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Here comes the news that Burger King has engineered a lower fat, lower calorie fry. I don't really care and five will get you ten that whatever they did will make french fries even more fattening and unhealthy . But what got my goat in the article was this:

Roughly a decade ago, McDonald’s began using a soy-corn blend of fats instead of beef tallow to cook its fries in an effort to reduce the trans fats that contribute to higher cholesterol.
What actually happened was this:

At the behest of the Center for Science in the Public Interest that delicious, wholesome (relatively wholesome) beef tallow was replaced with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. That campaign started in 1984 and was victorious in 1990 when the chains abandoned tallow in favor of trans fat laden partially hydrogenated oil.

NPR's Dan Charles:

But did you know that in the 1980s, health activists actually promoted oils containing trans fats? They considered such oils a healthy alternative to the saturated fats found in palm oil, coconut oil, or beef fat. In 1986, for instance, the (CSPI), described Burger King's switch to partially hydrogenated oils as "a great boon to Americans' arteries."
It wasn't until 1993, after stampeding the fast food industry into greatly multiplying the nation's consumption of what may be the single most deadly ingredient in our food supply, the CSPI reversed course and began campaigning against trans fats.

Here's The Harvard School of Public Health on the dangers posed by trans fats:

Today we know that eating trans fats increases levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, “bad” cholesterol), especially the small, dense LDL particles that may be more damaging to arteries. It lowers levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) particles, which scour blood vessels for bad cholesterol and truck it to the liver for disposal. It also promotes inflammation, an overactivity of the immune system that has been implicated in heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. Eating trans fat also reduces the normal healthy responsiveness of endothelial cells, the cells that line all of our blood vessels. In animal studies, eating trans fat also promotes obesity and resistance to insulin, the precursor to diabetes.

This multiple-pronged attack on blood vessels translates into heart disease and death. An analysis of the health effects of industrial trans fats conducted by researchers with the Harvard School of Public Health Department of Nutrition indicates that eliminating trans fats from the U.S. food supply could prevent up to 1 in 5 heart attacks and related deaths. That would mean a quarter of a million fewer heart attacks and related deaths each year in the United States alone.

McDonald's and Burger King didn't remove trans fats from their menu until 2008.

Michael Jacobsen's obsession with saturated fat caused the organization to tout the benefits of partially hydrogenated oils well after their dangers had been established. This didn't stop them from changing course when the dangers of trans fats had been exposed without apology or acknowledgement. The history of trying to engineer low fat, low calorie foods that make us fatter and sicker is a long one, but CSPI has been there every step of the way. The trans fat french fry debacle was just the pinnacle of their blundering.

Mary Enig at The Weston Price Foundation traces the twists and turns of CSPI's position on saturated fats and partially hydrogenated oils:

By 1988, the adverse effects of trans fats were well known. The article points out that stearic acid has no effect on blood cholesterol levels, yet CSPI continued to accuse beef tallow, which is rich in stearic acid, of "raising cholesterol and increasing the risk of heart disease." As for the tropical oils, they do not need to be hydrogenated!

Blume was at it again in March 1988 with another article, "The Truth About Trans ." "Hydrogenated oils aren't guilty as charged. . . . All told, the charges against trans fat just don't stand up. And by extension, hydrogenated oils seem relatively innocent.. . . . As for processed foods, you're better off choosing products made with hydrogenated soybean, corn, or cottonseed oil. . . " This article was widely disseminated; Michael Jacobson provided it as a handout to members of the Maryland Legislature during hearings when the University of Maryland group tried to introduce labeling of trans fatty acids in the State.

But by 1990, CSPI could no longer defend the indefensible. In October of that year, Bonnie Liebman, CSPI Director of Nutrition, published an article "Trans in Trouble" which referred to recent studies by Dutch scientists showing that trans fats raised cholesterol. "That's not to say trans fatty acids are artery-cloggers," she wrote, ". . . the fats in our foods may affect cholesterol differently than those used in the Dutch experiment. . . . The Bottom Line. . . Trans, shmans. You should eat less fat. . . Don't switch back to butter. . . use a soft tub diet margarine. . . . "

. . . The revisionism began in December 1992 when Ms. Liebman wrote: "We've been crying 'foul' for some time now, as the margarine industry has tried to convince people that eating margarine was as good for their hearts as aerobic exercise. . . . And we warned folks several years ago that trans fatty acids could be a problem. . . . That's especially true now that we know that trans fatty acids are harmful, but we don't know how much trans are in different foods." Of course, CSPI had issued no such warning, but had been defending trans fats for more than five years. And there's no apology for falsely demonizing traditional fats. "Don't switch back from margarine to butter," wrote Ms. Liebman, ". . . try diet or whipped margarine. . . use a liquid margarine."

In November 1993, Bonnie Liebman coauthored an article with Margo Wootan called "The Great Trans Wreck," which would have been in preparation well before Michael Jacobson's infamous press conference, in which they asked, "Why do companies love hydrogenated fat if it's so unhealthy? . . . . despite the claims on many packages, most companies switched not to vegetable oil, but to vegetable shortening. And that created a problem."

