The campaign started by health authorities in the US nearly three years ago is winning more and more adherents. The Applebees International is the latest to join the trans fat free club.
It has announced that it has stopped using oil made of the dangerous fat in its more than 1,800 domestic restaurants.
Trans fat is made when hydrogen is added to liquid cooking oils to harden them for baking or a longer shelf-life. The process turns them into "partially hydrogenated oils", which may increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other ailments.
Commercial vegetable oils used by restaurants for cooking, frying, and baking often contain trans fat, as do many margarines, shortening, and pre-fried foods, baked goods and snack foods.
Applebee's is now using a blend of two soybean oils it claims do not compromise the taste, texture or quality of its food.
"After extensive testing with our guests, we found that our foods cooked in zero trans fat oil still have the great taste out guests have come to expect from Applebee's," said Dave Goebel, the company's chief executive officer, in a statement. "In some cases, the oil even enhances the flavor of the menu item."
In the next few weeks, the company plans to replace the pan and grill oil it uses to cook fish and shrimp with a trans fat-free version and is working with suppliers to remove trans fat from processed foods, such as some desserts and appetizers, Applebee's said.
The changes are expected to be cost-neutral and don't yet affect Applebee's locations outside the U.S., said company spokeswoman Laura Tigges.
Many other restaurants, as well as coffee retailer Starbucks Corp., are ridding themselves of trans fat oils. Yum Brands' chains KFC and Taco Bell recently switched to a trans-fat free oil. Burger King Corp. is testing cooking oils without trans fat, with plans to roll out a new oil by late next year. McDonald's Corp. and Wendy's International Inc. also have been testing and developing new trans fat-free oils.
Some states have considered limiting or banning outright the use of trans fats. New York City and Philadelphia are requiring restaurants to stop using trans fat oils by next year.
In recent months, as the trans fat issue has heated up, some big names have responded. Wendy's removed trans fat from its french fries earlier this year. Two weeks ago, Walt Disney said it will eliminate trans fats from food sold at its parks. Food giants including Kraft, ConAgra and Frito-Lay also have cut way back on trans fat use.
The big question remains: When will McDonald's change its oil?
"McDonald's is committed to significantly reducing (trans fat) in our cooking oil," says Catherine Adams, vice president of nutrition. "We have been researching and testing alternatives and are encouraged."
Executive Chef Joseph Barbosa, consultant to Bronx Healthy Hearts - a community organization that works with schools and restaurants to promote heart health - said, "You don't have to cook with a lot of extra oils and fats to get flavor out of food."
Robert Eckel, MD, President of the American Heart Association, said, "Heart disease is the leading cause of death and disability in the nation. Trans fat increases the risk of heart disease risk because it raises total cholesterol and bad cholesterol (LDL), and lowers good (HDL) cholesterol. Similar to saturated fat which we get from meat and dairy fat, eating high levels of trans fats can increase the risk of developing heart disease, and this initiative, combined with efforts to reduce saturated fat, are essential ingredients for good heart health."