In the latest salvo against fast-food chains, KFC is being sued for frying its chicken in cooking oils that contain trans fats, which can contribute to heart disease and diabetes. Here's the skinny on the fat fight:
Why doesn't KFC use a healthier oil? Like most fast-food chains, KFC cooks with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, which doesn't turn rancid as quickly as healthier, nonhydrogenated oils. "Extra crispy" chicken may also taste better when fried in this oil. "The flavor is crunchier, and you don't get that feeling of fat coating your mouth," says Ted Labuza, a food scientist at the University of Minnesota. But the oil does have dangerous trans-fatty acids.
What's so bad about trans fat? It raises one's bad cholesterol, which boosts the risk of coronary disease. A federal dietary panel has recommended that people consume no more than 2 g per day.
Is KFC's food really that unhealthy? The company says its products "meet or exceed all government regulations." But as the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the activist group behind the lawsuit, points out, a three-piece extra-crispy combo meal contains as much as 15 g of trans fat--more than a person should ingest in a week.
What are other chains doing? Wendy's plans to eliminate trans fats from its food; the Cheesecake Factory is doing so already. McDonald's backpedaled on a promise to cut trans fats and says it's studying alternative oils, as is Burger King.