ZIGGY (the emperor parrot) & GEORGE (his companion human)



The sound clip you hear when you visit this page (13 seconds from "What About Me"1970 Dino Valente, Quicksilver Messenger Service) could well have been written about the food industry and what they have done--and continue to do to us--by incorporating unhealthy, chemically modified fats into the foods we eat: "THE FOOD YOU FED MY CHILDREN WAS THE CAUSE OF THEIR DISEASE...."



What a laugh advertisers give us when they try to convince us that a food maker's product is "just like grandma used to make" (unless grandma's kitchen was a chemistry laboratory.)  Partly hydrogenated vegetable oils are prime examples of the chemicals they foist upon us.  These oils have now been in our food supply for decades. Crisco was introduced in 1911, for instance. We do see the long term effect on health and mortality, and, finally, the FDA has come to its senses and is forcing manufacturers to get rid of these fats. Your grandmothers are probably younger than mine, but mine were born before 1900, so I know that they didn't learn how to cook using Crisco

Originally, doctors thought that the trans fats were healthier than, say, butter or lard.  As a teenager, I remember being so proud about how smart I was to be avoiding saturated fats by eating margarine, which I thought of as a scientifically developed "safe" food.  What a shock it was, decades later, to realize that I would have been better off sticking to butter!  

The downside to saturated fats, like those in butter, is well known to us, but less well known is they do have some health benefits, such as raising HDL and lipoprotein A, and, unlike partly hydrogenated fats, saturated fats do not interfere with important enzymes like delta-6-desaturase.  Partly hydrogenated fats raise the "bad" cholesterol level, while lowering the "good" cholesterol level.  For a more complete comparison/contrast of saturated fats vs. partly hydrogenated fats, visit http://www.bantransfats.com/transvssat.html,

I can understand why food makers started using hydrogenated fats:  these fats give products a much longer shelf life, which translates into less hassle in distributing the product and therefore more money for the manufacturer.   What I don't understand is why they insist on using partly hydrogenated oils in refrigerated and frozen products.  If a food item is going to be in your grocer's freezer for so long that the fats in it start going rancid, maybe you ought to change grocers.  Rancidity results from oxidation of fats, which is a chemical reaction, the rate of which drops drastically with temperature; there was never any need to incorporate hydrogenated fats into refrigerated items.  Now that we know the health risks of these fats, you would think that manufacturers would be eager to eliminate those fats, but many of them are having to be legally prodded into doing so.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest and many other consumer, scientific and medical organizations oppose the use of artificial trans-fats in human food.  A British group opposed trans-fats also: tfX.org.  Medical and scientific consensus is that there is no safe level of artificial trans fat in the human diet; for the purposes of my discussion, when I refer to trans fats, I am referring to those that are the result of chemical processing.  There are some naturally occurring trans fats, such as those in grass-fed beef, that are actually healthy for you.  Note: completely hydrogenated oils are not as dangerous; completely hydrogenated means fully saturated, which means such oils are as safe as naturally occurring saturated fat.

The movement to ban or regulate trans fat in food, as well as attempts to sue those who manufacture or sell such food, have aroused ire from those who claim that it is our constitutional right to engage in whatever unhealthy habits we wish. 


Those who criticize the movement to eliminate trans fats are not trying to deny the scientific facts about the ills caused by the use of trans fat, because those are irrefutable.  Most of the critics are pseudo-conservative pundits like Rush Limbaugh who try to anger the "grass roots" by convincing us that our rights would be trampled upon if we outlaw the artificial trans fats in food. (I wonder if these pundits would use the same argument against a law outlawing, say, cyanide or strychnine in food.) 

