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'Trans fat' triggers consumer group alert


August 7, 1996
Web posted at: 5:20 p.m. EDT (2120 GMT)

From Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As you might have suspected, the news from scientists about fat in foods only gets worse.

The non-governmental consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) issued a warning Wednesday for a group of fats called "trans fats" not normally counted when assessing a food's nutritional content.

CSPI wants restaurants to switch to liquid vegetable oils, which have no trans fats, and for food packagers to indicate trans fat amounts on such products a margarines and microwave popcorn.


Trans fat is the evil artery-clogging relative of saturated fat, according to CSPI. But trans fat is potentially more dangerous than saturated fat because the public is unaware of its existence.

The new enemy of your arteries lurks in the always-popular category of fried foods: things like donuts and french fries. These foods already contain saturated fat, but CSPI says trans fat can make them twice as deadly.

Dr. Walter Willett, who studies nutrition and heart disease from his post at the Harvard School of Public Health, raised the alarm about trans fat two years ago, and has recently referred to it as a secret killer.

But not all scientists agree. Several groups, including the American Dietetic Association and the American Society for Clinical Nutrition, say that years of research have been inconclusive. They claim there is no reason to be alarmed about trans fats.


Jeff Prince of the National Restaurant Association pointed to the lack of scientific consensus when confronted by CSPI's call for changes in how fried foods are prepared. He said that his group does not plan to alter how it cooks until there is scientific agreement on the effects of trans fats.

Margo Wootan of CSPI, however, says there is no time to lose.

"I don't want ten years from now to say to consumers, 'We've known for twenty years that trans fat causes heart disease in this country, but we didn't want to tell you,'" Wootan said.


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