Get 15% Off on 4th of July Savings Sitewide Sale Get 15% Off on 4th of July Savings Sitewide Sale


Did CSPI Kill Millions By Recommending Trans Fats?

Story at-a-glance -

  • On June 16, 2015, the FDA announced partially hydrogenated oils (a primary source of trans fat) will no longer be allowed in food unless authorized by the agency, due to their health risks
  • The new regulation will take effect in 2018. According to the FDA, this change may help prevent around 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 heart disease deaths each year
  • The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) applauds the ban, despite being instrumental in getting the food industry to swap healthy saturated fats for trans fats in the 1980’s

By Dr. Mercola

For the past six decades, saturated fat and cholesterol have been wrongfully vilified as the culprits of heart disease. Research shows it's actually refined carbs, sugar, and trans fats found in processed foods that are the real enemy.

The first scientist to publish evidence linking trans fats to heart disease while exonerating saturated fats was Dr. Fred Kummerow,1 author of Cholesterol Is Not the Culprit. That first article was published in 1957.

Now 100 years old, Dr. Kummerow has spent eight decades immersed in the science of lipids, cholesterol, and heart disease, and his lifetime work reveals that trans fat and oxidized cholesterol promote heart disease—not saturated fat, which actually has a beneficial impact on health.

FDA Finally Takes Affirmative Action Against Trans Fat

Trans fat, found in margarine, vegetable shortening, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils became widely popularized as a "healthier alternative" to saturated animal fats like butter and lard around the mid-1950s.

Its beginnings go back 100 years though, to Procter & Gamble's creation of Crisco in 1911.

In 1961, the American Heart Association (AHA) began encouraging Americans to limit dietary fat, particularly animal fats, in order to reduce their risk of heart disease. In the decades since, despite low-fat diets becoming increasingly part of the norm, heart disease rates soared.

In 2013, Dr. Kummerow sued the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for failing to take action on trans fats in face of the overwhelming scientific evidence against it.

More than a decade earlier, in 2002, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) had even noted that there was "no safe level of trans fatty acids and people should eat as little of them as possible." Yet the FDA did nothing.

Three months after Dr. Kummerow filed his lawsuit however, the agency announced it was considering eliminating trans fat from the list of "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) list of food ingredients.

Then, on June 16, 2015, the FDA announced partially hydrogenated oils (a primary source of trans fat) will no longer be allowed in food unless authorized by the agency2,3,4,5 due to their health risks.

According to the FDA, this change may help prevent around 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 heart disease deaths each year.

The new regulation will take effect in 2018. In the interim, food companies have to either reformulate their products to remove partially hydrogenated oils, or file a limited use petition with the FDA to continue using them.

In order to gain approval, the company would have to provide evidence showing that trans fat is safe to consume—which could be difficult, considering the IOM's declaration that there's NO safe limit for these oils. But, as noted by CBS:6

"[F]ood companies are hoping for some exceptions. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, the main trade group for the food industry, is working with companies on a petition that would formally ask the FDA if it can say there is a "reasonable certainty of no harm" from some specific uses of the fats. It provided no specifics...

For now, the agency is recommending that consumers take a look at ingredient lists on packaged foods to make sure they don't contain partially hydrogenated oils. Once the three-year compliance period is up, none of those ingredients would be allowed unless FDA specifically approves them."

Click here to learn Dr. Mercola's top tips to combat coronavirusClick here to learn Dr. Mercola's top tips to combat coronavirus

CSPI –The Consumer Group You Need to Stop Listening To

In response to the FDA's announcement, Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) told the New York Times:7

"This is the final nail in the coffin of trans fats. In terms of lives saved, I think eliminating trans fats is the single most important change to our food supply."

Their recent statement in support of the ban on trans fats is in stark contrast to their previous position on trans fats. As a consumer watchdog group focused on nutrition and food safety, many have and continue to look to CSPI for guidance, but history shows CSPI is seriously misguided when determining what's in the public's best interest.