The wackiest part of the pseudo-conservative "argument" is that, having accepted the premise that our rights are being threatened, they then look for a motive behind this "threat," and, lo and behold, they find a far left conspiracy to control the lives of others--the "food police," whose only motive is to meddle in the affairs of others.  Well, I'm not to the far left or the far right:  I'm firmly in the middle of the road, and I have no interest in controlling the lives of others. It hurts all of us, though--it hurts America--when we are being sickened by the very food we eat.  The average life span of Americans has actually dropped, and our nation now ranks 41st in the world among nations when it comes to longevity. The fact that the illnesses caused by trans fats may take decades to appear does not lessen their menace.  Product labels are so complex these days that it takes a chemist to decipher them, so merely requiring that products be properly labeled is not enough.  We need legal protection from the people who make our food! 

I heartily agree that we should be able to do as we wish as long as we do not infringe on the rights of others.  Whether you smoke, consume trans fats, ride motorcycles without a helmet, or do anything else that could endanger your health, such acts would seem to be your "right."  The problem is that when you exercise this "right," you almost always infringe on the rights of others.  The only way you can actually exercise this so-called "right" without infringing on the rights of others would be if you live on a desert island.  Think for example:  you may have your little moment of "freedom" when you ride your motorcycle without a helmet, but when you became totally paralyzed in an accident, John Q. Public has to pay for your care for the rest of your life.  You cannot tell me that doesn't infringe on the rights of John Q. Public!

If your behavior causes serious health problems, then, unless you pay 100% of all medical treatment costs, you will be stealing from the public pocket when you rely on Medicaid or Medicare or any other governmental program. Other countries are beginning to realize that the public pocketbook is affected by the rising health cost of disease conditions caused by preventable behavior, such as obesity.  Japan actually monitors the obesity of its citizens over the age of 40 and fines those who are unable to slim down.  New Zealand does not allow obese people to immigrate. Great Britain and Germany are also implementing governmental programs to reduce the obesity of their citizenry. 

You might think that, if you were independently wealthy, your "right" to damage your own health would not infringe on anyone else's rights.  After all, if you are rich, you can pay for whatever you need without taking from anyone else's pockets, right?  But there is another "expense" you cannot cover: the decrease in availability of health care for others. There is not enough to go around.

And if you rely on "private" health insurance, I suppose you imagine that you are not infringing on anyone's rights, but guess what: private health insurance costs are all higher across the board because of such health problems, which means that, again, you are stealing from other people's pockets.

A huge fraction of present and future Medicaid and Medicare expenses (and other social expenses)--and higher private health insurance costs--are caused by having to deal with preventable, behavior-related health issues, like smoking, trans fats, obesity, etc.

The point is that, except in rare instances, you DO infringe on the rights of others when you destroy your own health.  Some would argue that they even have the right to commit suicide, and that doing so doesn't affect others.  Well, my tax money has to pay for the investigation and the autopsy by the county.  And if you jump off of a bridge onto a freeway, I'm going to be most annoyed about getting stuck in traffic while they clean up the mess you made exercising your "right."

Partly hydrogenated fats are killing us slowly.  Despite scientific and medical consensus on the issue, many consumers remain oblivious to the danger.  What was ironic to me about the 2007 peanut butter recall (due to salmonella contamination) was that all of the affected brands were made with partly hydrogenated oils--which are just as dangerous as bacterial toxins, the difference being that it takes decades for the effects of the trans fats to appear instead of overnight.


The response to the trans-fat issue from the food industry has been underwhelming.  The food industry continues to poison us with partly hydrogenated fats.  It's difficult to find frozen prepared foods without such fats: the next time you are at the grocery store, try to find a frozen pastry item that does not contain partly hydrogenated vegetable oil.  Sara Lee has removed hydrogenated fats from SOME of their products (their pies are now safe to eat) but not from their cheesecakes (alas!)

BULLETIN!  BULLETIN!  The Cheesecake Factory has finally removed the partly hydrogenated oils from their products; they now use palm oil, which, although apparently decolorized--i.e., stripped of its most worthwhile components--is a dramatic improvement. I was unable to resist a Cheese Factory pumpkin cheesecake at Sam's when I found out the bad fats were gone!  Kroger has a "Private Selection" New York style cheesecake that contains no partly hydrogenated oils, so life IS getting better!  (You still can't beat the fresh Whole Foods product, though, unless you make it yourself.)  What would life be like without cheesecake....

