Erin Judge is on a crusade to educate people about the dangers of trans fats, and she’s taking her campaign to the supermarket.

The Kennebunk resident, who works at a medical office in Portland, doesn’t just put food products back on the shelf when she reads the ingredients and finds partially hydrogenated oil, shortening or margarine (the common names for artificially produced trans fats) on the label. Instead, she turns all the offending products around so their nutrition labels face forward.

Starting Feb. 1, she’s asking other health-conscious shoppers to join her in this supermarket protest action she calls Operation Rev”oil”ution.

“When my husband and I started our mission to not eat anything with hydrogenated oil, I thought, ‘How can we make this public and get other people on board?’” Judge said. “Then I read an article in Reader’s Digest.”

The story told how a woman was going to her local grocery store and turning around products that contained trans fat so the nutrition label, rather than the product logo, was showing. Judge was struck by the simplicity of the action, and began doing it in Maine.

At the Jacobs Chiropractic office in Portland where she works and leads a weight-loss class, she began sharing the idea with patients and class participants and encouraging them to do the same.

Her hope is that the campaign will not only help educate people about what they’re eating, but also prod grocery stores to be more mindful of what they’re stocking.

“The more people who do it, the harder it’s going to be for (the supermarkets) to keep up with it,” Judge said. “I’m really hoping it heightens the grocery stores’ awareness of what they’re purchasing. Maybe they can make better choices for what they purchase and sell in their stores.”

For Judge, her quest to kick the trans fat habit began as a way to lose weight. At first, she cut products containing partially hydrogenated oils out of her diet.

Judge said she was most surprised to find partially hydrogenated oils lurking in peanut butter, macaroni and cheese, Cool Whip and ice cream.

“These are all processed foods,” Judge said. “Then I found there were other ingredients I can’t even pronounce that go along with hydrogenated oil” such as Aspartame, high-fructose corn syrup and artificial food colors.

She soon discovered that what she really needed to do was nix most processed foods from her diet and replace them with whole fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and lean meats. As a result, she lost 65 pounds last year.

“Hydrogenated fats increase your levels of LDL cholesterol,” said licensed dietitian Susan Quimby, owner of Nutrition Works in Portland. LDL cholesterol is known as “bad” cholesterol. Levels of HDL cholesterol, or the “good” cholesterol, are lowered by trans fats. “Hydrogenated oils are worse for you than saturated fat,” Quimby said.

Consuming trans fats has been shown to elevate the risk of heart disease, as these factory-made fats increase the bad cholesterol, decrease the good cholesterol and contribute to clogging of the arteries.

“You have to be a smart shopper,” Judge said. “I started going to Whole Foods, because they don’t carry (products with trans fats).”

At other grocery stores, which continue to stock their shelves with numerous items containing trans fats, shoppers need to be aware that they can’t trust product claims that say things like “trans fat-free” or “zero trans fats.”

“Part of the problem is the labeling laws,” Quimby said. “Because a manufacturer can call a product trans fat-free if it contains .49 grams of trans fat” per serving.

Instead, Quimby recommends that people read ingredient lists and “if you see partially hydrogenated oils, put that product back and buy something else.”

For example, boxes of Girl Scout cookies may say the cookies contain “zero trans fat per serving.” However, the cookies are still loaded with partially hydrogenated oils (and lots of other chemical ingredients). The claim is lawful because the serving size is based on that rare person who only eats two or three cookies at a time.

Quimby pointed out that if you eat three servings of an item that has .49 grams of trans fat — something that’s all too easy to do with sugary sweets and other snacks — you will have consumed almost 1.5 grams of trans fats, which is well over that “trans fat-free” labeling limit.

Processed food manufacturers love partially hydrogenated oils because they allow products to stay on the shelf longer without rotting.

So unless no-longer-fresh, artery-clogging foods are your thing, join Judge in her Operation Rev”oil”ution and just say no to trans fats.

 

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: akamila@pressherald.com