It was the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) that put pressure on the food processing industry to switch to trans fats instead of saturated fat for frying back in the 1980s. (See “The Tragic Legacy of the Center for Science in the Public Interest” by Mary G. Enig, PhD, at westonaprice.org.) Now that the public is learning that butter and saturated fats aren’t the dietary villains they’ve been made out to be all these many years, CSPI is engaged in damage control. In the May 2014 issue of the Nutrition Action Newsletter, published by CSPI, Martijn B. Katan, professor emeritus of nutrition at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam was interviewed for the cover story under the sensational heading “Fats Under Fire—New Findings or Shaky Science?”
When Dr. Katan accuses revisionists of “shaky science,” he is alluding to Mark Bittman’s jubilant New York Times article, “Butter is Back.” In it, Bittman shares the refreshing and redeeming results of a seventy-two-study metaanalysis published in Annals of Internal Medicine exonerating saturated fats as a risk factor in heart disease. The interview with Dr. Katan opens with leading questions as to why some studies find no higher risk of heart disease in people who eat more saturated fat. Katan indicates that not finding something can have two causes: it’s either a) not there or b) the people who were searching did not use the right methods to search. He goes into great detail as to why and how improper sleuthing methods might have been used, but he does not explore the other glaring possibility that the damning evidence was simply not there—as a true scientist would have admitted first and foremost. Dr. Katan is biased, of course, in favor of polyunsaturated oils. But I am giving away the ending of this tale.
Let’s go back to those instances of “shaky science.” “You mean studies that ask people what they eat and then track them for years to see who gets heart disease?” asks the interviewer. “Yes,” answers Dr. Katan. Could he possibly be referring to the revered Framingham study, observational in nature, the initial go-to study that seemed to point the finger at saturated fats and cholesterol as the causes of heart disease, only to do a U-turn after more than thirty years, and serve up exactly the opposite conclusions?
The Center for Science in the Public Interest is the very same organization that helped eliminate coconut oil-popped popcorn in movie theaters, leaving us instead with popcorn made with partially hydrogenated polyunsaturated oils; that is, refined liquid oils solidified by passing hydrogen through the oil over a nickel catalyst to form unnatural solid fats, laden with trans fatty acids, which turned out not only to be dangerous to health (including the heart), but which made previously nutritious and delicious popcorn taste like plastic. To make matters worse, that is, to attempt to have the hydrogenated fats mimic a buttery flavor, movie theaters poured on yellow dyes and lots of refined salt on the popped corn. Such was the cycle of perfectly good movie food turned into perfectly toxic movie food, all in the name of modernization and profit-oriented industrialization. Today, I sometimes sneak my own popcorn into movies, or just go without.
CSPI is also the organization that published a booklet in 1988 called “The Saturated Fat Attack.” CSPI has been hell-bent upon promoting the propaganda that cholesterol causes heart attacks, consumption of saturated fats causes levels of blood cholesterol to rise, and therefore saturated fats are bad for health. Having gone from a nearly fat-free diet in 2006 (at the behest of my Kaiser doctor) and on to a fat-rich diet in 2010, I can vouch for the invalidity of their statement. My health went down the tubes on a lowfat, canola-piecrust diet, and revived remarkably on a buttery diet. I have not been sick in the last four and one-half years. The butter bathed my starved body in fat-soluble vitamins, improved my digestion, unbloated my stomach, refueled my mind, made my immune system robust again, and took away all my aches, pains and other weird health problems. My heart, which was weakened from the fatless years, beats strongly again. The arrhythmias are gone. No more scary whooshes.
In his New York Times article, “Butter is Back,” Bittman rejoiced at the vindication of butter (along with bacon and other formerly maligned animal fats). He mused that right now Julia Child must also be beaming somewhere in heaven, and when I read his article, I was beaming too, for I am a happy butter eater.
In their 1988 “Attack” booklet, CSPI further bungled its “facts” and claimed that commonly available food snacks contained toxic “palm and coconut oil saturates,” which needed to be labeled as “saturates” when in fact these snacks contained partially hydrogenated soy/canola and cottonseed oils (actual compositions tested by University of Maryland scientists)—a very, very different beast. As an example, CSPI indicated that the popular crackers Cheese Tidbits, and the cookies Chips Ahoy contained saturated palm oil, when in fact they actually contained partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oils. If you recall, this was the very cottonseed oil that Proctor and Gamble converted—by dint of marketing magic—from industrial lamp-oil into Crisco: an “economical ‘must-have’ in every intelligent housewife’s kitchen.” As I now read of the pesticides sprayed on cotton plants in the last century, the thought of a public consuming massive doses of chemically extracted seed oils from these poisoned cotton plants saddens me. It also helps explain the startling epidemic of neurological diseases in this country.