In the 1980s, CSPI actually spearheaded a highly successful campaign against the use of healthy saturated fats, touting trans fats as a healthier alternative. It was largely the result of CSPI's campaign that fast-food restaurants replaced the use of beef tallow, palm oil, and coconut oil with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, which are high in synthetic trans fats linked to heart disease and other chronic diseases.

In 1988, CSPI even released an article8 praising trans fats, saying "there is little good evidence that trans fats cause any more harm than other fats" and "much of the anxiety over trans fats stems from their reputation as 'unnatural.'"

CSPI Accepts No Blame for Its Wildly Successful Promotion of Trans Fat

It wasn't until the 1990s that CSPI reversed their position on synthetic trans fats, but the damage had already been done.

Even to this day, many still mistakenly believe that margarine is a healthier choice than butter, and the CSPI's campaign to replace saturated animal and tropical oils with trans fats played an integral role in cementing this erroneous view in the public consciousness.

The group's successful influence on the food industry is discussed in David Schleifer's article, "The Perfect Solution: How Trans Fats Became the Healthy Replacement for Saturated Fats,"9 in which he notes that:

"Scholars routinely argue that corporations control US food production, with negative consequences for health...However, the transition from saturated to trans fats shows how activists can be part of spurring corporations to change."

CSPI rarely admits its errors however. In fact, rather than openly admitting it was flat out wrong about trans fats and had misled the public on this issue, CSPI simply deleted sections of its previous support of it from the web. This lack of forthrightness was also noted by Mary Enig in a 2003 article,10 in which she writes:

"On October 20, 1993, CSPI had the chutzpah to call a press conference in Washington, DC and lambast the major fast-food chains for doing what CSPI coerced them into doing, namely, using partially hydrogenated vegetable oils in their deep fat-fryers.

On that date, CSPI, an eager proponent of partially hydrogenated oils for many years, even when their adverse health effects were apparent, reversed its position after an onslaught of adverse medical reports linking trans fatty acids in these processed oils to coronary heart disease and cancer. Instead of accepting the blame, CSPI pleaded 'not guilty,' claiming that the fault lay with the major fast-food chains–including McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and Kentucky Fried Chicken, because they 'falsely claim to use '100% vegetable oil' when they actually use hydrogenated shortening'...

Thanks to CSPI, healthy traditional fats have almost completely disappeared from the food supply, replaced by manufactured trans fats known to cause many diseases. By 1990, most fast food chains had switched to partially hydrogenated vegetable oil...

Who benefits? Soy, or course. Eighty percent of all partially hydrogenated oil used in processed foods in the US comes from soy, as does 70 percent of all liquid oil. CSPI claims that its support comes from subscribers to its Nutrition Action newsletter... but CSPI is extremely secretive about the value of its assets, salaries paid and use of its revenues. If CSPI has large donors, they're not telling who they are, but in fact, in CSPI's January, 1991 newsletter, Jacobson notes that 'our effort was ultimately joined... by the American Soybean Association.'"

Beware: 100% Vegetable Oil May Be Just as Hazardous as Partially Hydrogenated Oil

Today, many restaurants have reverted to using 100% vegetable oils (such as peanut, corn, and soy oil) for frying. But research shows these oils have the worrisome problem of degrading into even more toxic oxidation products when heated, so they're probably no better than partially hydrogenated oils. Some of these oxidation products include cyclic aldehydes, which are even more harmful than trans fats. So the issue of WHAT the industry replaces trans fats with is of major importance. As noted by Nina Teicholz, one of the first investigative journalists to report on the dangers of trans fats 10 years ago:

"A group doing research on animals have found that at fairly low levels of exposure, these aldehydes caused tremendous inflammation, which is related to heart disease. They oxidized LDL cholesterol, which is thought to be the LDL cholesterol that becomes dangerous. There's a link to heart disease. There's also some evidence that links these aldehydes in particular to Alzheimer's. They seem to have a very severe effect on the body."

