Photo by Lucas Vasques on Unsplash
This is the third in a series of articles on this topic.
In the end of the previous section of this series, we asked what would be the resultant effect on health following acceptance of the dogma that we should reduce our intake of saturated fats and consume more carbohydrates as grains. We also queried what would be the effect on our health following the move of the food industry into the development of the use of vegetable oils, the introduction of margarine, and hydrogenated oils. And further, allowing the food industry to continue to make substantial profits selling over-processed carbohydrates and using sugar in many of its products.
Vegetable Oils, Are They Healthier Than Saturated Fats?
Let us explore firstly the abandonment of the saturated fats such as lard and dripping that we used to use for cooking, and its replacement with vegetable oils for cooking use, and their incorporation into food products.
Asking whether vegetable oils are healthier than saturated fats is never going to be a simple yes or no answer. The important question to ask here is what is the condition of the oil in question?
Vegetable oils in their natural state, i.e., sunflower oil from a sunflower seed. In a fresh seed, if in its organic form—by that I mean un-sprayed with chemical herbicides or pesticides—would be a useful essential fatty acid to ingest. Once removed from its seed, as during industrial extraction, the oil is extremely affected by heat light and oxygen. It will oxidise, become rancid, and create free-radical damage. Free radicals, are unstable molecules that have lost their balancing electrical charge and will seek to find another electron to re-balance their charge, in this unstable form they can create havoc in the body.
Inside the body, these damaged free radicals will steal an electron from whatever source it can, which will force this new molecule to seek for itself another electron to restore its balance, and this will create chain reactions in the body that will continue until curtailed by the intervention of an anti-oxidant, such as vitamin C or vitamin E. Most of us are exposed to such attacks daily, and they can vary in amount depending on our exposure to free radicals, from simply thousands to tens of thousands and with poor diets can be in the order of magnitude of hundreds of thousands per day.
Industrial processing of these oils in large volumes generates high temperatures, which generally result in damage to the oils. They are then bleached and de-odourised to remove any smell or taste of rancidity, they are then treated with anti-foaming agents, and stabilized with xylene. What you end up with is a product that is damaged and contains, free radical damage, trans-fats, and other products such as aldehydes that are harmful to our bodies.[i]
Industrial users further process these vegetable oils into margarines and vegetable shortenings by hydrogenation, or partial hydrogenation. This further damages the oil and increases the levels of trans-fats dramatically. Trans-fats have been theoretically removed from many food products following the discovery of their high association with heart disease.
However, vegetable oils are now the standard oils used in deep fat fryers in most fast food outlets, which has introduced a serious problem by the creation of harmful products in the oil that never existed in the days when saturated fats such as lard, dripping, and other animal derived fats were in use. The animal derived fats are more stable, and much less likely to create free radicals when used in cooking.
Sugar, Salt and the ‘Bliss Point’.
