- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 16, 2006

Taco Bell yesterday became the latest fast-food restaurant chain to switch to a healthier cooking oil that contains zero grams of trans fat.

Kentucky Fried Chicken and Wendy’s have already started eliminating trans fats from their menus, and Kraft Foods along with Walt Disney Company have set marketing and nutrition standards on the amount of trans fat the companies will allow.

In addition, Burger King, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut have all said they plan to make the switch soon.

Trans fats, artificially created through a chemical process of hydrogenation of oils, are believed to increase the level of so-called “bad” cholesterol in the blood, clogging arteries and leading to heart disease. Researchers at Harvard’s School of Public Health estimated that trans fats contribute to 30,000 U.S. deaths a year.

In Taco Bell’s case, trans fat will no longer be found in 15 menu items including nachos, taco salad or chalupa shells and the popular picks the Beef Crunchy Taco and Taco Supreme. Some menu items, like the Grilled Stuffed Burrito, will continue to contain trans fat.

Taco Bell said all 5,000 of its single-brand restaurants in the United States will change from a partially hydrogenated soybean oil to a trans-fat-free canola oil by April 2007. About 100 restaurants have already made the change.

As more restaurants decide to move away from trans fat cooking oils to soybean or canola oils that are trans fat free, a sudden demand is being placed on suppliers to increase production.

Dow AgroSciences, a maker of three types of zero-trans-fat canola and sunflower seed oils, said it has ramped up production capacity to 1.5 billion pounds a year — enough to replace about a third of the 5 billion pounds of cooking oils containing trans fat sold annually in the United States.

“There is a very positive movement toward using the healthier oils; however, it is a process that is going to take time. It is a farm-to-table issue,” said Sue Hensley, vice president of marketing at the National Restaurant Association.

An adequate supply of trans-fat-free oils is dependent on many factors including growing the seed, federal regulatory approval and advancements in food technology. The demand will increase because Burger King, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut all have said they plan to make the switch soon.

In addition, each restaurant must choose a new cooking oil that conforms to the subtleties of the taste of their food.

“We went through over a dozen different oils over two years before we found one that consumers like,” said Warren Widicus, chief food innovation officer at Taco Bell.

Replacing all the trans fat will not be an easy task. According to the Food and Drug Administration artificial trans fat is so common that the average American eats 4.7 pounds of it a year and, according to Dow AgroSciences, the food-service industry uses 5 billion pounds of trans-fat-containing oil.

Other suppliers of alternative cooking oils include Monsanto, Pioneer Hi-bred International, Cargill and Archer Daniel Midland.

A effort by the New York Department of Health is seeking to ban trans fat from all of the city’s restaurant menus by next July. The American Heart Association is now opposing the proposal out of a fear that it could force restaurants to substitute the trans-fat-containing cooking oil with oils high in saturated fat, such as coconut oil.

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