BEWARE: CSPI Just Sold You Out to GMO Industry

This tendency to fall in line with industry science and propaganda and then quietly reversing position when that position becomes more or less impossible to maintain seems to be a trend within the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). For example, it was only in 2013 that CSPI finally downgraded the artificial sweetener Splenda from its former "safe" category to one of "caution." I remember pleading with Michael Jacobson, their director, many years ago to reevaluate his position, but at the time he was convinced of Splenda's safety. The scientific evidence strongly suggests artificial sweeteners are just as bad, and in some ways more harmful, than sugar and high fructose corn syrup.

Worse than that though is its stand on genetically engineered organisms (GMOs) in food. Greg Jaffe, director of CSPI's Biotechnology Project, completely undermined the GMO labeling movement in his testimony at a recent hearing11 on the Pompeo bill H.R. 1599, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, colloquially known as the Denying Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act, as it strips states' of their right to implement food labeling laws and regulations that restricts or bans the growing of GMO crops.

According to polls, over 90 percent of Americans now want GMO labeling. Yet, astonishingly, Jaffe says he's not sure consumers really want to know whether foods contain GMOs, despite what the polls say! This is an inexcusable position for a consumer protection group, as far as I'm concerned. You can listen to his statements in the following video below, where you will hear he has the audacity to claim there are no studies indicating any harm from GMOs. This is the type of ignorant position they held on trans fats and artificial sweeteners. At least you can say one thing about CSPI, they are consistently reprehensible ignorant on important health issue and need to be ignored.

Nobody Expects a Transgenic Organism on Their Plate

It really should be crystal clear that consumers should have a right to know about GMOs in their food. Researchers have demonstrated there are compositional differences between GE crops and conventional crops,12 with glyphosate-tolerant GE soybeans containing high residues of glyphosate (a Class 2A probable human carcinogen13) and AMPA. The primary trait of GMO crops is glyphosate resistance, they can withstand multiple applications of glyphosate and can therefore absorb more of it.

Another point that justifies labeling of GMOs is the fact that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) admits they do not test for glyphosate residues because it's too expensive to do so.14 Without such testing, GMO labeling is even more important, as it's quite clear that glyphosate-tolerant GE crops are significantly contaminated with this toxic chemical that cannot be washed off, as it permeates every single cell of the treated plant, from root to tip. The anti-labeling proponents cannot logically argue any of these points; they're indisputable, and GMO labeling is massively supported because consumers do demand the right to know.

CSPI and our federal government remain blind to these facts, but regardless, these transgenic organisms are not a consumer expectation, and should therefore be labeled. Consider the new GE salmon spliced with eel genes... Salmon is labeled wild caught or farmed, but will not be labeled if genetically spliced with eel, which makes it a different version of the species altogether. Does that really make sense? What consumer reasonably expects a salmon to be spliced with eel?

Who Knew? CSPI Is Actually PRO-GMO!

Any so-called consumer protection group refusing to acknowledge these facts is simply not a real consumer watchdog. And CSPI's Greg Jaffe definitely appears to be pro-GMO, having discussed the merits of GE foods in a June 2014 Food Product and Design interview,15 in which he states that: "While there will continue to be demand for non-GMO ingredients, I do think it will continue to be a small specialty market." When asked about consumer misconceptions surrounding GMOs, Jaffe claims consumers don't realize the technology simply involves "adding one or two genes in a very precise way to a crop that already has thousands of genes," falsely insinuating that doing so leads to completely predictable results.

In fact, he states that "some consumers incorrectly believe that foods made from the current GE crops are not safe to eat," and then goes on to use the oft-repeated but false industry claim that "there is a strong international consensus from both scientific regulatory bodies... as well as scientific societies... that the foods made from the current GE crops are safe to eat."

