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Mcdonalds trans acids

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09/03/2002 - Updated 08:49 AM ET

McDonald's gambles, cuts fat in french fries

By Bruce Horovitz, USA TODAY

McDonald's, the global symbol of fast and fatty food, will announce today plans to cut the artery-clogging processed fat from its french fries by nearly half.

Reducing the trans-fatty acids in fries won't lower calorie counts. Outside experts say the move is risky because the formula could alter the taste of McDonald's famous fries. But if McDonald's succeeds, rivals Burger King and Wendy's would almost certainly be forced to try to follow. That could accelerate the development of healthier fast-food menus that consumers are clamoring for.

Trans-fatty acids unsaturated fats created in processing vegetable oil for cooking are now feared to be as much or more a risk for heart disease as saturated fats.

The move also comes three weeks after a 272-pound man sued McDonald's and three other fast-food chains alleging they caused his obesity.

But company executives, noting that the trans-fatty acid change has been in the works for years, insist the move is unrelated.

"America's favorite french fries are about to get even better," says Mike Roberts, president of McDonald's USA. "This is a major step toward the elimination of trans fat from our (domestic) cooking oil."

Bottom line: The trans fat in a small bag of McDonald's fries will shrink 47% to 1.8 grams from 3.4. Saturated fat will drop 17% to 1.9 grams from 2.3.

The change will be phased in between October and February at the estimated 13,000 domestic McDonald's restaurants and, eventually, at all its stores worldwide.

"This doesn't turn french fries into a health food," warns Margot Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a critic of fast food. "But McDonald's should be applauded for taking a step forward."

Even Robert Eckel, chairman of the American Heart Association's scientific council on nutrition, is impressed. Although he doesn't eat McDonald's french fries in part because a small bag has 210 calories he says, "I'd feel better about eating one small bag once in a while."

The risk for McDonald's is that it's recognized worldwide for the taste and texture of its fries. Many fast-food chains have tried and failed to mimic it. Messing with the formula could cause havoc among its french-fry fans. But company executives say that in a recent test, 97 out of 100 consumers noticed no taste difference.

McDonald's won't disclose the process by which it reduced levels of hydrogenation in the cooking oil, says Ann Rusniak, its chief nutritionist.

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