“Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in the hospital and dying of nothing,” joked the comedian Red Foxx.

I’m no health nut, but I do try to watch what I eat. After going through heart-bypass surgery a few years ago, I’d definitely rather die of nothing in particular later on than of something like a lousy diet right now.

It’s good to get a little extra nutritional help. That’s why I’m so heartened by the news that KFC plans to start deep frying most of the food on its menu without trans fat. (Then maybe I won’t feel quite so guilty about eating one of my favorite fast foods.) I’m also hopeful that biotechnology will lead us to even better solutions in the future.

You’ve probably heard about trans fat–it’s been getting a lot of bad press lately as a dietary bogeyman. But, KFC has just won a ton of good press for its decision to do away with it. “Colonel Sanders deserves a bucket of praise,” said the director of one health-advocacy group.

Trans fat is a component of partially hydrogenated oils that contributes to high cholesterol, heart disease, and diabetes. Unfortunately, it tastes yummy–that’s why restaurants have been reluctant to part ways with it. KFC, however, now claims that it has figured out how to prepare its chicken without relying on trans fat and without sabotaging taste.

“We’ve tested a wide variety of oils available and we’re pleased we have found a way to keep our chicken finger lickin’ good–but with zero grams of trans fat,” said KFC president Gregg Dedrick.

KFC’s announcement came just as a health board in New York City began to discuss a proposal to ban trans fat in restaurants. There’s no telling where that debate will go, though it’s possible to think that a city that has used health concerns to outlaw smoking in restaurants might also take a look at what’s on the menu.

A decision in New York about trans fat could have repercussions around the country, not only because other cities might follow suit but because food companies may not want to develop a special line of products for a single area–they could change their basic recipes to comply with New York, essentially letting a city panel set standards for the whole country.

I’m not a big fan of this top-down approach to nutrition. I prefer to let consumers make choices about what they eat, rather than watch governments restrict their options.

We may not even need these bureaucratic diktats, considering the positive buzz KFC is now getting. It turns out that eliminating trans fat may provide a competitive advantage, and that regulators at all levels of government can allow the free market to provide consumers with the healthy foods they want.

KFC is by no means alone. Wendy’s already has started to transition away from trans fat, McDonald’s says it wants to, and Burger King is currently studying the situation.

It will take a little time before restaurants everywhere can make the switch: There simply isn’t enough ‘first-generation’ low-linolenic soybean oil available right now to supply the growing demand. But that is changing rapidly. Soon biotechnology will have a role to play here; development of the next generation of heart-healthy soybeans is well on its way.

Up to now, biotech soybeans have flourished because they make economic sense for cost and environmentally conscious farmers—now they will have an additional key role to play in the healthy food market as well.

Some self-labeled consumer groups, along with a few environmental groups, have been ruthlessly hostile to GM crops. They seem to have taken the ‘anti’ European view rather than one based on science. They will need to reassess their resistance, especially as biotech foods help people to eat better.

Some time in the not too distant future, the health nuts will all be fans of biotechnology.

Dean Kleckner, an Iowa farmer, chairs Truth About Trade and Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org)