Copper and Heart Disease
While public health officials continue to promote lowfat diets and cholesterol-lowering statin drugs as the solution to heart disease, many other good theories go ignored. One of these theories has to do with copper deficiency. A researcher named Leslie M. Klevay has shown that copper deficiency leads to atherosclerosis in many animals (J Am Coll Nutr 1998;17(4):322-326). Copper is needed for a number of important biochemical reactions. The polymerizing enzyme lysyl oxidase (LOX) is copper dependent. This enzyme helps form the internal elastic lamina (IEL), a thin elastic layer in the arteries which is separated by only one endothelial cell layer from the blood. Without adequate copper, the lamina is not sufficiently elastic and intimal thickening results—and the latest accepted theory of heart disease has to do with abnormal thickening of the arteries, followed by inflammation and the release of blood clots. Copper is also necessary for the formation of thyroid hormones and the production of heme iron in blood cells. Both milk and meat are deficient in copper, and the small amounts of copper in most plant foods are difficult to absorb. (Legumes and whole grains that have not been properly prepared can block the absorption of copper.) The only reliable source of copper is liver, especially that of lambs and other ruminants. There was thus a very good reason for people to eat liver once a week, something our government now tells us not to do. . . in order to avoid heart disease.
Trans Fats and Inflammation
As we have reported in these pages (Fall 2002, p. 8), the latest establishment theory on heart disease posits low-grade inflammation in the arteries as a cause, leading to the release of blood clots followed by heart attack. A new study directly fingers trans fats from stick margarine as a cause of inflammation. Consumption of stick margarine in human subjects provoked an increase in the production of inflammatory prostaglandins associated with atherosclerosis. Neither liquid soy oil nor butter had the inflammatory effect (J Lipid Res 2002 mar;43(3):445-52). This research was carried out at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University. Jean Mayer and Alice Lichtenstein of Tufts have been major spokespersons for avoiding foods containing those “evil” saturated fats. We expect that reports on this study will include the suggestion to consume liquid vegetable oils and low-trans soft spreads instead of stick margarine, without any suggestion that we should go back to butter.
Coming to a Market Near You
During the past two months, 19 million pounds of raw hamburger were recalled for possible E. coli contamination. The industry’s response is predictable— instead of cleaning up its act, decentralizing and slowing down the production line, they are opting for irradiation. Irradiated meat is now being sold in East Coast supermarkets and starting to show up in West Coast supermarkets as well. Huisken Meat Company in Minnesota was the first meatpacker to use the process and says its irradiated hamburger is now sold in 3200 stores in the eastern half of the country. Cargill’s Excell and Tyson’s IBP are gearing up to zap their products as more irradiation plants are being built around the US and the world. Dairy Queen in Minnesota just expanded a small test program into 43 outlets and Champs, the fast-casual chain with 49 restaurants, including one in Southern California, is selling irradiated burgers. Schools are now allowed to use irradiated meat and the FDA is believed to be close to allowing the irradiation of all deli meats and other ready-to-eat foods including juice, bagged salads, cut fruits and peeled vegetables. The agency is also considering seafood. To promote the technology, the US government has given a $590,000 grant to Christine Bruhn, Director of the Center for Consumer Research at UC Davis, to “educate consumers about the benefits of irradiation”—called euphemistically “cold pasteurization” or “safety-enhancement”—in California and eight other states. According to Bruhn, irradiation is absolutely necessary, poses no health threat and should be offered to all consumers as a matter of right. “It’s a basic right of the public to choose safety-enhanced food,” says Bruhn. “Just as we can buy pasteurized milk and juice, we should be able to buy pasteurized beef.” What the industry is aiming for, of course, is to give us no other choice—just as we now have no other choice but pasteurized juice and milk in most states unless we buy directly from farms. The irradiation movement needs to be nipped in the bud by strong consumer resistance. Don’t shop in stores and don’t patronize restaurants that use irradiated products—they’ll soon get the message and stop carrying them.
