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Frying, Lying, and Dying: Why Partially Hydrogenate a Healthy Food Into the Worst Meal in America?

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I've been studying food issues for 40 years, and for the past 20 years, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has been conducting laboratory analyses of popular restaurant meals. Over the years, we've published jaw-dropping nutrition numbers for things as diverse as movie theater popcorn, Kung Pao Chicken, and steakhouse fare.

Frankly, I thought I had seen it all.

But recently we received some truly astonishing lab results that shocked even me: Long John Silver's Big Catch meal -- "Big Catch" fried haddock, fried hushpuppies, and fried onion rings -- has 33 grams of artificial trans fat, the deadliest fat in the food supply. To put that into context, the American Heart Association recommends a daily maximum of about two grams of trans fat, or about as much as one can expect in a day from naturally occurring sources of trans fat, like milk and meat. This Big Catch meal has 16 times as much trans fat as the AHA recommends as a daily maximum. On top of that, the Big Catch has another 19 grams of artery-clogging saturated fat and 3,700 milligrams of blood-pressure-raising sodium.

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All in all, that's more than two weeks' worth of trans fat, two days' worth of sodium, and a day's worth of saturated fat -- all in one 1,320-calorie restaurant meal! Artificial trans fat should be banished from the food supply because it causes thousands of unnecessary deaths a year. It raises one's bad cholesterol, lowers one's good cholesterol, and interferes with the body in other ways. And, unlike saturated fat, companies could easily eliminate artificial trans fat by switching to canola, soybean, and other healthier oils.

Today, CSPI is officially naming the Big Catch with Onion Rings the Worst Restaurant Meal in America. You can find a restaurant meal with more calories -- but when it comes to heart health, this is clearly the worst restaurant meal I've seen in 40 years of looking. The company could make this a lot better simply by not using partially hydrogenated oil in its deep fryers. In fact, that's what Long John Silver's already does in California, where a law limits artificial trans fat in restaurant foods to half a gram per serving. It's the height of corporate irresponsibility for Long John Silver's to keep using this dangerous ingredient even when it knows that it causes heart disease.

Long John Silver's adds insult to your wallet to its injury to your heart. It advertises that the meal has "seven to eight ounces of 100-percent premium haddock." But when our researchers carefully separated the fish from breading, we found that the Big Catch had, on average, just about 4.5 ounces of haddock -- and 3 ounces of grease-laden batter. Nutrition aside, that's just plain piracy.

Today I am notifying the Food and Drug Administration of our findings. We've been trying to get the agency to ban partially hydrogenated oil since 2004. But for the past nine years, the FDA has not approved or denied our petition. And we're putting Long John Silver's on notice that it will likely face a lawsuit if it continues to use partially hydrogenated oil in its deep fryers and if it continues to misrepresent both the amount of fish in the meal.

You can send a message to Long John Silver's CEO Mike Kern by signing this petition. (Of course, you could also send a message by not eating Long John Silver's harmful fried foods.) Perhaps if the company hears from enough consumers, it will reconsider turning perfectly healthy fish into a nautical nutritional nightmare.

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