CSPI’s executive director, Michael Jacobson is quoted16 as making a similar statement in July 2014, when he spoke at an American Soybean Association (ASA) forum saying: Many people have been made to fear genetically engineered ingredients, and it's totally irrational." That too raises questions about just how close the relationship is between the CSPI and the ASA—a group coincidentally based in St. Louis, where Monsanto also has its headquarters. Monsanto is also listed as one of ASA’s biotech working group partners.17

Meanwhile, on January 24, 2015, a statement signed by 300 scientists, researchers, physicians, and scholars was published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Sciences Europe,18 asserting that there is no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs. Moreover, the paper, aptly titled "No Scientific Consensus on GMO Safety", states that the claim of scientific consensus on GMO safety is in actuality "an artificial construct that has been falsely perpetuated." The paper also notes that such a claim "is misleading and misrepresents or outright ignores the currently available scientific evidence and the broad diversity of scientific opinions among scientists on this issue."

If the CSPI’s mission is to “represent citizen’s interests” and “ensure advances in science are used for the public’s good,” as stated in its mission statement,19 how does it justify its anti-consumer position on labeling GMOs? It seems fairly irreconcilable. On the other hand, the CSPI contradicts itself yet again when talking about the dangers of corn and soy monocultures, the chemical dependence of these crops, and how it stresses the environment.20 It seems they simply cannot connect the dots when it comes to GMO’s...

Why It Took So Long to Learn the Truth About Trans Fats

Getting back to trans fats, CSPI is not solely to blame for the industry-wide replacement of healthy saturated fats with artery-clogging trans fats. The American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Heart Association (AHA) were also avid promoters of this switch, as discussed in Judy Shaw's book, Trans Fats.21

Well-respected medical journals such as the JAMA published ads promoting Wesson corn oil for lowering cholesterol, and Antonio Gotto Jr, then president of the AHA sent his personal endorsement of Puritan corn oil to doctors. Dr. William Castelli, who led the Framingham Heart Study, also gave Puritan his personal endorsement. As Shaw notes in her book:

"The influence of these physicians was profound. Their promotional advocacy and the endorsements by science and government prompted other doctors to encourage their patients to drastically modify their eating habits. Margarine was the new prescription. There seemed to be no dissenting voice, and the America public had no reason to be skeptical."

Trans Fats May Worsen Your Memory

Meanwhile, research such as that by Dr. Kummerow—which clearly showed trans fats were worse than saturated fat ever could be—was quietly ignored. Heart disease isn't the only health problem associated with trans fats. Research has implicated trans fats in other diseases as well. Most recently, it's been found to interfere with memory.22 As reported by Reuters:23

"It's not clear if... trans fats might interfere with memory by directly affecting the nervous system, or by contributing to overall cardiovascular disease, which harms the brain as well, researchers say... [Trans fats] had already been linked to poorer lipid profiles, including higher 'bad' LDL cholesterol, worse metabolic function, insulin resistance, inflammation and poorer cardiac and general health before the new study investigated potential memory issues...

Among men under age 45, increasing dietary trans fatty acid consumption was associated with decreasing word recall, with each additional gram of trans fat per day matched to 0.76 fewer words identified correctly. At the time of the study, participants' trans fat consumption ranged up to 28 grams a day, the researchers write. That would translate to 21 fewer correct word-recall responses out of an average normal score of 86.

'A lot of us are involved in jobs where words are important,' [lead author] Golomb told Reuters Health. A decrease of only a few words on this recall test can make a difference, she said, and it's reasonable to think that other areas of memory might also be associated with trans fats."

Healthy Eating Guidelines for the 21st Century

So, what's the general 21st century revised rule for healthy living and eating? One of the most important points is that you do not need to avoid saturated fats. Saturated fats were unfairly condemned in the 1950s based on very primitive evidence that has since been re-analyzed. The evidence now clearly shows that saturated fats do not cause heart disease. Moreover, your body needs healthy unheated raw saturated fats for proper function of your:

Cell membranes Heart Bones (to assimilate calcium)
Liver Lungs Hormones
Immune system Satiety (reducing hunger) Genetic regulation

When it comes to cooking fats, few compare to tallow and lard in terms of health benefits and safety. These are the cooking fats that were originally used, and they're excellent frying fats. Coconut oil is also very stable at higher temperatures, and is another excellent choice for cooking and baking.