McDonald's says fries contain more trans fat than thought

February 09, 2006|By JOHN SCHMELTZER | JOHN SCHMELTZER,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

It was not an announcement McDonald's Corp. wanted to make or fast-food fans wanted to hear: French fries from the Golden Arches are actually less healthy than originally thought

Correcting a labeling error, the hamburger giant acknowledged yesterday that the trans fat content of its large fries is one-third higher than previously stated - containing 8 grams of the heart-dangerous fat instead of the 6 grams listed on brochures and McDonald's Web site.

In addition, the company said, the total fat content was actually 20 percent higher, 30 grams rather than 25 grams listed, while the total calories for the large fries rose to 570 calories from 520 calories.

The company said it would update its publications to reflect the new measurements.

It was a black eye for McDonald's, which in October trumpeted its initiative to print nutritional data on its packages to help consumers make informed choices about what to eat. The new packaging is being rolled out in Turin, Italy, the site of the Winter Olympics.

Trans fat is believed to be so dangerous to the heart that the government, which told packaged food companies they had to begin listing trans fat on nutritional labels this year, recommends consumers limit their consumption to less than 2 grams per day.

Trans fat is made when manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oil - a process called hydrogenation. It extends the shelf life and flavor stability of foods containing the fat. It is in vegetable shortening, crackers, cookies, snack foods and other foods fried in partially hydrogenated oils.

"This certainly raises questions about their testing or about the vaunted uniformity of their products worldwide," said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a food and nutrition lobby group.

"It is uncertain whether the testing lab goofed or they had so few samples that some guy in Peoria left the fries in the fryer too long. But 2 grams of trans fat is quite a big difference," he said.

The discrepancy was discovered when the company received results from tests it held in December that were taken to validate information the company had already collected, the Financial Times first reported yesterday.

While nutritional data for the Big Mac and double cheeseburger were accurate, the french fry data differed markedly.

"We continually enhance our testing," said Cathy Kapica, McDonald's global director of nutrition. "That's why the new tests that McDonald's implemented produced the results that we believe are the most accurate today."

John Schmeltzer writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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