HSPH Nutrition Expert Calls for Hospital and Government Cafeterias to Serve Healthier, Trans Fat-Free Foods

In a survey released today, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) documented the widespread sale of French fries high in trans fatty acids in the cafeterias of leading U.S. hospitals and in the cafeterias of some government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“Unfortunately, this suggests that many hospitals pay more attention to generating bills than to healthy nutrition,” said Dr. Walter Willett, M.D., Chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health. “Hospitals should provide the healthiest foods possible, both because of the direct benefits for their patients and because hospitals should set the best possible example. It is important to remember that not all fats are created equal. Replacing trans fat with natural unsaturated fats can substantially reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Trans-free fats and oils are now readily available for all applications, including deep frying, and there is no excuse for hospitals, schools, and other institutions to not use these healthier alternatives.”

The CSPI report found that the highest concentration of trans fat in French fries that were tested was served at the main cafeteria at the USDA, despite guidelines issued by the USDA stating that trans fat intake should be as low as possible. “This is further evidence that the leadership at the USDA does not take the health of Americans seriously,” asserted Dr. Willett.

Denmark has taken the lead by outlawing the sale of foods containing trans fat, and even McDonalds and Burger King there are complying; Canada is working on the implementation of similar standards. A proposal that would effectively ban trans fat in foods has been before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for several years, but no action has been taken. The French fries at the FDA’s cafeteria at its headquarters in Rockville, MD, were also surveyed by CSPI and found to have negligible amounts of trans fat, thus showing that these toxic fats can be eliminated.

For several years, the food service of Harvard School of Public Health has used a set of simple menu guidelines that include the use of trans-free ingredients. These are:

  • Fresh whole foods and whole grains
  • Unsaturated fats like vegetable oils
  • Trans fat is eliminated
  • Fruits and vegetables emphasized

The Department of Nutrition at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, working with the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, has developed examples of trans-free, healthy menus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that can be used by organizers of meetings and events.