Trans Fats, Deadly Food Additive
"I yam an anti-Christ... "
John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) of The Sex Pistols, "Anarchy in the UK"
A New Year is here, and with it comes New Year's Resolutions. And, as is always the case in the USA, topping the list for most Americans involves the results of having one too many servings of turducken over the holidays. And sure, maybe joining a gym (or putting some Tony Little, Tae Bo or P90X on the TV) helps, but ultimately, it's what you put in your body that has more to do with gain or loss of weight than any workout plan can ever hope.
Of course, obesity is just the most blatant side effect of the Standard American Diet (often called SAD by health critics.) Among the other wonderful health problems: heart disease, diabetes, liver problems, infertility and the big C. And while personal responsibility certainly can't be ignored in the resulting health crisis, it's a rigged game. Thanks to the processed food industry and korporate food konglomerates, the most common snacks and meals in the United States are dangerous nutrition filled with killer chemicals and additives. Among the greatest hits:
* Refined Sugars & Carbohydrates: From high fructose corn syrup to Wonder Bread, refined sugars and carbs are overloaded in American food products. It is because of the debilitating nature of America's carbo habit that the Atkins and Zone diets (which stress high protein, low carb diets) have become so popular and successful.
* Aspartame: Need that sweet sugar taste without the side effects? The most popular artificial sweetener, under the label of NutraSweet or Equal, is not the right answer. Among the documented side effects: headaches, fatigue, blurred vision and blindness, heart palpitations, brain lesions and tumors, memory loss, dizziness, seizures and insomnia. Originally, aspartame was categorized as a biochemical warfare weapon by the Pentagon in a list submitted to Congress. It is because of these health issues that sucralose and stevia have risen in popularity (though in the case of stevia, FDA stonewalling has blocked its usage as a food additive despite its extensive history in Japan.)
* Sodium Nitrate: Used in process meats such as bacon and bologna as both a preservative and for coloring, it is a cause of cancer in the colon, breast, prostate and pancreas. Suddenly, we don't wish we were an Oscar Mayer wiener.
* RBGH Milk: Cows juiced with Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone have flooded the US market since Monsanto (the fine makers of noted nutrapoison NutraSweet) pushed it under the brand name Posilac. Despite the evidence linking it to cancer it is still legal to use it in the USA, though it is banned in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Europe. In 1997, a Florida Fox affiliate squelched a news expose on the dangers of rBGH milk and fired the journalists who did the story. Despite attempts to cover up the dangers of rBGH milk, the grocery chains Safeway, Kroger and Trader Joe's (along with, among others, tasty ice cream maker Ben & Jerry's) have rejected the usage of rBGH milk from their stores.
* Frankenfoods: rBGH is just one example of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Thanks to predictably lax regulation by the FDA, the US food market (particularly processed foods) are now loaded with GMOs, making the American public lab rats at the behest of American biotech corporations. Widespread concerns among Europeans over the dangers of GMOs has led to trade disputes over US food crop imports in the EU.
* Super Size Me!: The biggest culprit in obesity may be the "Bigger is better" trend in fast food marketing. Though the "Super Size" on fries and drinks was stopped at McDonald's after Morgan Spurlock's 2004 documentary exposed the health dangers of the Ronald McDonald diet, in a world where Carl's Jr. has a Double Six Dollar Burger, Wendy's the Baconator, Burger King the Cheese Double Whopper, McD's the Cheese Double Quarter Pounder and Hardee's it's Monster Thickburger (with an astounding 1420 calories) it certainly is hard to lose weight while visiting your favorite burger stand. And to think it all started with the now apparently modest sized Big Mac. (Thanks a lot, Mrs. Esther Rose!)
* Acrylamide: In 2002, this carcinogenic substance was discovered in fried and baked carbohydrates such as breads, cookies and chips thanks to the heating process. Six years later, there is still no labeling or regulation of it in the American food supply.
* Monosodium Glutamate: Found as a taste enhancer in foods ranging from Chinese food to Kentucky Fried Chicken, MSG is (like aspartame) an excitotoxin, which in animal studies have caused brain damage to consumers. Among the other health hazards of MSG: body numbness, chest pain, headaches, nausea and a rapid heartbeat.
* Salmonella & E. Coli: While foodborne illnesses due to bacteria are not put into food intentionally, it is the end result of lax enforcement of food laws by the USDA and industrial methods for producing mass quantities of food that decreases sanitary methods.
* Mad Cow Disease: The most lethal of food dangers, so far the US has been fortunate not to have a massive infection, but critics of the USDA and FDA believe it is only a matter of time due to shoddy enforcement of both laws involving feed and the care of bovine. In the meantime, legitimate fear of US cattle has curtailed US beef imports to Japan.
