By Nurse Mark
Fads have been with us forever – it’s just human nature to want to “jump on the bandwagon” when something new and catchy comes along.
Dancing the Charleston. Zoot Suits. Troll dolls and Beanie Babies. UFOs. Rubik’s Cube. Hula Hoops. Poodle Skirts. The Macarena and Disco dancing. All these and more have come, and gone. Most are not missed in the least.
Medical fads come and go too: doctors are no more immune to the lure of “jumping on the bandwagon” than anyone else, and for doctors there can be an important incentive to follow along with their colleagues since not following the herd exposes them to the risk of being accused of not providing “standard of care” – which risks their license. Some notable medical fads include prescribing antibiotics at the first hint of the sniffles, prescribing cholesterol-lowering drugs for almost any reason, prescribing “bone building” drugs despite the known dangers, and on and on.
Dietary fads come and go as well - often with help from the medical industry. For a number of years now it has been popular for doctors to tell patients to “avoid salt,” “cut out the fatty foods,” “stay away from cholesterol,” “avoid red meat,” “reduce your coffee intake,” and other such silly advice rooted in faulty biochemistry.
Big industries love these medical and dietary fads – for they can use them to advantage to sell stuff. Everything from prescription drugs to chicken-instead-of-beef to “low sodium” / “low fat” / “low cholesterol” manufactured foods is fair game for their marketing departments and as a result we are constantly bombarded with a cacophony of shrill and conflicting claims.
One of the most enduring and possibly most harmful of the medical / dietary fads is the low fat / low cholesterol fad.
As regular HealthBeat News readers you know that essential fatty acids (aka “fats”) are essential to life, and that cholesterol is an important part of our good health – no matter how much we do or don’t eat of it we must have it to live and so our livers make it for us de novo from other raw materials if we don’t get enough in our diet.
In an effort to cater to these fads the Big Food Industries like ConAgra, General Mills, PepsiCo, Nestle, and dozens more all compete for consumer dollars with “manufactured” foods designed to meet the “needs” of consumers intent on following the latest food fashions.
This redesigning of once-healthy foods brings us such things as margarine to replace butter, Crisco to replace lard, Egg Beaters to replace real farm-fresh eggs, “low fat” cheeses of all descriptions, foods boasting to be “no saturated fats” and “cholesterol-free,” imitation meats, and “low calorie” foods galore.
But these things are all good for us, right? After all, the doctors all say so… and so do the big industries promoting them – often with a wink and a nod from Big Government.
Let’s look at one of these fads and the “foods” that have been developed to go along with it.
“Cholesterol is Bad For You!” and “Saturated Fats Will Give You A Heart Attack!”
This fad began in earnest in the 1950′s, based on some really bad science that was then promoted by some very big industries. If you haven’t already done so, please go back and re-read Saturated Fats: Another Big Fat Lie for the back-story on this.
It resulted in things like Mazola corn oil margarine, Synthetic butters, usually made of soy, cottonseed, or canola oils, Fat free “whipped cream,” fat free mayonnaise, “non dairy” coffee creamer, and the piece de resistance, an odd, not-quite-eggs product called “Egg Beaters” that promises to be just as good as real eggs, without all that nasty cholesterol. Crisco (CRYStallized Cottonseed Oil – formerly an industrial waste product) had been around for a lot longer – it just got a fresh life with this new fad.
Now, let’s assume for just a moment that maybe fats and cholesterol really are bad for us, and that foods without fats and cholesterol therefor must be good for us. How could our heroic, hard-working scientists manage to create new foods that don’t have the bad ingredients but that can still taste good?
Well, it isn’t easy, but given enough corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup (yes, they really are two similar but different things!), modified food starch, sugars of various descriptions, “edible” oils, flavorings (artificial or otherwise), and just the right industrial massaging such as hydrogenation – a rather intimidating process that usually involves heat, pressure, and a catalyst – normally a metal such as nickel, we get Faux Foods.
When we look at the Nutrition Facts Box for any of these “food products” we usually see the same actors over and over: water, corn syrup, modified starch, casein, sugar, and of course hydrogenated oils. That, along with colorings, spices and other flavorings, and some chemicals and preservatives to keep it all together – and voila! You have a new food product! (And there are some that are not even allowed to call themselves food – look for one called “Smart Beat Healthy Fat Free Non Dairy Slices” – the words “food” and “cheese” don’t appear anywhere on the label!)
Well, you say, what about those Egg Beaters? After all, the label says they are 99.99 percent real eggs!