The food industry adapted to the new food guidelines by utilising the increasing knowledge gained from food scientists, who were discovering just how addictive sugar was, and just what levels would work best to get consumers to buy more of their products. They had discovered that the combination of sugar and salt was a real winner, and with the inclusion of fat in many circumstances made the perfect trio. They had discovered what people in the industry referred to as the ‘bliss point’, where the optimum levels of the combinations of sweet and salty existed. They found that younger people, for example, preferred things sweeter and saltier than their peers, which enabled more accurate targeting to their consumers. Companies like Nestlé, were experimenting with the distribution of fat globules and their various shapes and sizes that would give the best ‘mouth feel’ to maximise the success of their sales. They discovered that children could develop their taste for salt at four of five months of age, but the liking for sweet tasting foods appeared from their very first introduction of food or drinks. They also discovered that the more sugar was eaten, the more it seemed to be craved. The addiction was not simply a psychological addiction, animal research came to the same conclusions. A researcher, Anthony Sclafani, fed a group of rats with sugar laden Froot Loops, a ‘breakfast cereal’ made by Kellogg, he found that they developed such a craving for sugar that they would take risks just to get hold of it. When it was withdrawn they would experience withdrawal symptoms. Other scientists at Princetown found the same situation, withdrawal signs included chattering jaws. Other researchers found that rats addicted to heroin or cocaine would chose sugar water in preference to either of these two drugs, and within two days would convert their addiction from heroin or cocaine to sugar.[ii]
With the heat off sugar, however, the food industry felt free to experiment in the creation of food products that would deliver good returns. Using cheaply produced processed carbohydrates as one of the starting points would deliver a fantastic array of marketable products. This lead to some real creative thinking, and the re-invention of what one might call ‘breakfast’. When John Harvey Kellogg first produced flaked cereal at Battle Creek, it was his brother, Will, who added the sugar to it. John Kellogg did not approve, so his brother went solo and so was born Kellogg’s Toasted Cornflakes. Other’s followed suit, so much so that Battle Creek turned into a cereal boom town. By 1911 there were more than 108 different brands of cereal being manufactured there, the majority with different amounts of sugar added, from 25 percent of some cereals to more than 75 percent added sugar. These products were to become a staple breakfast for many children, especially in the USA.
Effects of the Indulgence with Over-Processed Carbohydrates on Weight & Health
The results of the indulgence in over-processed carbohydrates was, as Cleave predicted—he predicted a rise in diabetes, heart disease, and obesity with its accompaning gastric complications, such as constipation, gout and the other symptoms we have previously mentioned. We have gone from a situation where at the turn of the century, statistics of the 1890’s revealed that less than 1 in 50,000 died from diabetes, to 1924 when it had risen sixty-fold. In the UK, more than four million people now have diabetes (one in every 16 people). In the USA—where it is even more of a problem—according to the CDC statistics, for adults over 18 years old (2013-2015), 9.76 percent of the population have diabetes.[iii] In the UK ten percent of the entire National Health budget is purely for the treatment of diabetes.
The figures for obesity, are of course predictably following this rising trend. By 1961 approximately 1 in 7 adults were considered obese, within 40 years it had reached 1 in 3 people in the USA. Of course this is not simply a problem with western countries. The World Health Organisation (WHO) released a report, in February 2018, illustrating the scale of the problem globally. Here are some of its findings:
- Worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975.
- In 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight. Of these over 650 million were obese.
- 39% of adults aged 18 years and over were overweight in 2016, and 13% were obese.
Whilst these figures must give us all pause for thought, the revelations of the statistics for children, I feel we ought to find even more horrifying:
- 41 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese in 2016.
- Over 340 million children and adolescents aged 5-19 were overweight or obese in 2016.
What needs to be fully appreciated is revealed in the following information from WHO regarding the health consequences we face with obesity:
Raised BMI is a major risk factor for noncommunicable diseases such as:
- cardiovascular diseases (mainly heart disease and stroke), which were the leading cause of death in 2012;
- musculoskeletal disorders (especially osteoarthritis – a highly disabling degenerative disease of the joints);
- some cancers (including endometrial, breast, ovarian, prostate, liver, gallbladder, kidney, and colon).
The risk for these noncommunicable diseases increases, with increases in BMI. [iv]
That the obesity epidemic, and the diabetes epidemic is a result of our societies over-indulgence in over-processed carbohydrates, I am in no doubt. I hope to furnish enough information in the following pages to help you reach the same conclusions and be able to make a more informed choice about what to do about it. In Unhealthy Betrayal, we discussed how the medical establishment was wedded to the pharmaceutical industry, and how chronic disease was considered the main source of revenue for the industry. [v] In the previous pages we have revealed how the whole issue of heart disease and the cholesterol theory was politicised and resulted in acceptance of this now increasingly empty theory—and how it was able to make its impact on the global stage. The scene was set for a global health catastrophe of monumental proportions.