Still, with all due respect to the previous nominees, the biggest threat to US food integrity has come from trans fats, The Konformist Beast of the Month. It's dangers, and how it became such a part of the American food supply, is illustrative of how korporate profits rule American food production and how it trumps sound health policy.
Artificial trans fats were first introduced into the American diet in 1911, when Procter & Gamble (the korporate titan that includes the Mark of the Beast in its logo) began selling shortening under the brand name Crisco. This was only a decade after trans fats were first created artificially via the process of hydrogenation, where hydrogen atoms are added to non-saturated fats, extending their shelf life. (Perhaps the first sign that hydrogenated oils are not healthy to eat is the extended shelf life: it indicates that bacteria doesn't find it worthy nutrition.) Though there were indeed health dangers tied to trans fats from the start, it was minimized due to hydrogenated oils being consumed in small amounts, primarily through Crisco and margarine. It was during the two world wars, when butter was rationed to support the war efforts, that there were major spikes in trans fat consumption by the American public.
After WWII, trans fats steadily increased in consumption through the sixties, as food processors began realizing the benefits of adding trans fats to their products for increased profits. Coincidentally, as this rise in trans fat usage continued, it was backed by a campaign warning people of the supposed health dangers of consuming butter and other alternatives to hydrogenated oils. This created some strange alliances: the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has often been on the right side on health issues, pushed in the 80s for the removal of animal fats use for frying in restaurants, as well as coconut oil in popcorn at movie theaters during the 90s. (While the CSPI now is opposed to the usage of trans fats, it has never owed up to its responsibility in promoting it as part of the American diet in the first place.) CSPI may have been suckered into promotion of trans fats, but others may not have been so blind. One noted player would have to be Archer Daniels Midland, the food titan that is the major processor of soybeans, which were used to make eighty percent of all hydrogenated oils in processed foods. The promotion of trans fats literally had billions of dollars riding on the outcome.
Despite the pro-hydrogenation propaganda, most natural health advocates (such as Harvey and Marilyn Diamond in their Fit for Life book series, authors Paul and Patricia Bragg, and Julian Whitaker of the Whitaker Institute) were never fooled. They warned that artificial trans fats had no history of being consumed by humans, and thus our digestive system was unprepared for this foreign invader. The evidence has proved them correct: in 1994, it was estimated that 30,000 deaths were caused each year in the US due to heart disease caused from trans fat consumption, or ten times the deaths on 9/11 every year.
The good news is, thanks to the bad PR trans fats have received, they are rapidly being removed from the American food supply. (It's hard, after all, to defend using a deadly product in foods when it is inferior in taste to other options, as anyone who has consumed both butter and margarine can attest.) Most processed food products have reduced trans fats to under a half gram per serving due to publish pressure. Leading the charge: the all-American Oreo cookie, which now has no hydrogenated oils in its ingredients. Among the food servers who have removed or restricted trans fats from their foods are all Disney theme parks, Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, Arby's, Wendy's, Taco Bell, KFC, Burger King and, of course, McDonald's. This was fueled by New York City's banning of trans fats in all NYC restaurants. Joining the Big Apple are Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Montgomery County, Maryland with Chicago and the states of California and Vermont having proposals to enforce their own bans. Crisco itself has been reformulated to have less than one gram of trans fats per serving. Even the Indiana State Fair banned their usage in tasty snacks such as french fries, corn dogs and deep-fried Oreos, Snickers and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
In the end, how trans fats have gone from a household product to a dirty word is a story with a happy ending. If consumers vote with their dollars, food products can and will change. The downside to the story is the fact that trans fats even became an American food staple in the first place. Undoubtedly the list of food beasts will continue to have new additions, and the battle has just begun.
In any case, we salute trans fats (and those behind it) as Beast of the Month. Congratulations, and keep up the great work, dudes!!!
Enig, Mary and Fallon, Sally. Eat Fat, Lose Fat: The Healthy Alternative to Trans Fats. New York: Penguin Group, 2005.
Enig, Mary G. Know Your Fats: The Complete Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils and Cholesterol. Silver Spring: Bethesda Press, 2000.
Fallon, Sally and Enig. Mary G. Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats. Winona Lake: New Trends Publishing, 1999.
The Weston A. Price Foundation <http://www.westonaprice.org/>.
Special thanks to Harvey & Marilyn Diamond for their Fit for Life and Fitonics for Life books, NewsTarget.com, Rense.com and the film Super Size Me for help on this article.
Some cool things to look at for more about SAD dangers:
Aspartame & Aspartame Poisoning Information: http://www.dorway.com/
The Atkins Diet: Atkins.com
Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream: BenJerry.com
Bragg Live Foods & Health Books: Bragg.com
Center for Science in the Public Interest: CSPINet.org
Dr. Whitaker: DrWhitaker.com
Fox BGH Suit: FoxBGHSuit.com
Trader Joe's: TraderJoes.com
The Zone Diet: ZoneDiet.com