Monday, February 06, 2006

Killer trans-fats ... in hospital food?

OK, I kind of expected junk-food manufacturers to be slow to adjust to the damning evidence against trans fats - the partially hydrogenated vegetable oils that make foods taste better and last longer, but are worse for you even that saturated fats.

But hospitals?

The Center for Science in the Public Interest had its suspicions, so it had an independent lab analyze French fries sold in cafeterias at 18 of the nation's top hospitals.

Bad news, Philadelphians: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania was the worst offender, according to the study's findings. A six-ounce serving contained 5.3 grams of trans fat - enough to infer that HUP still uses partially hydrogenated oil in its deep-fryers, CSPI said.

(Amounts under 2 grams - such as the 1.2 grams in fries sold at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia - suggest that the institution is using a non-hydrogenated vegetable oil, but buying frozen French fries that had been par-fried in partially hydrogenated oil. )

CSPI is trying to draw more attention to the trans fats that people are unaware of in their diets. New labeling requirements have made their presence more obvious in packaged foods, but restaurants and food-service companies aren't affected by those rules. So consumers suffer - as do doctors, other hospital employees, and perhaps even some patients at these hospitals, apparently.

Trans fats not only raise blood levels of LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol), as saturated fats do; they also lower levels of HDL, the so-called "good" cholesterol that helps guard against heart disease. It's a double-whammy that leads many scientists and nutritionists to the conclusion that no level is acceptable in a healthy diet.

The National Academies' Institute of Medicine concluded in 2003 that Americans should eat as little trans fat as possible, CSPI says. In 2004, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended that Americans consume less than 1 percent of their calories from trans fat - about 2 grams per day.

I have to second CSPI's conclusion: Hospitals should know better.


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