Lipid hydroperoxides–those nasty, menacing by-products of vegetable oil processing– are the antagonists of our arteries, agitators of our joints, the scourge of our century and an enemy of mankind. In our story Dr. America, a physician who has trained for years to spot diseased food sources, takes this reporter and a crew of brave assistants on a dangerous journey up the river of vegetable oils. Our mission: find the food with the greatest quantity of lipid hydroperoxides and do what we must. This food is our enemy and it must be stopped. Our foe has ruined many bloodstreams, capitalizing on the most pitiful of human weaknesses: gluttony. Everywhere he has been, he has left ruin and disorder.
Dr. America warns that we must know our enemy so we can be prepared to face him, so as we ascend this foreboding river we study the environment carefully. At the river mouth, familiar vegetable oils flow out onto a wide delta of death. About a mile upstream, we meet the convergence of the five sisters–the rivers of soy, corn, canola, cottonseed and sunflower. Depending on the season there is also a sixth, safflower. They seem innocent enough, bland and tasteless with just a hint of yellow color (added after processing).
But we must not be fooled by this appearance. Remember, they are polyunsaturates, a family that must be processed and heated in order to extract a profitable quantity of oil from the seed. Even when they say “expeller pressed,” they may still be bad. “Never trust them,” Dr. America warns, shaking her head as she directs the rowers to steer clear.
Heading upstream we encounter processed foods made from vegetable oils and the crew’s tension mounts as the river suddenly seems hostile. Salad dressing bottles and mayonnaise jars slowly bob against our hired junk. These contain the very stuff of the five sisters–soy, corn, canola, cottonseed and sunflower oils, in that they are mostly vegetable oil mixed with other compounds, including air and water, as well as flavoring agents and thickeners.
The river deepens and we move further on. On the banks, abandoned shopping carts, twisted and heaped into piles, some half buried in mud, lie rusting in the mist. Clipped coupons stream by the boat-like bats, their fluttering a silent applause for savings dreamt, but never realized. Several land at your feet: fifteen cents on Alfredo sauce, five cans of cheese spread for a dollar. This reporter brushes them overboard hastily, knowing at once that they are only another form of temptation. Yet they are harbingers of what’s to come. We must stiffen our resolve.
Rounding a bend we come into a wide opening; the river meanders around what seems like a hundred little islands, each stream twirling with boxes, cans and cartons.
Bags of chips are everywhere. Don’t let the word organic emblazoned on the box fool you, Dear Reader. In this case what happens after leaving the field trumps any loving care with which the oil seeds might have once been grown.
This stretch of river goes on for a long time. As the dense foliage brushes open before us and closes behind, we pass many of our well-known convenience items–spaghetti sauces, burritos, macaroni and cheese, microwave dinners, ready-made pizza–anything a factory can put together for sale. Time saving foods.
How much life is a little time worth, muses Dr. America, as she picks up a couple of the brightly colored boxes. Skimming the many ingredients listed on the side, we realize that they are not so appetizing when looked at closely. So many long words, some familiar, but most completely foreign. What horrors do they hide? What heinous crimes?
None of the lists disclose the content of lipid hydroperoxide, but we know it is there. We know because the names of the five sisters (and occasionally safflower) are there. And inside these foods that have been heated more than once you know what kind of vile business the lipid hydroperoxides do. In your mind’s eye, picture them running amok as a riotous mob among the nutrients, cutting the throats of vitamins and hacking at the remnants of once living systems.
As we progress upwards, we are finding foods with ever higher content of lipid hydroperoxides due to more added vegetable oil, or to being heated longer, more often, or at higher temperatures. It seems as though vegetable oil is in everything, and everything it’s in contains these lipid hydroperoxides, capable of causing almost any disease.
At the highest section of the river we run into the lipid hydroperoxide rapids. Here we must navigate around huge boulders of donuts, bags and boxes of potato chips, candies, store-bought cookies and other oil-laden desserts. This section has brought many down before us, and the shores are littered with dying diabetics, men clutching their chests in spasms of pain and the bodies of the dead.
At last. . . the source. The air is thick with intoxicating fumes. As Dr. America flings one foot overboard to step upon the poisoned land, she hopes she will prove strong enough to face whatever food awaits. Remind yourself that if you obey your hunger here, you will find neither satisfaction nor satiety, only an empty yearning for more and more and more.