Fast-food giant McDonald’s plans to close about 175 restaurants worldwide and slash up to 600 jobs as it struggles with poor performance. Last year the company let go 700 employees at its headquarters and in regional offices. The restructuring includes a planned exit from three undisclosed countries where McDonald’s already has operations. Besides closing unprofitable stores, McDonald’s has returned to price-discounting in the US and heavy national advertising. What McDonald’s is up against is the growing consumer trend towards better quality food. The New York Times interviewed seven restaurant and financial consultants about what they would do to prop up McDonald’s falling sales (10/20/2002). What’s interesting to us is that two of the seven suggested that McDonald’s return to using tallow for the fries. “Beef tallow in their fries is part of the flavor,” said Jennifer Baum, president of Bullfrog & Baum, a restaurant consultant firm. Although we don’t recommend that consumers buy from fast food chain—for many reasons—we think that if McDonald’s started using tallow again, the rush to buy great tasting fries would form lines into the streets and mark the long-awaited demise of vegetable oils. If you think McDonald’s should go back to using tallow, give them a call at (708) 575-3000 or send them an email.
We have always been puzzled at the large number of oyster recipes in turn-of-the-century cookbooks. Where did people in Monmouth, Illinois, for example, get the oysters with which they made oyster pie and oyster fritters, two recipes found in the 1895 Baptist Ladies of Monmouth Illinois Cookbook? An article about a recent donation to the Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Maryland, answers the question (Washington Post 10/29/2002). Ronnie Newcomb, an Eastern Shore collector, donated 600 colorful oyster cans to the museum. The cans range in size from 8 ounces to 5 gallons. Throughout the 1800s and well into the 1900s, oysters were more plentiful to catch and more popular to eat than crab. Hundreds of oyster shucking and canning houses lined the waterways on both sides of the Chesapeake Bay. On some parts of the Eastern Shore, such as Talbot County, the majority of male residents listed “oystering” as their vocation in the 1880 US Census. According to John R. Valliant, director of the museum, inhabitants of the region ate oysters once or twice a week in season, which generally lasts as long as the months have Rs in them—September through April. “When I was a kid, and actually in my family to this day, we ate oysters as long as they were available.” Eastern Shore locals could eat their oysters fresh, but canned oysters were shipped out to the rest of the country. It’s time to bring oysters back as a commonly eaten food. They are rich in fat-soluble vitamins and wonderful sources of zinc. For those who can’t stomach raw oysters, they are delicious fried—in tallow, of course.
More of the Same
The American Dietetic Association Foundation, the President’s Challenge and the General Mills Foundation are jointly sponsoring an initiative called “General Mills Champions.” The initiative will award fifty grants of up to $10,000 each to encourage communities in the United States to improve the eating and physical activity patterns of young people, ages 2-20. But if you are thinking of submitting a proposal that encourages communities to buy meat, eggs and dairy products from local farms, think again. The proposals “should reflect the practices and concepts recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2000 and the American Dietetic Association,” namely the high-carb, mostly imitation food diet that is now official USDA policy.
The results of a recent study on the Atkins diet have dieticians squirming. In a six-month trial, those on the low-carb, high-fat Atkins diet lost on average 18.5 pounds, compared to 9 pounds for those on a high-carb diet—the kind that has been promoted for years by the American Dietetic Association. Had the high-carb dieters won, the news would be splashed on the front pages of every major newspaper. Instead, the report was relegated to a side column in the Washington Post (10/29/02). Sally Squires, author of Lean Plate Club. a weekly column, reported the good news in a few sentences, followed by paragraphs of backpeddling—the Atkins diet could cause heart disease, constipation and nutritional deficiencies. “We were surprised that women could adhere to it [the Atkins diet] as well as they did,” said dietician Bonnie Brehm. “I’m not sure that there is a take-home message from this study, except that there is more research needed. . . We by no means are recommending the Atkins diet from this one study.”
Do Calories Really Count?
Those who write about the worldwide obesity epidemic have focused almost exclusively on life style issues such as consumption of high-calorie junk food and decreases in exercise. These remain plausible interpretations and are certainly contributing factors. But new research opens up an entirely new theory—the disruption of weight regulation by hormone-disrupting contaminants. Japanese researchers have found that exposure to bisphenol A (BPA) in combination with insulin increases the number of fat cells in mouse cell tissue culture, and also causes the enlargement of fat cells (Journal of Lipid Research 2002 May;43(5):676-684). Human exposure is widespread through its use in dental sealants (used on children’s teeth to “prevent cavities”), in food storage (BPA is used to line tin cans) and in polycarbonate plastic. Polycarbonate baby bottles heated by the microwave leach BPA into baby’s formula, for example. Other environmental toxins, such as 2,4-D, are known to disrupt the regulation of thyroxin leading to hypothyroidism, another cause of weight gain. High-calorie diets were the norm in turn-of-the-century America (see page 22), but obesity was not a problem. The healthy, well-regulated body turns calories from real food into energy, not fat.