Fast food chains have been the worst culprits, but some are bowing to the pressure to eliminate the trans fats. KFC, notorious for its trans fat, has changed some of its "evil ways" and claimed, as of April 30, 2007, to have eliminated the trans fat from all their restaurants.  They now use low-lenolenic soybean oil for frying; soybean oil is not the healthiest oil on earth, but at least it's an improvement over their previous oil.  I should mention that a number of their products STILL contain partly-hydrogenated vegetable oil, including their new grilled chicken, which became controversial due to their use of beef flavoring.  (Where's the beef--in the chicken, of course.)  Despite that "improvement," their chicken is still "sodium city" though; an Original Recipe thigh contains almost a whole day's ration of sodium. If I do give in to the temptation, I can't eat it in public because I have to squeeze each piece with a couple of non-generic paper towels to get rid of the surplus of the now-less-unhealthy grease. (Squeezing the juice out of the chicken has the additional benefit of getting rid of some of the excess sodium.)

I'm still waiting for Popeye's to switch; it's hard to drive by a Popeye's knowing that there are delicious spicy onion rings begging to be eaten. Ah, well...Wendy's, at least, has also eliminated trans-fats, so the list of "safe" fast food restaurants, although small, is growing.  Burger King has finally joined the list of fast food chains to ban trans-fats, at least in frying; several of their chicken and fish items, as well as salad croutons, still contain partly-hydrogenated vegetable oil, however (as of 12/09.)


Another food maker response to the issue is to reduce (but not eliminate) the trans fat by just enough that they are legally able to call their products "trans fat free" even though the product still contains trans fat.

"Zero trans fat" on the label does not necessarily mean that trans fat is completely absent. In a monumental governmental absurdity, our congress allows the FDA to permit companies to define zero in this circumstance as, not mathematical zero, but simply less than a half-gram per serving. (I wonder if some tricky criminal defense lawyer could use this argument in drug cases: the government itself claims that less than a half gram is zero, so how can they prosecute people for possessing trace quantities of illegal substances?)

This governmental absurdity helps food companies deceive consumers about trans fat content. If you want to find out whether a product is really trans fat free, you still have to plow though an often seemingly endless ingredient list. And there are ways for unscrupulous companies to add trans fat without mentioning it on the label.

I have noticed labels that list "modified palm oil" or "refined soybean oil" as ingredients.  Being naturally paranoid, I suspect that, knowing that more and more consumers (such as myself) are refusing to buy food products that list partly hydrogenated anything, food makers will be trying to deceive us by re-labeling the partly hydrogenated product, such as by calling it "modified" or "refined" instead.

The problem with the words "modified" and "refined" is that they could mean anything. If you want to get technical, butter, for example, could be considered "refined" milk.  In fact, any milk derivative, yogurt, sour cream or anything else, could, technically, be thought of as "refined milk." I did a little Goggle searching on the term "refined soybean oil" and it did not take me long to find a simple method by which a food maker could buy a product labeled "refined" ostensibly without knowing that it is partly hydrogenated, i.e., a method by which they could weasel out of being accused of intentional deception.

I found one major supplier of oils to the food industry that lists two "soybean oils," one of which is described merely as "refined," the other as "partially hydrogenated."  A logical person who does not check the information sheets might infer that the refined is not partially hydrogenated, but in fact they are both partly hydrogenated.  I can easily envision an orders clerk for a food maker legitimately placing an order for the refined oil without realizing that it is partly hydrogenated.  Thus, the food maker buying the oil would not label its food product as partly hydrogenated, and, if ever called to task, would most likely claim that the omission was not deliberate on their part, but was the fault of its supplier (Welch, Holme & Clarke.)

