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TFAs, the Food Industry's Trojan Horse on Your Table

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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 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."

"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 heart disease increasingly is 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.

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.

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Sherwood Ross worked as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and contributed a regular "Workplace" column for Reuters. He has contributed to national magazines and hosted a talk show on WOL, Washington, D.C. In the Sixties he was active as public (more...)
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