Yes, the label does say that. And the latest label information shows that Egg Beaters contains some 28 ingredients including “natural” flavors and colors, sulfites, vegetable gums and tocopherols (possible soy, wheat or corn allergen products), and ferric phosphate (iron).
But in reality, what are we trading for this? The goodness of egg yolks! Folks, the egg is one of mother nature’s most nearly perfect foods. And if someone is allergic to egg, it is most likely an allergy to the egg white – the main ingredient of Egg Beaters! Please, if you are at all unclear about the bad rap that eggs have gotten and continue to get please re-read Do Eggs Really Cause Blocked Arteries? and get hip!
Egg Beaters were introduced in 1972 in response to the “Cholesterol is Bad For You” fad that was really getting rolling then and was likely given to all sorts of unsuspecting groups such as infants, children, seniors, inmates, and other victims being fed institutional food. Many probably didn’t do well, so saner heads prevailed and studies were conducted – one of the most well-known of these was titled “Nutritional Value of Egg Beaters® Compared With “Farm Fresh Eggs” by Meena Kasmaii Navidi, Fred A. Kummerow. Published in 1974 by the American Academy of Pediatrics, The abstract can be found here. We have read the full article and can report that it is less than complimentary to Egg Beaters!
Three groups of lab rats were used in the study: the rat mothers and their 2 to 3 day old pups were fed either whole hens eggs, Egg Beaters, or regular rat chow.
From that paper:
The pups from the mothers fed Egg Beaters averaged 31.6 gm, and those fed whole egg averaged 66.5 gm in weight at 3 weeks of age as compared to 70 gm for pups from those fed laboratory chow. Both the mothers and pups fed Egg Beaters developed diarrhea within one week; those fed whole egg did not develop diarrhea. The pups fed the two egg mixtures were weaned at 5 weeks of age. All of those fed Egg Beaters died within three to four weeks after weaning. The general appearance of the rats fed Egg Beaters indicated a gross deficiency in one or more nutritional factors as compared to those fed whole egg ( Fig. 1) . As the animals had a tendency to become coated with the Egg Beaters, the animals were washed gently with a mild detergent solution and dried with paper towels. The washing removed some of the hair as well as the Egg Beaters ( Fig. 2).
|Fig. 1. Weanling rats fed shell eggs (left) or egg Beaters (right).||Fig. 2. Weanling rats fed shell eggs (left) or Egg Beaters (right). ( Both animals were washed with mild detergent, rinsed and dried with paper towels before picture was taken.)|
Are there any questions? Which rat pup would you rather be?
To be fair, the ingredients list from the Egg Beaters of 1974 looks slightly different from the ingredient list of today, though the actual full ingredients list of today’s formula is a little hard to pin down. However, the authors of the 1974 study noted:
A comparison of the nutrients in Egg Beaters with the nutrients in “farm fresh eggs” indicates a list of nutrients which should be able to meet the growth requirements of weanling rats.
Judging by the pictures, Egg Beaters definitely did not meet the nutritional needs of these rats!
Coffee Mate is another pseudo-food manufactured especially for those who have been frightened away from all things fat. This concoction tastes great – and so it should; the stuff comes in some 25 flavors including gingerbread, Parisian almond crème, peppermint mocha and of course “original.”
So, what’s in it? Well, all the varieties are slightly different, but here is the list of ingredients provided by Nestlé for “original liquid”: water, corn syrup solids, partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oil, and less than 2% of sodium caseinate (a milk derivative)**, dipotassium phosphate, mono- and diglycerides, sodium aluminosilicate, artificial flavor, carrageenan.
The first two ingredients (after “water”) are corn syrup and soybean and/or cottonseed oil. Why would someone would give up a nice, healthy, nutritious spoonful of heavy whipping cream in their coffee for this sugary chemical concoction?
OK, so maybe I’m not being entirely fair by harping on those two fake foods – after all, they are an easy target.
What about margarine you ask? Surely margarine can’t be bad – after all, it has been a staple in many homes for decades. Well, not so fast. Let’s look at margarine a little more critically.
In the 18th century, looking ways to feed his army on the cheap, Emperor Louis Napoleon III of France offered a prize to anyone who could make a satisfactory substitute for butter, suitable for soldiers and “the lower classes.” Of course an enterprising chemist soon obliged him, and gave the world margarine. Early margarine was probably healthier than today’s concoctions – the principal raw material in the original formulation of margarine was beef fat. Shortages of beef fat during WWII led manufacturers to begin using vegetable oils like cottonseed and soy oils.
