By Dr. Mercola
For the past six decades, saturated fat and cholesterol have been wrongfully vilified as the culprits of heart disease. Research shows it’s actually refined carbs, sugar, and trans fats found in processed foods that are the real enemy.
The first scientist to publish evidence linking trans fats to heart disease while exonerating saturated fats was Dr. Fred Kummerow,1 author of Cholesterol Is Not the Culprit. That first article was published in 1957.
Now 100 years old, Dr. Kummerow has spent eight decades immersed in the science of lipids, cholesterol, and heart disease, and his lifetime’s work reveals that trans fat and oxidized cholesterol promote heart disease—not saturated fat, which actually has a beneficial health impact.
FDA Finally Takes Affirmative Action Against Trans Fat
Trans fat, found in margarine, vegetable shortening, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils became widely popularized as a “healthier alternative” to saturated animal fats like butter and lard around the mid-1950s.
Its beginnings go back 100 years though, to Procter & Gamble’s creation of Crisco in 1911.
In 1961, the American Heart Association (AHA) began encouraging Americans to limit dietary fat, particularly animal fats, in order to reduce their risk of heart disease. In the decades since, despite low-fat diets becoming increasingly part of the norm, heart disease rates soared.
In 2013, Dr. Kummerow sued the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for failing to take action on trans fats in face of the overwhelming scientific evidence against it.
More than a decade earlier, in 2002, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) had even noted that there was “no safe level of trans fatty acids and people should eat as little of them as possible.” Yet the FDA did nothing.
Three months after Dr. Kummerow filed his lawsuit however, the agency announced it was considering eliminating trans fat from the list of “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) list of food ingredients.
Then, on June 16, 2015, the FDA announced partially hydrogenated oils (a primary source of trans fat) will no longer be allowed in food unless authorized by the agency2,3,4,5 due to its health risks.
According to the FDA, this change may help prevent around 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 heart disease deaths each year.
The new regulation will take effect in 2018. In the interim, food companies have to either reformulate their products to remove partially hydrogenated oils, or file a limited use petition with the FDA to continue using them.
In order to gain approval, the company would have to provide evidence showing the trans fat is safe to consume—which could be difficult, considering the IOM’s declaration that there’s NO safe limit for these oils. But, as noted by CBS:6
“[F]ood companies are hoping for some exceptions. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, the main trade group for the food industry, is working with companies on a petition that would formally ask the FDA if it can say there is a “reasonable certainty of no harm” from some specific uses of the fats. It provided no specifics…
For now, the agency is recommending that consumers take a look at ingredient lists on packaged foods to make sure they don’t contain partially hydrogenated oils. Once the three-year compliance period is up, none of those ingredients would be allowed unless FDA specifically approves them.”
CSPI –The Consumer Group You Need to Stop Listening To
In response to the FDA’s announcement, Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) told the New York Times:7
“This is the final nail in the coffin of trans fats. In terms of lives saved, I think eliminating trans fats is the single most important change to our food supply.”
Their recent statement in support of the ban on trans fats is in stark contrast to their previous position on trans fats. As a consumer watchdog group focused on nutrition and food safety, many have and continue to look to CSPI for guidance, but history shows CSPI is seriously misguided when determining what’s in the public’s best interest.
In the 1980s, CSPI actually spearheaded a highly successful campaign against the use of healthy saturated fats, touting trans fats as a healthier alternative. It was largely the result of CSPI’s campaign that fast-food restaurants replaced the use of beef tallow, palm oil, and coconut oil with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, which are high in synthetic trans fats linked to heart disease and other chronic diseases.
In 1988, CSPI even released an article8 praising trans fats, saying “there is little good evidence that trans fats cause any more harm than other fats” and “much of the anxiety over trans fats stems from their reputation as ‘unnatural.'”
CSPI Accepts No Blame for Its Wildly Successful Promotion of Trans Fat
It wasn’t until the 1990s that CSPI reversed their position on synthetic trans fats, but the damage had already been done.
Even to this day, many still mistakenly believe that margarine is a healthier choice than butter, and the CSPI’s campaign to replace saturated animal and tropical oils with trans fats played an integral role in cementing this erroneous view in the public consciousness.
The group’s successful influence on the food industry is discussed in David Schleifer’s article, “The Perfect Solution: How Trans Fats Became the Healthy Replacement for Saturated Fats,“9 in which he notes that:
“Scholars routinely argue that corporations control US food production, with negative consequences for health…However, the transition from saturated to trans fats shows how activists can be part of spurring corporations to change.”
