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Study Accuses Fast-Food Chains of Making False Claims on Oil Content

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From Reuters

A study released Wednesday found that several fast-food companies that said they switched three years ago to cooking with vegetable oil have not done so and their products are still loaded with cholesterol.

The study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest found fast-food giants such as McDonald’s and Burger King are not living up to advertisements that claim they are cooking with vegetable oil that does not raise cholesterol or promote heart disease.

In fact, the study said, the restaurants are using hydrogenated shortenings that contain as much as four times as much cholesterol-raising fat than real vegetable oil.

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“French fries will never be a health food,” said Margo Wootan, a biochemist who conducted the study. “But they don’t have to raise your cholesterol. What fast-food restaurants need is a simple oil change.”

A spokeswoman for McDonald’s, Ann Connolly, rejected the findings.

“They have absolutely the wrong information regarding McDonald’s,” she said. “McDonald’s uses 100% vegetable oil which is a a blend of corn and soy oils.

“It’s a liquid oil that is minimally hydrogenated” to keep it from spoiling, she said. “It’s absolutely 100% vegetable oil.”

Cori Zywotow, Burger King vice president of communications, said the company does not hide the fact that it uses partially hydrogenated shortening in its cooking.

“We’ll certainly take a look at any new evidence regarding the nutritional composition of our products,” she said.

The report said the advantages for the restaurants of using hydrogenated shortenings is that they have a longer shelf life.

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But the process of turning the oil into shortening increases its saturated fat content and creates “trans fat,” which acts the same way as saturated fat in raising cholesterol levels in the blood, the study said.

In the report, published in the November issue of the center’s nutrition newsletter, the organization analyzed 33 foods made with vegetable fats, including fast-food french fries, fried chicken, doughnuts and several margarine brands.

It said Burger King’s french fries have a higher level of unhealthy fat now than when they were fried in beef fat--58% compared to 52%.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest called on the chains to switch to true vegetable oil and said the Food and Drug Administration ought to ban the labeling of shortening as oil.

A recent CSPI study on the nutritional value of food cooked in Chinese restaurants won wide publicity and resulted in an immediate plunge in sales of such meals.

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