CSPI named Long John Silver's Big Catch meal of onion rings, fried fish, and hush puppies the worst restaurant meal in America, noting it contains far more trans fats than previously reported.
Some other unappetizing facts about this "Big Catch" combo? CSPI says it contains:
• About 3,700 milligrams of sodium
• 19 grams of saturated fat
• 1,320 calories
• 4 ounces fish, 3 ounces trans fat–laden breading
CSPI says its testing also turned up dishonest labeling. For instance, the food-safety group says Long John Silver's advertises the hush puppies side dish as containing 3 grams of trans fats, when it in fact contained 3.7 grams in CSPI tests; onion rings are advertised as containing 7 grams, but CSPI lab tests uncovered 19.5 grams of trans fats.
With its combined ingredients, this meal contains excessive levels of ingredients shown to increase the risk of stroke, heart attack, and high blood pressure. The trans fats come from vegetables oils that are hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated to an unnatural state. This type of manmade fat is known to lower good cholesterol levels, raise good levels, and damage the endothelium, the sensitive layer of cells coating the blood vessel interior. The endothelium is responsible for keep blood vessels flexible and healthy, but trans fats damage that vascular elasticity.
"It might have been defensible to use hydrogenated oil in the 1980s, before trans fats' harmfulness was discovered, but no longer," said Walter C. Willett, chair of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health. "It is outrageous that Long John Silver's foods are still loaded with artificial trans fats and that the FDA still permits it in foods."
"It is extremely important to understand that the partially hydrogenated oil in Long John Silver's meals, other restaurant foods, and packaged foods are contributing to thousands of deaths annually," Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, wrote to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. "The FDA is failing its responsibility to the public by leaving that slow-killing ingredient in our food supply."
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Although many fast-food chains have phased out the use of trans fats for various reasons, Long John Silver's has yet to do so. "This company is taking perfectly healthy fish—and entombing it in a thick crust of batter and partially hydrogenated oil," Jacobson says. "The result? A heart attack on a hook. Instead of the Big Catch, I'd call it America's Deadliest Catch."
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CSPI says it plans to sue the restaurant chain if it continues to use trans fats and falsely advertise fish content and side order nutritional information.
It's also important to note that many packaged processed foods claim "0% trans fats" on the label but still contain the dangerous ingredient. That's because of a loophole: If a product contains less than 0.5 gram, the manufacturer doesn't have to list it on the nutrition label. So look at ingredients and avoid anything with the work "hydrogenated" in it.
Trans fats occur naturally in low levels in meat and cheeses, so it's important to avoid these fats in processed foods to avoid going over the American Heart Association limits, CSPI notes.