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Moreover, the study also suggests that restaurants didn't just swap out one bad ingredient for another as some nutritionists had feared. It found only a small increase in saturated fat, mostly in sandwich chains. That's at least partly due to those customers buying meals with a lot more calories in 2009 than before, said study co-author Christine Curtis. That time period saw Subway's introduction of $5 foot-long subs.
Overall, Americans' trans fat consumption has dropped by more than half over the last decade, thanks to the combination of nationwide food-labeling and community restaurant restrictions, according to an update published in the Journal of the American Medical Association this month.
Still, 10 percent of children and adults consume more than 2.6 grams of industrially produced trans fats a day -- not counting the natural type, said that review by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those people tend to consume certain brands of frozen pizza, frozen desserts, microwave popcorn and chips that still pack in the trans fat.
The trans-fat evolution shows that "no one policy is going to be the cure-all" for nutrition ills, said CSPI's Wootan.
She points to the upcoming menu calorie counts. New York City already requires calories to be posted on menus, and a study found only 15 percent of diners ordered healthier foods. But those who did cut 100 calories per meal, which adds up fast, Wootan noted.
And peer pressure should make restaurants revamp recipes to cut calories, just like posting trans fat on grocery food labels pushed manufacturers to improve those offerings, she added.
Stay tuned on the calorie front: The FDA's menu-labeling rules were expected months ago. There's been a lobbying fight over whether they should include how many calories are in alcoholic drinks or in foods sold in places like movie theaters, where a tub of popcorn can total half your day's allotment.
But Wootan would like to see additional options that make the lower-calorie choice the default. Why shouldn't the fast-food meal-deal come with fruit, so you have to order the fries separately if you really want them?
"Right now the automatic choice, the easy choice, is the unhealthy option. If it were turned around, many more people would eat healthfully," she said.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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