A U.S. consumer group asked the American government this week to bar restaurants and food manufacturers from using a type of artery-clogging fat found in pastries, cookies, crackers and deep-fried foods.
The ingredient - partially hydrogenated vegetable oil - is formed when food makers harden liquid oil to make it solid. Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil is the main source in Americans' diets of trans fat, which raises LDL ("bad") cholesterol, and increases the risk of heart disease.
Removing partially hydrogenated vegetable oil from the food supply could save between 11,000 and 30,000 lives each year, the consumer group Centre for Science in the Public Interest said in a petition to the Food and Drug Administration.
Partially hydrogenated oil is used to make shortening and some types of margarine, and is found in thousands of processed foods. Other trans fats occur naturally in beef and dairy products.
Health officials advise North Americans to consume as little trans fat as possible. Some companies already have reduced or replaced trans fats in their products, and others are looking for alternatives. The challenge is to find a substitute that does not raise the level of saturated fat, another major contributor to high cholesterol.
Starting in 2006, Canada and the United States will require packaged foods to carry labels telling people how much trans fat products contain.
CSPI said it was starting a campaign to encourage more companies to replace trans fat in their products.
A CSPI Web site lists information about which foods contain trans fat and urges consumers to lobby McDonald's Corp. to use healthier oil for deep-frying. McDonald's said in 2002 it would switch to a healthier cooking oil but has not yet done so.
CSPI said people do not need to avoid fully hydrogenated oils, which contain little or no trans fat.
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