Let’s ignore for a moment that when we use margarine we are turning our backs on a natural, healthy food – butter – and instead are ingesting oils that were never really intended for human consumption such as soybean, canola, cottonseed, or corn oils.
Let’s ignore that in order to make these oils into a form that is somewhat butter-like (after all, that’s the goal – to imitate natural, healthy butter) they must be manipulated through some harsh industrial processes like hydrogenation.
Let’s ignore the fact that margarine is naturally white and that either artificial or “natural” color must be added to make it look like butter.
Here’s an eye-opener: margarine doesn’t taste like butter. That’s no surprise when you think about it – because it’s not butter.
Why is that a big deal? Well, it’s a big deal because if you are a manufacturer trying to market a fake butter and it doesn’t taste like butter it isn’t going to sell very well!
So, what do you do? You make it taste like butter. How do you do that? You add a chemical called diacetyl.
Diacetyl is the stuff they put in microwave popcorn to give it that “buttery flavor” – the stuff that causes lung problems, remember? Repeated, long-term exposure to heated diacetyl can cause bronchiolitis obliterans, a rare and serious disease of the lungs – and the only treatment for that is a lung transplant. Learn more about diacetyl here.
But wait you say – we’re not talking about microwave popcorn, we’re talking about margarine! Stay on topic here!
OK – here’s the problem: diacetyl has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
A 2012 study found evidence that diacetyl intensifies the damage caused by an abnormal brain protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease. The study appears in the American Chemical Society’s journal Chemical Research in Toxicology.
Now, to be honest, diacetyl is present in butter too – it is part of what makes butter taste, well, like butter. It is also found in beer, and in wine, and cultured milk products like buttermilk. It is a natural product of fermentation.
Did I just say “natural” ? Yes – diacetyl is a naturally occurring chemical. That means when the Nutrition Facts Box says something like “natural flavoring” that diacetyl may have been added. That, however, may not be quite so “natural”!
Diacetyl is also an industrial chemical that is used as a mosquito repellent. I’m betting that the diacetyl used industrially is not the natural product of fermentation found in beer or butter – and I’ll bet that the diacetyl poured into the mix to make margarine isn’t “natural” either.
Personally, I’m going to stay away from anything with diacetyl added to it – and that includes anything that says “natural butter flavoring added” – and I’ll stick with the diacetyl that Mother Nature gives me naturally in my butter and beer and Chardonnay.
Well jeepers! you say – What a sorry state of affairs! But now even things as natural as beef and chicken aren’t so pure and healthy anymore, so you are going to be safe by avoiding them. There are some great-tasting, “all natural”, vegan-friendly meat substitutes available that are just as tasty as the real thing only so much healthier!
Well kids, I’m sorry to pop your bubble on that idea – you may eat what you choose, but you won’t find me swallowing anything with an ingredient list similar to this popular chicken meat substitute:
textured vegetable protein (soy protein concentrate, soy protein isolate, wheat gluten, water for hydration), water, enriched wheat flour (flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), bleached wheat flour, corn oil, cornstarch, contains two percent or less of wheat starch, salt, methylcellulose, modified corn starch, dextrose, autolyzed yeast extract, potassium chloride, natural and artificial flavors from non-meat sources, sugar, maltodextrin, disodium inosinate, soybean oil, hydrolyzed soy protein, onion, paprika, dried yeast, inulin from chicory root, caramel color, tapioca dextrin, xanthan gum, sodium alginate, spices, yellow corn flour, paprika extract for color, annatto extract for color, baking soda, garlic, tomato powder, celery extract, wheat fiber, lactic acid, safflower oil, barley extract, citric acid, niacinamide, egg whites, nonfat dry milk, succinic acid, disodium guanylate, iron (ferrous sulfate), thiamin mononitrate (vitamin b1), pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin b6), riboflavin (vitamin b2), vitamin b12.
Is it just me, or does that ingredient list typify everything unhealthy that could possibly be found in a fake food? Yes there are a few healthy ingredients in there – but why must we have chemists artificially providing them to us in an expensive industrially created “food substitute” when Mother Nature has been giving us her healthy and natural creations so safely and economically for so long?
I’ll continue to enjoy real eggs, real cream, real butter, real lard, real meat, real cheese to go along with my real life.
And oddly enough, perhaps because I avoid carbohydrates as much as possible, my cholesterol levels are just fine, thank you so much for asking!
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