How Do We solve This Health Crisis?
The problems affecting global communities now is how to reverse this process. To enable this to happen, we have to acknowledge that mistakes were made, it’s time to move on, change the way we do research, and allow the truth to come out. If we are forced to face a relentless onslaught of self-serving defenders of the broken theory that saturated fats are the cause of heart disease, it will only further delay the resolution of this crisis, and further burden communities and future generations unnecessarily.
Many people are not aware that Ancel Keys, the originator and perpetrator of the original theory was actually funded by the sugar industry. He was supported by them, as was Fred Stare, founder of the Department of Nutrition, at Harvard. Gary Taubes informs us, both men ‘would play critical roles in the 1960s and 1970s, defending the place of sugar in a healthy diet and arguing against the idea that it could be a cause of chronic disease.’ [vi]
It is easy to be pessimistic and suggest that it will take considerable time for the acceptance for the true cause of our health epidemic to surface. There are so many vested interests, making very significant sums of money out of this metabolic crisis. We have the food industry on one hand, making fantastic profits and with little interest in changing their position, and less interest in being portrayed as being greatly responsible for our current health crisis. We have Big Pharma, who are making better profits than any other branch of industry selling their drug therapies dealing with the symptoms of the crisis—and making profits in the trillions of dollars in the process. In the field of medicine, we have a vast industry, from the universities, hospitals, researchers, and doctors all dependent upon making a living dealing with the health consequences discussed.
My feeling is that the only way we are going to create real change in this world, is from the bottom up—that is a grass-roots movement of citizens calling for change. This needs to come from a better-informed position. The information we need is already available, it’s just too few know this. We all need to become better informed, and realise that real change is not just possible, it is essential to create a healthy vibrant world. I see the issue we face as not simply how to reverse one mistake, one poorly supported theory about heart disease, but realising that this crisis is a symptom of a much bigger issue facing us all. The subtitle of Unhealthy Betrayal, reads How the Manipulation of Science and Politics by Corporate Interests Destroys Health and Threatens the Future of Humanity. It is really about the corporate interests. It is also about how we fund research, or more accurately, how we fail to fund research, and allow corporatocracy to step in and fund their own interests. They simply take the profits and the costs—the real costs are ignored, the consequential costs to our health and the burden this brings to our health systems—this is shouldered by the taxpayers. This is what is commonly referred to in industry-speak as the ‘externalised costs’.
It comes back to some simple questions. The food industry would argue that it is providing ‘cheap and affordable’ food. But if you add the health costs, how cheap is it then?
We have a health service that simply applies palliatives to the health consequences created by a totally impoverished diet, based of false science, supporting the reliance of over-processed carbohydrates that mankind was never designed to eat. This is a health service that is in denial about the nutritional consequences of such an impoverished diet, or the biological consequences of treating the symptoms and not the cause of the metabolic disaster created, with drugs or surgery. This is not to deny the important contribution of the many medical professionals who are trying to change this very situation—I quote from some of the very best of them both above and in the following pages.
What I am trying to suggest here, is that I feel we need to create a much bigger movement for change. A more fundamental reassessment is required here.
In the next section I hope to offer some of the alternative explanations for the cause of our health crisis, and offer some insights from some of the great minds that are trying to solve our health issues.
[i] John Finnegan, The Facts About Fats, First Celestial Arts Printing, 1993.
[ii] Michael Moss, Salt Sugar Fat—How the Food Giants Hooked Us, W H Allen, 2013.
[iv]World Health Organisation, Fact Sheets on Obesity, 2018. http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/obesity-and-overweight
[v] Andrew Burgoyne, Unhealthy Betrayal—How the Manipulation of Science and Politics by Corporate Interests Destroys Health and Threatens the Future of Humanity, Fundamental Press, 2015.
[vi] Gary Taubes, The Case Against Sugar, Portobello Books, London, 2016, p129.