- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 4, 2002

The second half of America's meat and potatoes is slimming down.
McDonald's said yesterday that it will begin cooking its french fries and other fried foods in a new oil designed to reduce unhealthy fat.
The oil, to be introduced next month and phased into all 13,000 McDonald's restaurants in the country by February, will cut saturated fat in french fries by 16 percent. The number of calories in McDonald's food will not change.
McDonald's USA President Mike Roberts called the move a "win-win" for customers because they will get healthier fries that still taste good.
Food scientists were divided on whether customers would notice a change in the taste of McDonald's signature products, such as french fries, Chicken McNuggets and Filet-o-Fish sandwiches.
Shares of Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald's fell yesterday 73 cents, or 3.1 percent, to $23.03 on the New York Stock Exchange.
Reduced saturated fat could produce a lighter, less homemade taste, some scientists said. Others said any change would be virtually undetectable because the distinct flavor of McDonald's food stems mostly from additives, not oil.
"I honestly doubt the average consumer will notice a difference unless they are a french fry connoisseur," said Ingolf Gruen, an assistant professor of food science at the University of Missouri, who specializes in flavor chemistry. "I would say 90 percent of people won't be able to tell the difference."
McDonalds said the amount of trans fatty acids in its fried foods will decrease 48 percent because of the new oil. These acids are unsaturated fats, but have been known to increase cholesterol levels. Nutritionists have long argued for eliminating trans fatty acids in diets.
"From a nutrition standpoint, this is going to have a major impact," said Dean Ornish, founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute and clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. "McDonald's will be positively impacting the nutritional value of meals eaten by millions of consumers every day."
The switch to the new oil comes about a month after an obese man sued the fast-food chain and several other such restaurants, saying the food triggered weight and heart problems. The 52-year-old, 272-pound man said he ate fast food for much of his life, believing it was healthy. He suffered heart attacks in 1996 and 1999.
In May, McDonald's agreed to pay $10 million to vegetarian groups, and $2.4 million in legal fees, after they sued the chain for secretly using beef flavoring in its fries.
McDonalds said yesterday that the move to the new oil was unrelated to either legal case, and said it had been talking with Cargill Inc., the maker of the new oil, for several years.


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