oil, but because people might actually believe KFC is now a healthy food option.

KFC said that when health authorities identified trans fat as being of particular concern, customers told the company they wished there was a way to take the trans fat out of the fried chicken they loved so much.

"Today's announcement is a breakthrough because consumers are oftentimes asked to compromise by choosing between eliminating trans fat, and better taste," Gregg Dedrick, KFC's president, said in its announcement. "We think Colonel Sanders would be proud that we found a solution that keeps all the delicious taste of KFC's Original Recipe chicken, while making the majority of our menu zero trans fat."

At the same time, leading health officials were quick to praise KFC for its switch, saying the move "is an important step toward improving the health of consumers." By eliminating trans fat from its food, "KFC is making significant changes to help Americans make healthier choices."

Referring to KFC in the same sentence as "healthy" seems to me to be the ultimate oxymoron.

While KFC's fried chicken indeed may technically be "healthier" in that it will now contain no trans fat, that in no way should be interpreted to mean that its fried chicken is now healthy. The last I heard, KFC was not removing the skin from its chicken and baking it in an oven. Trans fat or not, it's still being fried in a deep fat fryer.

No more than 30% of our total caloric intake should come from fat, and most of that allotment should be unsaturated fats and fish oils, health officials recommend. This means that for a 2,000 calorie diet, the upper limit of fat consumption is 600 calories or about 65 grams per day. For those looking to lose weight, it's recommended limiting your dietary fat intake to 30 to 35 grams per day.

Currently, one extra crispy chicken breast from KFC has 460 calories, 28 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 4.5 grams of trans fat, 135 milligrams of cholesterol and 1,230 milligrams of sodium, according to KFC's Web site.

And that's just one piece of chicken, no sides.

We have a serious weight problem in the United States, with about two-thirds of our adult population either overweight or obese.

There is little doubt that fast food plays a role in this phenomenon and, yes, everyone can play a part, but I don't know if frying fast food in healthier oil is going to make a difference. I seriously doubt that those consumers who frequent KFC for lunch and dinner are so health conscious that they care what type of oil their chicken is fried in. They just want it to taste good.

The only way individuals are going to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle is when they become better educated about their food choices and they decide they want to eat better. And when that happens, they most likely will avoid KFC altogether.