Copenhagen: Some convenience foods in the UK contain more unhealthy fats than the same foods bought in other parts of Europe, a study by Danish scientists has found.
An international survey of McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) outlets, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, shows how customers are being unwittingly exposed to potentially harmful levels of the processed fats – trans fats. Two tip supermarkets Sainsbury’s and Tesco have already announced they are removing trans fats from own-brand products.
Trans fats are produced by heating vegetable oils to very high temperatures or by bubbling hydrogen into them. They are used for frying in fast-food outlets and to help prolong the shelf life of cakes and biscuits.
Eating 5 grams of trans fats daily can increase the risk of heart disease by 25%, according to research. Most consumers are unaware of the amount of trans fats they are eating because manufacturers and fast-food outlets are not legally obliged to declare the volumes.
The survey has shown the level of trans fats can vary widely between apparently identical products. Researchers bought a large serving of chicken nuggets and french fries from outlets of McDonald’s in America and Europe.
Sixteen per cent of the cooking oil used for the french fries was comprised of trans fats in the UK, compared with 10% in Germany, 5% in Spain and 1% in Denmark.
An outlet in New York had the highest levels of trans fats, with each meal containing more than 10 grams, compared with more than 6 grams in the UK, over 5 grams in France and less than 1 gram in Denmark.
The researchers also bought chicken nuggets with fries from KFC outlets. Hungary had the most trans fats, with 25 grams in one serving. The UK serving had about 3 grams of trans fats.
McDonald’s said trans fats levels varied between countries because of the use of different oils: British outlets use rapeseed oil, while palm oil is used in Denmark. The company is aiming to cut trans fats in British outlets to the levels in Denmark by 2008.
KFC said is striving to find alternative oils to cut trans fats. :