CSPI rarely admits its errors however. In fact, rather than openly admitting it was flat out wrong about trans fats and had misled the public on this issue, CSPI simply deleted sections of its previous support of it from the web. This lack of forthrightness was also noted by Mary Enig in a 2003 article,10 in which she writes:
“On October 20, 1993, CSPI had the chutzpah to call a press conference in Washington, DC and lambast the major fast-food chains for doing what CSPI coerced them into doing, namely, using partially hydrogenated vegetable oils in their deep fat-fryers.
On that date, CSPI, an eager proponent of partially hydrogenated oils for many years, even when their adverse health effects were apparent, reversed its position after an onslaught of adverse medical reports linking trans fatty acids in these processed oils to coronary heart disease and cancer. Instead of accepting the blame, CSPI pleaded ‘not guilty,’ claiming that the fault lay with the major fast-food chains–including McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken, because they ‘falsely claim to use ‘100% vegetable oil’ when they actually use hydrogenated shortening’…
Thanks to CSPI, healthy traditional fats have almost completely disappeared from the food supply, replaced by manufactured trans fats known to cause many diseases. By 1990, most fast food chains had switched to partially hydrogenated vegetable oil…
Who benefits? Soy, or course. Eighty percent of all partially hydrogenated oil used in processed foods in the US comes from soy, as does 70 percent of all liquid oil. CSPI claims that its support comes from subscribers to its Nutrition Action newsletter… but CSPI is extremely secretive about the value of its assets, salaries paid and use of its revenues. If CSPI has large donors, they’re not telling who they are, but in fact, in CSPI’s January, 1991 newsletter, Jacobson notes that ‘our effort was ultimately joined… by the American Soybean Association.'”
Beware: 100% Vegetable Oil May Be Just as Hazardous as Partially Hydrogenated Oil
Today, many restaurants have reverted to using 100% vegetable oils (such as peanut, corn, and soy oil) for frying. But research shows these oils have the worrisome problem of degrading into even more toxic oxidation products when heated, so they’re probably no better than partially hydrogenated oils. Some of these oxidation products include cyclic aldehydes, which are even more harmful than trans fats. So the issue of WHAT the industry replaces trans fats with is of major importance. As noted by Nina Teicholz, one of the first investigative journalists to report on the dangers of trans fats 10 years ago:
“A group doing research on animals have found that at fairly low levels of exposure, these aldehydes caused tremendous inflammation, which is related to heart disease. They oxidized LDL cholesterol, which is thought to be the LDL cholesterol that becomes dangerous. There’s a link to heart disease. There’s also some evidence that links these aldehydes in particular to Alzheimer’s. They seem to have a very severe effect on the body.”
BEWARE: CSPI Just Sold You Out to GMO Industry
This tendency to fall in line with industry science and propaganda and then quietly reversing position when that position becomes more or less impossible to maintain seems to be a trend within the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). For example, it was only in 2013 that CSPI finally downgraded the artificial sweetener Splenda from its former “safe” category to one of “caution.” I remember pleading with Michael Jacobson, their director, many years ago to reevaluate his position, but at the time he was convinced of Splenda’s safety. The scientific evidence strongly suggests artificial sweeteners are just as bad, and in some ways more harmful, than sugar and high fructose corn syrup.
Worse than that though is its stand on genetically engineered organisms (GMOs) in food. Greg Jaffe, director of CSPI’s Biotechnology Project, completely undermined the GMO labeling movement in his testimony at a recent hearing11 on the Pompeo bill H.R. 1599, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, colloquially known as the Denying Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act, as it strips states’ of their right to implement food labeling laws and regulations that restricts or bans the growing of GMO crops.
According to polls, over 90 percent of Americans now want GMO labeling. Yet, astonishingly, Jaffe says he’s not sure consumers really want to know whether foods contain GMOs, despite what the polls say! This is an inexcusable position for a consumer protection group, as far as I’m concerned. You can listen to his statements in the following video below, where you will hear he has the audacity to claim there are no studies indicating any harm from GMOs. This is the type of ignorant position they held on trans fats and artificial sweeteners. At least you can say one thing about CSPI, they are consistently reprehensible ignorant on important health issue and need to be ignored.