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TFAs, The Food Industry’s “Trojan Horse”

TFAs, The Food Industry’s “Trojan Horse” On Your Table

By Sherwood Ross

If you’re thinking about a useful holiday gift for a teenager, for $6.99 you can give the invaluable “Trans Fats: the Hidden Killer in Our Food,”(Pocket Books) by Judith Shaw, whose no-holds-barred introduction begins, “This is the story of a killer ingredient tucked into most of the food that you, your family, and most other Americans eat...”

This 175-page paperback is an urgent read for teens because, Shaw writes, “Moving into adolescence with their own disposable dollars, children become the principal consumers of foods with hydrogenated vegetable oils, snacking away at the cellophane packages and fast foods that have become a thirty billion dollar American habit.”

“Consuming foods with hydrogenated oils (chips, cookies, crackers, muffins, donuts, candy, fast food)...has become a national pastime, a cultural institution,” Shaw argues, noting the Food and Drug Administration(FDA) reports “fully half of packaged cereals, cold or hot, contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.”

Indeed, USDA says TFA’s are found in 40 percent of the food on grocery store shelves today! The good news, though, is that since last January 1st, the FDA ordered TFAs to be listed on food package labels, so at least you’ve got a sporting chance to avoid them.

What do TFA’s do to you? As Jeffrey Aron, M.D., of the University of California, San Francisco, puts it in his foreward to Shaw’s book, they cause people to “develop a state of inflammation that creates a cascade of metabolic horrors with results that can include insulin resistance, obesity, heart disease, autoimmune disease, and depression.” Indeed, 60,800,000 Americans didn’t just develop some form of cardiovascular disease without a little help from the processed food industry --- and it’s increasingly seen among children.

If those figures don’t unsettle you, Shaw points to long-term Harvard medical studies asserting “the risk of cardiovascular disease correlates to the consumption of TFAs: that the people who eat food with the most partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are those most likely to develop heart disease.”

By eliminating partially hydrogenated vegetable oils from the American diet, at least 30,000 deaths from heart disease and an additional 100,000 deaths per year from related vascular disease might be prevented annually, writes Shaw, former long-time educational director of The Family Institute of Berkeley, in California.

That's catching up to deaths from cigarette smoking, which wipes out 440,000 Americans annually. (If Osama Bin Laden wanted to do a real number on us, he'd get himself a consulting gig with the cigarette lobby in Washington.)

What foods contain TFAs? They are ubiquitous as manufacturers stuff them into products to extend shelf life. Shaw warns: “Any package that lists partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (or soybean, canola, coconut, palm or safflower oil) in its ingredients contains TFAs.”

TFAs may be doubly camouflaged on some packages as “shortening,” “vegetable shortening,” or “hardened vegetable oil.” Any baked good of packaged food with margarine in it or one that suggests the use of stick margarine to prepare it is, or becomes, full of TFAs, the author writes.

Among the “Worst Offender Foods” Shaw finds are:

# Baked goods such as cakes, cookies, breads, donuts, frosting mixes, muffins, pastries, pies and ready-to-bake pizza crusts. If you’re thinking of snacking on fast foods, watch out for flour and fried tortillas, French fries, donuts, brownies, and chicken nuggets, as well as breakfast cakes such as cinnamon buns and Danish.

# Even “the baby and toddler food sold in boxes and jars may have them,” Shaw writes. “Arrowroot Cookies from Gerber and Nabisco’s Zwieback Toast and Animal Crackers have them… They’re in a substantial number of the pastries at all 4,126 Starbucks across the nation.”

# If you want to avoid TFAs, it’s a good idea to pass up the frozen food supermarket display with its breaded foods like potato nuggets and fish sticks, burritos, frozen dinners, pizza, pot pies, pot stickers, and quiches.

# TFAs are also commonly found in margarine, nondairy creamers, peanut butter, vegetable oil shortenings, frosting mixes, butter-like spreads, dessert toppings, gravy mixes, instant soups, dips for chips, roasted or fried nuts, pretzels, peanut butter crackers and like snacks, and those egg substitutes whose consumption you thought might be healthy for your heart.

“Most stick margarines are full of TFAs, and some of the tubs have them as well. Snacks like Quaker Cereal Bars…Lunchables, and Oreos have them. Granola bars….take-out salads, apple pies, and stir-fries” have them. And, get this, “They are in the sugar-free candy made expressly for diabetics,” as well as nondairy coffee creamer and Halloween treats! Shaw goes on to write, “Even some name brand ice creams, like Ben & Jerry’s, have them.” “Orville Redenbacher ‘quality’ popcorn uses them” as do most other microwave brands.

If you can think of a reason why TFAs should not be banned altogether from the grocery shelves, let me know. For as Dr. Oscar London, author of “Kill as Few Patients as Possible,”warns on Shaw’s cover blurb: “Trans fats are a time bomb ticking in every one of us. For your sake, and that of your children, you must read this book.”


(Sherwood Ross is an American who writes for newspapers and magazines. Reach him at sherwoodr1 @

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