As the dusk settles, fluorescent lighting brings the landscape into harsh focus. Everything you see tells you that the world has gone insane. It is a tile-and-chrome jungle of fast food joints. Linoleum counters crop up in clusters everywhere, and there are no lines.
We make out a path among the natives, the uniformed servers who offer their services with the detached indifference that only foreigners can have for each other. They stand obediently in front of their wares, which sit in suspended decomposition under the rows of heat lamps behind them.
We need to find someone who can help us with the last and most dangerous portion of this journey, introducing us to the most despicable mass murderer the world has known. We need an ally, a guide, someone trusted by our enemy and familiar with the terrain. Suddenly, the Apple Pie Dessert scurries up to our small party.
“You smell that? Do you smell that? Cyclized hydrocarbon. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of cyclized hydrocarbon in the morning.”
“Who’s in charge here?”we ask the Pie. “In charge? I don’t know, ma’am, I’m just doing what I’m told. I’m just a working girl.”
Suddenly we are surrounded by a group of food prep workers. We expect them to take us to the grill where they cook the hamburgers. Instead, they grab us and carry us to the Deep Fryer. It looks like hell in there. It’s the end of the river all right, but the source of lipid hydroperoxides isn’t the grilled hamburgers, it’s the French fries cooked in reused vegetable oil.
A voice bubbles up from the depths. “Where are you from, Dr. America?”
“I’m from central Pennsylvania, sir.”
“Are you a cardiologist?”
Suddenly Colonel French ascends to the surface to face us. He splashes scalding oil over his yellowish bald head, and passes it on to his companions.
“I’m a family practice doctor,” Dr. America replies.
“You’re neither. You’re a conspiracy theorist. And a quack. I’ve seen horrors. . . horrors that you’ve seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have no right to judge me.”
Dr. America could see that he was suffering. Everyone could. He had been heated and reused too often. Changing once a week, by law, was nowhere near enough. And this day, at the end of the week, he smelled like slow death, arteriolar sludge, nightmares.
In a flash, this reporter realizes that, whether country cut or curly, the fast food French fry is mankind’s mortal enemy–one that will only become more insidious as its relative the trans fat is banned. In one super-sized serving there is enough lipid hydroperoxide to bring a grown man to his knees, lips moving in soundless desperation.
Standing now in the presence of so much danger, I feel as though I am about to fall into a great abyss, all the weeks of protocol and training offer no consolation, no guidance. I realize that the much-maligned burger is not nearly so much the enemy as the French fry. When it comes to burgers, only the bun and the artificial cheese contain lipid hydroperoxide, not the meat itself. Hanging onto this concrete bit of trivia, focusing on it, I regain control. I know what I must now do: warn the world of the true nature of the fast food French fry. Standing over the bubbling cauldron, I reach forward, ever so gently, and pull the plug out of the wall. The sizzling stops. As the French fry goes limp, his lips move and we hear a whisper,
“The horror. . . the horror. . . ”
Lipid hydroperoxides are contaminants that form from natural fatty acids when polyunsaturated fats are heated excessively, which happens in processing and when these oils are heated for cooking and frying. Lipid hydroperoxides poison our body’s systems just as trans fats do; in fact, they may even be worse than trans fats because of their propensity to react with oxygen and iron, thereby forming free radicals.
These distortion reactions occur in the factory, the frying pan, and in our bloodstreams. When we eat foods with lipid hydroperoxides, they incite free radical cascades in addition to deactivating enzymes, as trans fats do. This makes lipid hydroperoxides potent toxins, capable of causing tissue inflammation resulting in skin rashes, heartburn, liver problems, arterial spasm and blood clots–even cancer.
The Horrors of HNE
Researchers at the University of Minnesota have identified a highly toxic compound, 4-hydroxy-trans-2-noneal (HNE), which forms in vegetable oils when they are heated to frying temperature (365 degrees) and then concentrate in the fried foods themselves. “HNE is a well known, highly toxic compound that is easily absorbed from the diet,” said A. Saari Csallany, professor of food chemistry and nutritional biochemistry at the 96th annual meeting of the American Oil Chemists Society. “The toxicity arises because the compound is highly reactive with proteins, nucleic acids–DNA and RNA–and other biomolecules. HNE is formed from the oxidation of linoleic acid, and reports have related it to several diseases, including atherosclerosis, stroke, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and liver diseases.”
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2006.