You can read the whole sorry tale of hubris and revisionism at the Weston Price Foundation. The fruits of that revisionism can be seen in the statement above from The New York Times.
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Comment Preferences

  •  Comments (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    quill, marc brazeau, kyril

    Most of Europe has had stricter laws for a long time.  A French McDonalds (based on firsthand taste testing) or a Danish McDonalds (by news reports) tend to have less saturated fat and salt -- and no trans fats.

    •  that's a shame (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I've read that beef tallow is second only to horse tallow for producing perfect fries. The French and Belgians used to prefer horse. If I recall right, McDonalds held out longer than most in using beef tallow, but eventually succumbed to economics and pressure from the health police.

      "Tell the truth and run." -- Yugoslav proverb

      by quill on Thu Sep 26, 2013 at 12:16:17 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Weston Price Foundation (0+ / 0-)

    The foundation web site doesn't want to load at the moment.

    Are you associated with that organization?

  •  the continued baseless fear of fat is tiresome (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Youffraita, kyril

    I'm always amused and appalled when I check the fridge of an otherwise highly educated friend (these are scientists with PhDs) and find nothing but margarine, non-dairy creamer, and 1% milk.

    There is nothing unhealthy or even fattening about eating all-natural saturated fat and cholesterol folks, and at the very least it's far healthier than eating any of those artificial high sugar trans-fat "low fat" substitutes.

    "Tell the truth and run." -- Yugoslav proverb

    by quill on Thu Sep 26, 2013 at 12:09:36 PM PDT

    •  being fat (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      quill, kyril

      probably has more to do with the organisms in our gut than what we eat.

      however, these new creations are causing new problems.

      -You want to change the system, run for office.

      by Deep Texan on Thu Sep 26, 2013 at 12:22:39 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  The science on dairy fat (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      quill, kyril

      has had no impact on nutrition advice. In fact it's not even advice, "choose low fat dairy" is more like punctuation.

      •  in my house there is only butter and heavy cream (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        marc brazeau, kyril

        And lots of cheese. Low fat dairy is not allowed, unless a guest is visiting who demands it.

        Me and my partner don't tolerate lactose very well, but we love dairy products. The lower the fat, the higher the lactose content (nonfat milk has the most lactose). I especially like cream in my coffee, so I use whipping cream, which has almost no lactose.

        "Tell the truth and run." -- Yugoslav proverb

        by quill on Thu Sep 26, 2013 at 12:57:21 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Butter and whole milk here (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          marc brazeau, quill

          and ice cream made from real cream.

          Boyfriend was rather confused when we went shopping yesterday and I grabbed whole milk - it's like he'd never seen anyone do that before.

          "Let’s just move on, treat everybody with firmness, fairness, dignity, compassion and respect. Let’s be Marines." - Sgt. Maj Michael Barrett on DADT repeal

          by kyril on Thu Sep 26, 2013 at 03:12:54 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  whole milk is the only thing for a latte (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            You just need the extra fat to make it work properly. For a while, during the peak of the low fat craze, the coffee shops in Seattle switched to 2% milk lattes. It was a damn tragedy, and thank FSM they relented after a few years and switched back to whole milk. Here in Portland, the default is whole milk for a latte, but if you stop at an espresso cart in the uncultured nether regions, it may be 2% (shudder).

            "Tell the truth and run." -- Yugoslav proverb

            by quill on Thu Sep 26, 2013 at 04:38:58 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  diet, cholesterol, and the messy course of science (0+ / 0-)

    I've followed some of the diet and cardiovascular issues from the 80s onward. I've also followed how mainstream reporting has had some difficulty presenting complicated medical and scientific concepts to general audiences.

    As hypotheses and medical/scientific knowledge about cholesterol, diet, and disease mechanisms have been refined over the years, reporting on results and suggestions about diet have sometimes seemed contradictory. I understand how folks might become confused and even wary about some topics.

    To me this diary presents a rather incomplete picture of the development and refinement of the state of knowledge about diet, cholesterol, or cardiovascular disease. I would urge interested readers and the author to explore further.

    I do appreciate the author's apparent interest in inspiring readers to make conscious and informed choices about the food we eat.

    •  I was just trying to tell one part of the story (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      quill, kyril

      and that part was about CSPI's role in adding trans fats to french fries.

      I agree that the twists and turns of the nutrition community's relationship to saturated fat and cholesterol has been twisted and complicated. I'll do more than one essay on that in the future.

  •  So, what do wish us to believe about CSPI? (0+ / 0-)

    My interpretation is that CSPI is portrayed here as a bad guy. Is that your intent?

    Do you wish to offer a hypothesis about why CSPI took the actions it took?  I didn't see one stated explicitly, but perhaps I missed that sentence.

    What alternative hypotheses have you considered?

    From what I can see, the Weston Price organization is fairly open about its agenda. I'm pleased that Weston Price is transparent about that. It does, however, still look like bias to me.

    Given the timeline of events in the 1980s and 90s in diet and cardiovascular research, it appears to me that CSPI may have reversed itself when new information became consensus. Do you intend for readers to think otherwise?

    What I see looks like one organization with an agenda trash-talking another organization with a different agenda. For me personally, that doesn't persuade me to change my diet preferences (which do include meat and some fried foods).

    Disclosure: I have no affiliation with CSPI, Harvard, NPR, or Weston Price. I do have a long personal affiliation with one or more folks who have done cardiovascular research, occasionally including diet.

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