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In July, the Weston A. Price Foundation received a letter from the National Association of Margarine Manufacturers (NAMM), which takes issue with statements about margarine on our website, www.westonaprice.org. Richard Cristol, president of the organization, specifically singles out a statement in the article “Cholesterol: Friend or Foe?” by Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD: “Skin cancer, blamed on sunshine, is not caused by the sun. It is caused by trans fats from vegetable oils and margarine and other toxins stored in the skin. In addition, some of the sunscreens that people use contain chemicals that have been proven to cause skin cancer.”
Margarine and Cancer
It was my work for my doctorate that first uncovered the link between trans fats and cancer. In studies with rats, I was able to show that trans fats interfere with the cytochrome 450 enzyme system.1 This enzyme system plays many roles, one of which is to help our body detoxify and get rid of carcinogens. I was later able to show, using the same government data available to the Senate Select Committee on Dietary Goals (the McGovern Committee), that consumption of margarine and vegetable oils is associated with more cancer, not less, as the Committee claimed in its final report, and that consumption of traditional fats like butter was associated with less cancer.2
Early studies on fat consumption patterns are useless for shedding light on the butter versus margarine debate because scientists were using databases that did not list trans fats; often trans fats were labeled as saturated fats in these databases. 3 When they found a relationship between saturated fat consumption and cancer, traditional fats like butter, tallow and coconut oil got the blame. In reality these mostly saturated fats were tarred with the black brush of trans fats found in margarines and shortenings.
Numerous studies have shown that exposure to sunlight can help protect us against many kinds of cancers,4 and that vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased risks of deadly cancers.5 There is still much debate over the role of sunlight and melanoma—in fact just such a debate was published in the July 22, 2008 issue of the British Medical Journal, with evidence presented supporting both sides of the debate.6 Thus Dr. Campbell-McBride is not alone in her opinion that sunlight does not contribute to malignant skin cancer.
As for the generally non-malignant type of skin lesions referred to as basal cell and squamus cell carcinomas, these we know are associated with exposure to sunlight, but there are other factors involved. These lesions occur when “DNA repair of ultraviolet light damage is impaired.”7 Trans fats are a likely dietary factor that would impair DNA repair of ultraviolet light damage. Once trans fats are built into the cell membranes of the skin, many reactions cannot take place, including those involved in DNA repair.
The letter from NAMM also states that “Margarine has never been shown to increase the risk of cancer.” Until recently, the margarines that people used most certainly did increase the risk of cancer because they contained significant amounts of trans fats.
Given the great controversy over trans fats, it is a remarkable fact that very few studies have been carried out specifically comparing cancer rates in margarine eaters versus butter eaters. Often all fats are lumped together in epidemiological or case control studies—margarine with butter, lard and other fats.8 One study divided participants into four dietary patterns: “healthy” (vegetables, fruit, yogurt, sea products and olive oil); “Western” (potatoes, pizzas and pies, sandwiches, sweets, cakes, cheese, cereal products, processed meat, eggs and butter); “drinker” (sandwiches, snacks, processed meat and alcoholic beverages); and “meat eaters” (meat, poultry and margarine).9 Studies so poorly designed tell us absolutely nothing about the relative risks of margarine versus butter. In this study, those on the “Western” diet had a higher risk of colorectal cancer, which allows the researchers to blame butter and exonerate margarine. But the “Western” diet was certainly higher in trans fats from pizzas, pies, sandwiches (mayonnaise and bread), sweets and cakes.
An exception to the lack of useful results from research on butter and margarine is a study by Japanese researchers published in Cancer Detection and Prevention, 1994.10 Rats with mammary tumors induced by a carcinogen were alternately fed butter and margarine. Margarine caused an increase in both the incidence and the number of mammary tumors, and this increase was dose dependent. On the other hand, butter did not show any tumorenhancing effects.
Trans Fats in Margarine
NAMM argues that “Margarine is no longer high in trans fat.” A quick perusal at the grocery store reveals that the average margarine—yes, there is still plenty of margarine for sale at grocery stores—contains 2-2.5 grams trans fats per 11 grams of fat, so 18-23 percent of the fat in margarine is trans fat.
And the new “low-trans” spreads are not completely free of trans fats. New labeling laws allow “contains 0 grams trans fat” on the label when the product contains less than .5 grams trans fat per serving containing 11 grams of fat, which means that it can contain up to 5 percent trans and still carry this deceptive label. Remember that government scientists have declared trans fats to be unsafe at any level.
And there are hidden sources of trans fat. Mono- and di-glycerides do not have to be listed as fats. Yet they are fats—just like triglycerides. And they are always partially hydrogenated. Also, many of the liquid oils used in margarines and spreads are deodorized, a brush hydrogenation process that creates small amounts of trans fats.
Soft spreads labeled “no trans” are based on liquid vegetable oils, which are always full of dangerous free radicals, known to cause cancer. Other ingredients in soft spreads include the preservative EDTA, citric acid (a source of MSG), artificial flavors and crushed soybeans.
The margarine industry promotes margarine as better than butter because “Today’s typical margarine has 2 grams or less of saturated fat compared to 7 grams of saturated fat in butter, and most margarine products are significantly lower in calories than butter.” The implication is that saturated fats are bad, a claim that is totally untrue; however, this claim has served to demonize the competition and convince the general population to abandon traditional healthy fats. As shown in the chart below, saturated fats have the opposite effects of trans fats, and these effects are beneficial, whereas the effects of trans fats are harmful.
