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Look who scores the lowest on fast food

COPENHAGEN, April 13, 2006 (AFP) - Fast food from McDonald's is healthiest in Denmark and worst in the United States, a Danish study comparing levels of the deadliest kind of fat, trans fatty acids, showed on Thursday.

india Updated: Apr 13, 2006 16:52 IST

Fast food from McDonald's is healthiest in Denmark and worst in the United States, a Danish study comparing levels of the deadliest kind of fat, trans fatty acids, showed on Thursday.

The study, conducted by researchers at Gentofte University Hospital in Denmark and published in this week's edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, compared meals bought at McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken in 20 countries around the world.

A large meal of chicken nuggets and french fries at McDonald's in the United States contained 10.1 grams of trans fatty acids, while the same meal in France contained 5.9 grams and just 0.33 grams in Denmark, Steen Stender, who headed the research project, told AFP.

"Many people think that wherever you go in the world you get the same thing at McDonald's, but in fact that is not the case," Stender told AFP.

The low Danish levels are the result of low-fat legislation introduced in 2004. Under the new law, no more than two per cent of fats in foods sold to customers can be industrially-produced transfats.

Food producers violating the law risk two years in prison.

For a meal of chicken nuggets and potato wedges at Kentucky Fried Chicken, the lowest level of trans fatty acids was registered in Germany, with 0.4 grams, compared to the highest level in Hungary, which had 24.1 grams.

Trans fatty acids clog the arteries and are linked to increased risk of heart disease.

"Studies show that five grams of transfat per day increase the risk of heart disease by 25 per cent," Stender said.

Food manufacturers add trans fatty acids to cut costs, as they prolong the shelf life of prepackaged foods. In the case of fast food restaurants, french fries can be fried in the same oil several times and the frying fat can be stored longer.

Since the new Danish law was introduced, "Danish customers have noticed no difference in foods," Stender said, noting that flavours remain unaffected by the change.

"It can be done without anyone noticing it. It's very rare that you can remove a risk factor like that," he said, citing the example of the difficulty of quitting smoking.

Fast food restaurants "can produce food without transfat. I think they are working too slowly" to remove it around the world, he said.

Ironically, despite mounting concerns over rising levels of obesity worldwide, the European Union has urged Denmark to withdraw its anti-fat legislation, arguing that it presents a trade barrier.

"It's shameful of the EU," Stender said, noting that the EU was far behind not just Denmark, but also the United States and Canada which require food producers to provide information about fat levels on packaging labels.

Danish officials have said they will fight to keep the law.