After years of instilling fear of bacteria in the populace, scientists are coming to a grudging acknowledgment of their benefits. According to research at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, microbes found naturally in the mouse and human gut interact with intestinal cells, called Paneth’s cells, to promote the development of blood vessels in the intestinal lining. In mice lacking intestinal bacteria, blood vessel formation stopped early during postnatal development. Remarkably, this developmental program restarted and was completed just ten days after implanting microbes into the bacteria-free mice. “This study provides insights into the mutually beneficial partnership forged between mammals and their native microbes,” says principal investigator Jeffrey I. Gordon, MD. “These symbiotic relationships probably are most important in the gut, which contains the largest and most complex collection of bacteria.” Other research indicates that declining exposure to “food-borne and orofecal infections” has contributed to the increase in hay fever, asthma and skin diseases in developed countries (J Allergy Clin Immunol 2002;110:381-387). A good source of friendly microbes is, of course, raw and cultured milk, condemned by health officials as a major contributor to disease.
Clouds of Death in Missouri
A new study has found convincing evidence that men in rural areas have lower sperm counts and less vigorous sperm than men in urban areas. Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia and their collaborators believe that environmental factors, such as extensive use of agricultural chemicals, might contribute to these differences. Since the 1930s, there has been considerable interest in semen quality as a key predictor of male reproductive disfunction. However, semen analyses are very sensitive to laboratory methods, the equipment employed and the nature of the population, all of which may vary from one study to another. The detailed and rigorously applied protocol used by the research team supported the differences between geographic areas after adjusting for other factors known to alter sperm quality, such as age, smoking and recent fever (www.ehponline.org/swan2002).With studies like these, farmers are beginning to realize that if they want to have grandchildren, they will need to farm organically.
Animal Foods and Osteoporosis
One dictum of the soy-promoters is that animal foods are bad for the bones and we should all adopt a “plant-based” diet to prevent bone loss. New research by a team of anthropologists, economists and paleopathologists has documented degenerative joint disease, dental decay, stunted growth and other bone problems in pre-Columbian Indians. Those who practiced farming and lived in towns and cities had the most problems, while those who had access to plenty of animal foods had the least. The healthiest populations were those living on the coast of Brazil, where they had access to ample food from land and sea. During the 19th century, the Plains Indians also enjoyed excellent health on a diet based on buffalo. The least healthy people where those from the urban cultures of Mexico and Central America, and the Zuni Pueblo people of New Mexico, whose diets were almost devoid of animal foods (New York Times, 10/29/02). Promotion of plant-based diets for healthy bones is completely untenable in the face of these findings.
As the number of required vaccinations increases, and the use of protective fats rich in vitamin A declines, the numbers of vaccine injuries in our children is soaring. According to the Federal Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, of the 4 million children each year who receive multiple vaccines, about 10,000 have adverse reactions, including high pitched screaming, bowel blockage, seizures, autism, bizarre neurological disorders and complete paralysis. Doctors are discouraged from reporting reactions so this number is probably low. This year a record number of families have filed cases with the nation’s Vaccine Compensation Fund on behalf of children who’ve suffered side effects from their immunizations. Recently a New Jersey girl whose mental development stopped at two months old after an immunization received a $4.7 million settlement from the Fund. Of course, no amount of money can compensate parents for the heartbreak of lifelong brain damage.
A bill that would have mandated labeling of genetically engineered food was defeated in the state of Oregon, but there is a way for consumers to tell whether fruits and vegetables are genetically engineered. All fruits and vegetables have a PLU code—that’s the number on the sticky label that comes on fruits like apples and bananas. Genetically engineered fruit has a five-numeral PLU prefaced by the number 8. Thus a conventionally grown banana would be 4011 but a genetically engineered banana would be 84011. (Organically grown fruit has a five digit number starting with 9, thus 94011 for organic bananas.) The massive advertising campaign against a ballot initiative for GMO labeling in Oregon claimed that it would be too complicated and too expensive to label genetically engineered foods—but it is already being done nationwide for fresh fruits and vegetables with no hassle at all.