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 a critical 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."
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."
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.
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:
# 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.