As for calories, butter and hard margarines are identical at 108 calories per tablespoon; soft margarines have 100 calories per tablespoon because they contain more water. A savings of eight calories per tablespoon is hardly worth the risk of eating a manufactured soft spread rather than a natural fat like butter!
The NAMM letter castigates us for “inaccurate” and “misleading” information on our website. “[A]nyone who believes this nonsense may be lead [sic] to substitute products for margarine that are very high in saturated fat, thus increasing their risk of heart disease.” Yes, our information is designed to lead people to use butter instead of margarine; we have provided a wealth of scientific information to show that butter is an especially healthy food and that replacing margarine with butter lowers the risk of heart disease.
Speaking of misleading websites, let’s have a look at www.margarine.org, the website of the National Association of Margarine Manufacturers. There we find all the inaccurate, misleading and unscientific misinformation that the vegetable oil industry has promulgated over the last fifty years. The crime of saturated fat, according to the website, is that in certain studies, saturated fat temporarily raises the so-called bad cholesterol. This is a surrogate endpoint, and a totally meaningless one. Margarine eaters have more heart disease than butter eaters11 and epidemiological data show that heart disease is lower in countries where saturated fat consumption is high, as shown in the graphs below.
Mr. Cristol is concerned that the information on our website “is significantly damaging to an industry that has worked diligently to deliver healthy products to the consumer.” The truth is, margarines and spreads are not healthy; people need to stop eating them and return to real, whole foods.
Partners in Crime
Next Mr. Cristol admonishes us to visit the websites of the FDA, the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Association. These organizations have been partners in crime with the vegetable oil industry for many years. Promotion of margarine over butter is a national policy, thanks to the backroom manipulations of the industry’s lobbying organization, the Institute for Shortening and Edible Oils. This story is told in detail in my article “The Oiling of America,” posted at www.westonaprice.org
Mr. Cristol tells us that he will be monitoring our site to see that we remove any “false, misleading and pejorative” postings. We wonder whether the NAMM has any plans to remove the false, misleading and pejorative postings about butter on its own website.
Fortunately, it is no crime to tell the truth, as we have always done at the Weston A. Price Foundation. We will continue to inform the public about the health benefits of traditional fats and of dangers of highly processed foods like margarine and spreads. They are not fit to be consumed by man or beast.
Saturated Fats Versus Trans Fats
|SATURATED FATS||TRANS FATS|
|CELL MEMBRANES||Essential for healthy function||Interfere with healthy function|
|HORMONES||Enhance hormone production||Interfere with hormone production|
|HEART DISEASE||Lower Lp(a); raise “good” cholesterol||Raise Lp(a); Lower “good” cholesterol|
|OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS||Put in tissues and conserve||Reduce levels in tissues|
|DIABETES||Do not inhibit insulin receptors||Inhibit insulin receptors|
|PROSTAGLANDINS||Encourage production and balance||Depress production; cause imbalances|
Source: Enig, M., Trans Fatty Acids in the Food Supply: A Comprehensive Report Covering 60 Years of Research, 2nd Edition, 1995, Enig Associates, Inc., Silver Spring, MD.
Sunscreens and Skin Cancer
The skin cancer epidemic is a worldwide phenomenon. Malignant melanoma is growing at a rate of 7 percent per year in the United States. In 1991, cancer experts estimated that there would be about 32,000 cases during the year of which 6,500 would be fatal. Australia has the highest melanoma rate in the world. For men, the rate doubled between 1980 and 1987 and for women it increased by more than 50 percent. It is now estimated that by age 75 two out of three Australians will have been treated for some form of skin cancer.
Some have cited a change in the ozone layer as a cause of this dramatic increase. However the ozone layer has not changed significantly except at the poles.
Researchers are now beginning to wonder whether use of sunscreens has contributed to the problem. The rise in melanoma has been exceptionally high in Queensland, Australia, where the medical establishment has long and vigorously promoted the use of sunscreens. Queensland now has more incidences of melanoma per capita than any other area in the world. In fact, worldwide, the greatest rise in melanoma has been experienced in countries where chemical sunscreens are heavily promoted.
Most chemical sunscreens contain from 2 to 5 percent of benzophenone or its derivatives (oxybenzone, benzophenone- 3) as their active ingredient. Benzophenone is a powerful free radical promoter, used in industrial processes to initiate chemical reactions and promote cross-linking. Benzophenone is activated by ultraviolet light to produce free radicals, known to cause cancer. Source: www.vvv.com/healthnews/dsunscre.html.
- Enig MG. Modification of Membrane Lipid Composition and Mixed-Function Oxidases in Mouse Liver Microsomes by Dietary Trans Fatty Acids, Doctoral Dissertation for the University of Maryland, 1984.
- Enig MG and others. Dietary Fat and Cancer Trends—A Critique. Federation Proceedings, July 1978, 37:(9):2215- 2220.
- M G Enig, et al, “Isomeric Trans Fatty Acids in the U.S. Diet,” J Am Coll Nutr, 1990, 9:471-486.
- van der Rhee HJ and others. European Journal of Cancer 42 (2006) 2222-2232.
- Holick, MF. Am J Clin Nutr 2004;80(suppl):1678S-88S.
- British Medical Journal July 2008;337:a763-764.
- British Medical Journal July 2008;337:a764.
- Herbert JR and others. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 1998 Sep;51(1):17-28.
- Shultz M and others. Br. J Nutr. 2008 Apr 1:1-5.
- Yanagi S and others. Cancer Detect Prev. 1994;18(6):415-20
- Nutrition Week Mar 22, 1991 21:12:2-3.