If a label says "modified" oil instead of "refined," it ought to be safe--at least if the product is from Canada.  I noticed "modified palm oil" on the label of a Chudleigh's product, so I contacted Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, which forwarded my question to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.  I was informed that, legally speaking, a "modified" oil is one that has been "modified by the complete or partial removal of a fatty acid" (note:  this may not apply in other countries.)

What continues to bother me is a reply I received to my inquiry about the trans fat content of an HEB frozen product, their Select Roasted Yukon Gold Potatoes.  I was told by a "Senior Customer Relations Specialist" that "If the costumer [sic] is unsure about hydrogenated oil in product, tell him to look at the nutritional panel.  If it states 0 trans fat, then partially hydrogenated oil was not used or is at a level too low to declare" [emphasis mine].  It bothers me that food makers can put things in our food without letting us know because it is at "a level too low to declare."  I can understand, in the case of spices, that they can use the generic term "spices" instead of listing the individual spices, although that, too, is somewhat troublesome.  (FDA regulations do allow spices, flavors or coloring agents to be listed generically.) 


The food industry's latest response to the trans fat issue is to use "interesterified" fats instead.  These fats, being relatively new, have not been researched thoroughly, but appear to be even worse than their partly hydrogenated counterparts. Interesterified fats raise blood glucose levels and reduce insulin levels, thus appearing to increase your risk of diabetes. Visit STOP TRANS FATS for more information. Pepperidge Farm is one company that is now using "interesterified and/or partly hydrogenated" oils in its products.  (Being somewhat paranoid, I contacted KFC to see if they might now be using the interesterified oils also, but they assured me they are not.)

You may think you are doing yourself a favor by choosing a "healthy" oil like canola, but such a choice might turn out to be worse than choosing trans fat margarine over butter.  I always thought canola oil was relatively healthy; certainly the food industry touts its healthiness (see, for example, www.canolainfo.org.)  It has been reported, however, that purifying the oil for human use has a severe, although unintended, consequence: the activated carbon that deodorizes it also catalyzes the conversion of some of the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids into trans fats, causing the end product to contain as much as 5% trans fat, none of which gets reported on the label.  Additionally, there are unexplained studies reporting that canola oil actually reduces life span of some laboratory animals. 

At the forefront of publicizing this view of canola has been an organization that seems to be a little out in left field, perhaps out of the ball park--the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAP). The fact that the WAP also promotes homeopathy would lead most sane people to want to dismiss anything they say, but I prefer examining each of their arguments on their own merits. A similar extreme view about canola oil is held by an osteopath, anti-vaccine populist Dr. Mercola, whose "health" related website seems to be extremely popular with the lunatic fringe. I don't dismiss ideas simply because they come from Mercola; there are often grains of truth in what the man says. There may be a basis, however, for the claim that the supposedly healthy unhydrogenated canola oil does contain significant amounts of trans fats:  a study by O'Keefe, et al, entitled "Levels of Trans Geometrical Isomers of Essential Fatty Acids in Some Unhydrogenated US Vegetable Oils" in the Journal of Food Lipids 1994;1:165-176, found "The trans contents were between 0.56% and 4.2% of the total fatty acids. Consumers will obtain isomerized essential fatty acids from vegetable oils currently marketed in the U.S." (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1745-4522.1994.tb00244.x/abstract.)

I would certainly like to see some numbers on this coming out of laboratories elsewhere, but it is clear to me that any researcher who pursues this would run the risk of not having any future funding if that researcher comes up with the "wrong" (from the standpoint of the food industry) result.  Who would dare mess with such a moneymaker?  I would suggest that you should make sure that any canola oil you use is cold-pressed. 