Why did CSPI include these false data in their 1988 booklet? First of all, it appears that they did not have the ability to analyze fats at the time they made these claims, according to Dr. Enig in Know Your Fats. Second, they were putting the cart before the horse; that is, opinion before analysis, rhetoric before science, and were operating from a preconceived agenda. They were spearheading a massive war against saturated fats. The propaganda generated to propel this war has caused millions of Americans to flee healthy traditional fats and embrace the novel partially hydrogenated fats in the name of health, creating havoc with their cell metabolism, and causing chronic diseases previously unheard of, on an unparalleled scale.
With this new article in Nutrition Action Newsletter of May 2014, CSPI appears intent on carrying on its war against saturated fats into the new century. Twenty-six years after the publication of “The Saturated Fat Attack,” CSPI is sticking to its guns and continues to defend the fortress of its prior, now invalidated thesis: that polyunsaturated oils are healthier for your heart than saturated fat.
To return to the interview with Dr. Katan:
Questioner: So Omega-6s may protect the heart as much as Omega-3s?
Dr. Katan: Yes. They may even be better. The bottom line is to replace saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats.
Dr. Katan then goes on to put in a plug for the statin industry.
Questioner: Besides replacing sat fats with polys, what else can people do to protect their heart?
Dr. Katan: This may sound surprising, but saturated fat is not the issue that it was….that’s not because it is less harmful, it’s because we have changed our diets. In the Netherlands, just about everyone who is at risk for heart disease is taking statins. That has a huge effect on cholesterol levels.
This reasoning is very reminiscent of the subliminal message of the Crisco marketers: even if you were so reckless as to consume saturated fat, there is yet a fix and heart protection for you in your statin drug prescription. Dr. Katan’s implication is that everyone in the Netherlands who consumed “sat fats” in this foolhardy fashion now takes statins and is therefore no longer in danger of developing heart disease.
In fact, the truth is the exact opposite. And this is what imbues Dr. Katan’s message with a far more sinister motive than that of a lost scientist innocently drawing an erroneous conclusion. Surely a biochemist who has done much research knows that a diet heavily reliant upon polyunsaturated fats can actually cause heart disease (see Chris Masterjohn’s masterful analysis of the Los Angeles V.A. Hospital Study at http://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/good-fats-badfats-separating-fact-from-fiction/). Surely Dr. Katan must know that recommending these fats as a large part of your diet will almost guarantee getting you placed on statins. It might be revealing to discover who funds Dr. Katan’s research.
And yet the (false) message is conveyed in no uncertain terms. Eat “polys” or risk heart disease. If you get heart disease, take statins. And of course you’re going to get heart disease—but from the polys, not the saturated fats. Clever and malicious advice.
The tragedy here is that many of our senior citizens, particularly those who are health conscious and likely subscribe to Nutrition Action Newsletter, will eat up the CSPI’s message. Many will cut out butter (or continue to avoid it if they were eating it) and replace it with vegetable oils. Seniors are covered under Medicare and their statin prescriptions are discounted or free, yet good food is neither. Vegetable oils are cheaper than butter.
Some will believe the propaganda because they are told to, and also because it’s a financially palatable solution to the question of food selection, albeit not a health-giving solution. Many of them will eat these polyunsaturated fats, develop heart disease, then take statins, and begin to develop the side effects of the drugs: heart myopathy, muscle myopathy, mental dysfunction, cancers. Some will be heroically rescued from the “jaws of death” with more drugs, major surgeries and other procedures, all while they endure an ever poorer quality of life.
Just as in investing, so in making food choices. It’s really so simple and a matter of such common sense, yet there will always be as many who are fooled by industry propaganda into eating canola oil, drinking protein shakes, and taking vitamin analogs as there are those who buy penny stocks and lottery tickets—all to get that easy edge on finances and health. Honest, plain foods, like investments in plain view, frequently fail to impress people. And yet the traditional foods are so anchored in nature, they are virtually indestructible assurances of health and wealth. Simplicity in reality is extremely complex. Like butter.
The most useful part of the Nutrition Action Newsletter article is a beautiful chart which provides the poly, mono, and saturated fatty acid profiles of various oils and fats. It opens with canola oil at the top, of course. Look instead at the bottom of the chart where the butter is, and work your way up from there. It’s an upside-down world of nutrition, so invert and enjoy good health!
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2014