Does Everything Tasty Have to be Bad For Me?

From Susan Parker
Tuesday December 09, 2003

Recently, I met Kim Severson at Andronico’s on Telegraph Avenue. We weren’t there to shop. We were looking for hidden trans fats. 

These are the man-made fats that food manufacturers love to add to their products. Unfortunately trans fats can raise cholesterol levels, clog arteries and lead to heart attacks, strokes, obesity, diabetes and possibly cancer, but it won’t be until 2006 that the FDA will require trans fats to be listed on food labels .  

Kim, who lives in Oakland, has written The Trans Fats Solution, Cooking and Shopping to Eliminate the Deadliest Fat from Your Diet. Published by Berkeley’s Ten Speed Press, it is available in book stores now, in time for the holiday eating frenzy.  

Together Kim and I cruised up and down Andronico’s narrow aisles. Kim pointed out what products to avoid, while I grew hungrier by the minute. 

“Think of trans fats as sprinkles of sand inside your watch,” Kim suggested. “It won’t screw it up immediately, but eventually your watch won’t work. That’s what trans fats do to your body. It messes with the cell structure.” 

Kim pulled a jar of peanut butter off the shelf. “You know how nice and smooth this stuff is? Creamy and spreadable? That’s the trans fats doing their job. Food manufacturers love this stuff because it makes their products taste fresh.” She reads the list of ingredients on the label. “Look for this,” she said, pointing to the words hydrogenated oil. “That’s peanut-flavored trans fat.”  

Kim returned the jar to the shelf and motioned me to follow her. “See these?” she asked, picking out a package of Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies. “My beloved Milanos,” she sighed. “I let myself eat just one occasionally.” She hesitated before she put the bag back on the shelf, then pointed to the Alice Stick cookies. “These are expensive but they’re made with real butter, not hydrogenated oil. Most bakeries love to use Crisco. It’s a killer.”  

Further down the aisle we came to the crackers and snack foods. “You can eat some pretzels and old-fashion popcorn that you pop in a pan, but not the microwavable kind. That stuff is trans fat city.” I pointed to my favorite crackers, Stoned Wheat Thins. “Sorry,” said Kim. “You should buy the Ak Mak crackers instead.” 

We had wandered into the aisle that had pastas and noodles on one side and frozen foods on the other. “Marie Callender’s pot pies will just kill you,” said Kim. “That’s probably why they taste so good.” I pointed to the frozen fish sticks and Kim shook her head. I looked at the frozen quiche and Kim muttered, “Trans fatty crust.” On the other side of the aisle she gazed at the inexpensive packages of Top Ramen. “They fry that stuff in hydrogenated oil to get it dry. It’s dangerous.” 

“Kim,” I asked, “what are you having for dinner tonight?”  

“Probably something from the book. Maybe Spicy Buttermilk Fried Chicken with a salad tossed in vinegar and olive oil. What about you? Now that we’ve had this little tour, what will you have?”  

I thought about the measly contents of my refrigerator and kitchen shelves. There probably wasn’t a thing available that wouldn’t hurt me in some way. “Water,” I said. “I think I’ll just have water.” 

“No,” said Kim. “Don’t go extreme on me. Use common sense. Remember back when your grandmother cooked from scratch and used real butter and fresh ingredients?” I thought about my Grandmom Daniels, who always held a spatula with her left hand while holding a martini and a cigarette in her right. “Kind of,” I said  

“Eat sensibly,” said Kim.  

I went home and found in my mailbox another book from Ten Speed Press, the new recipe tome just out from Cesar, the oh-so-cool tapas bar on Shattuck Avenue in North Berkeley. It’s a beautifully rendered, sumptuous recipe book that is jam packed with color photographs of extravagant drinks and elegant platters. In it I found directions on how to make Gin Rickeys, Chocolate Martinis, Cosmopolitans, Old Fashions, Mojitos, Margaritas, and Sidecars, to name just a few of the dozens of cocktail concoctions gathered together on its lavish pages.  

I lay my copy of The Trans Fat Solution beside Cesar, Recipes From a Tapas Bar. What would Grandmom Daniels do? The answer was obvious. I followed the recipe for a traditional Manhattan:  


11/2 ounces whiskey, 1/2 ounce sweet vermouth, 2 dashes of angostura bitters and a maraschino cherry. Not a trans fat in sight. I simply substituted one bad thing for another, but hey, it’s the holidays and Grandmom Daniels would definitely approve.  


The Trans Fat Solution, Cooking and Shopping to Eliminate the Deadliest Fat From Your Diet, by Kim Severson with Recipes by Cindy Burke, Ten Speed Press, $12.95 

Recipes From A Tapas Bar, by Olivier Said and James Mellgren with Maggie Pond, Ten Speed Press, $29.95.