A Healthier Junk Food?

News Note

By Lara Evans Bracciante

Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, October/November 2003.

McDonald’s announced in June that by the end of 2004 the fast-food chain will be serving antibiotic-free beef and chicken, calling on its suppliers to change their agricultural protocol to a more natural process. The declaration comes in response to the growing alarm over the effect of routine antibiotic use in animal production, a practice that undermines the effectiveness of antibiotics in people and has been banned in Europe. While McDonald’s is still far from what many nutritionists would consider healthy (a few locations offer a McVeggie Patty, albeit made with hydrogenated oil), the policy change may signal a shift in pop culture food awareness.

Frito-Lay, for example, is completely eliminating trans fats — also known as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats — from Doritos, Tostitos and Cheetos and converting to corn oil. The hydrogenating process chemically alters oil and fat to give the product a longer shelf life. But according to the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine, which advises the government on health policy, trans fats should not be consumed at all, as they play a significant role in heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Furthermore, trans fat content is not required on food labels, a fact with which the nonprofit BanTransFats.com is taking issue. To bring attention to the cause, the organization sued Kraft/Nabisco for marketing trans fat-filled Oreo cookies to children. The group voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit but filed a petition with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in response to its proposal to delay trans fat information on nutrition labels.

The issue remains hotly debated between food manufacturers, the FDA and consumer advocates — some of whom believe the U.S. government should follow in the footsteps of Britain and impose a “fat tax” on high fatty foods to raise awareness of nutritional content (or lack thereof).