If you want to help clean up our food supply, I would suggest writing or emailing individual food manufacturers.  If they become aware that even a few percent of their potential customers are avoiding their products because of trans fats, they might change their ways.  Here is a sample consumer query that I sent to Kaukauna, the processed cheese maker.  Although they never replied, I did notice that "partly hydrogenated oils" disappeared from their ingredient list sometime later:

I read the labels of any food product I buy, and I usually look through the ingredient lists.  But the thought never occurred to me that you might actually add partly hydrogenated oil to a cheese product. Only yesterday did I notice that your sharp cheddar/port wine log contained partly hydrogenated oils--AFTER I had already eaten some. Of course, I had to throw the rest of your product away.  As you know, the only safe level of such fat in the diet is zero.  Other (larger) companies, like KFC and Wendy's, have eliminated these poisons from their foods, although their presence is still common in processed foods.  The fact that it takes decades for the effects of the partly hydrogenated fats to become apparent does not lessen their lethality.  (For more info, visit the website of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.)  Partly hydrogenated fats hurt America:  their presence in our food supply has a direct impact on the amount of money we, as a nation, spend on health care.   Please notify me when you remove these poisons from your products.

I sent a similar query more recently to Figi's, a mail order company, after receiving one of their catalogs in the mail:

Customer (George Butel) - 12/08/2007 03:01 PM  Are your fruitcakes free of partly-hydrogenated vegetable oils?  The only commercial fruitcakes that I have been able to find that are safe for human consumption are ones made by Whole Foods and the ones from the monastery in Missouri.  I would appreciate knowing whether yours are free of such oils.  Thanks.  The only "reply" I received was:  Response (Brian - Your Customer Care Representative) - 12/08/2007 08:17 PM  We will forward your request to the appropriate area for further handling.  If any additional information is needed, we will contact you. Perhaps they are just busy; it's only been six years, so maybe they will respond soon.

Another company I have an issue with is Omaha Steaks regarding their non-steak products.  I had not been aware that they sold anything but frozen steaks until I received a food gift of several of their processed non-steak items.  I appreciated the thought, but I'm not sure it's a good idea to buy fish or Mexican-flavored food from a Nebraska company.  Like most processed foods, their products are high in sodium and trans fat.  Their "Mushroom and Wine Sauce with Beef Sirloin Tips," with 1100 mg of sodium per serving, tasted to me like school cafeteria food.  One of their selections, the "Tortilla Encrusted Tilapia" was especially disappointing.  It was advertised as having a "Mexican flair," but here in Houston you can get Tex-Mex as well as real Mexican food (actually, you can get almost any cuisine you could imagine here), so I do have some experience with Mexican food.  To me, the Omaha Steak product tasted like what someone who had never had Mexican food (say, someone from Siberia) might imagine that Mexican food would taste like.  Omaha Steak didn't even have the decency to put in actual bell peppers and jalapenos as ingredients; instead, they use some kind of pepper flavored flour "crumbles."

For people who want to eat healthier fast food (I know, it's an oxymoron; perhaps I should say "the least unhealthy fast food") and don't want to hassle with trying to get nutritional information from each eatery independently, a convenient guide to fast food is available from Dr. Steven Aldana at www.fastfoodbook.com. The book, available as a pdf download, uses color codes to gauge the relative safety of various fast food chains and their products. I cannot yet comment on the merits of his judgments.

UPDATE: The FDA finally came to its senses. "Based on a thorough review of the scientific evidence, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration today finalized its determination that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the primary dietary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods, are not “generally recognized as safe” or GRAS for use in human food. Food manufacturers will have three years to remove PHOs from products."--June 16, 2015, http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm451237.htm.



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All content on this site, including pictures, is copyrighted, 2006 through 2016, by George A. Butel.  All rights are reserved; text may be quoted freely with attribution, but critical commentary must give me the opportunity to reply.

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This site has tips and observations about dealing with parrots, and a few of my own views about human and parrot health concerns. I have a degree in biochemistry, so I am qualified to make some statements about foods, medicines and supplements, but I am neither a veterinarian nor a physician, and I do not practice human or veterinary medicine. You should certainly double-check any ideas you might get from me, or anything that you might construe as advice, by consulting with an appropriate legally licensed professional.  All content on this site 2006 through 2014 by George A. Butel.  If you see any typos or any information that you feel is inaccurate or ambiguous, please contact me by clicking here.
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