5/5/14

Are butter, cheese and steak really bad for you?

The Questionable Link Between Saturated Fat and Heart Disease
Are butter, cheese and steak really bad for you?

By 

NINA TEICHOLZ

May 2, 2014

"Saturated fat does not cause heart disease"—or so concluded a big study published in March in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. How could this be? The very cornerstone of dietary advice for generations has been that the saturated fats in butter, cheese and red meat should be avoided because they clog our arteries. For many diet-conscious Americans, it is simply second nature to opt for chicken over sirloin, canola oil over butter.

The new study's conclusion shouldn't surprise anyone familiar with modern nutritional science, however. The fact is, there has never been solid evidence for the idea that these fats cause disease. We only believe this to be the case because nutrition policy has been derailed over the past half-century by a mixture of personal ambition, bad science, politics and bias.

Our distrust of saturated fat can be traced back to the 1950s, to a man named Ancel Benjamin Keys, a scientist at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Keys was formidably persuasive and, through sheer force of will, rose to the top of the nutrition world—even gracing the cover of Time magazine—for relentlessly championing the idea that saturated fats raise cholesterol and, as a result, cause heart attacks.

This idea fell on receptive ears because, at the time, Americans faced a fast-growing epidemic. Heart disease, a rarity only three decades earlier, had quickly become the nation's No. 1 killer. Even President Dwight D. Eisenhower suffered a heart attack in 1955. Researchers were desperate for answers.

As the director of the largest nutrition study to date, Dr. Keys was in an excellent position to promote his idea. The "Seven Countries" study that he conducted on nearly 13,000 men in the U.S., Japan and Europe ostensibly demonstrated that heart disease wasn't the inevitable result of aging but could be linked to poor nutrition.

Critics have pointed out that Dr. Keys violated several basic scientific norms in his study. For one, he didn't choose countries randomly but instead selected only those likely to prove his beliefs, including Yugoslavia, Finland and Italy. Excluded were France, land of the famously healthy omelet eater, as well as other countries where people consumed a lot of fat yet didn't suffer from high rates of heart disease, such as Switzerland, Sweden and West Germany. The study's star subjects—upon whom much of our current understanding of the Mediterranean diet is based—were peasants from Crete, islanders who tilled their fields well into old age and who appeared to eat very little meat or cheese.

As it turns out, Dr. Keys visited Crete during an unrepresentative period of extreme hardship after World War II. Furthermore, he made the mistake of measuring the islanders' diet partly during Lent, when they were forgoing meat and cheese. Dr. Keys therefore undercounted their consumption of saturated fat. Also, due to problems with the surveys, he ended up relying on data from just a few dozen men—far from the representative sample of 655 that he had initially selected. These flaws weren't revealed until much later, in a 2002 paper by scientists investigating the work on Crete—but by then, the misimpression left by his erroneous data had become international dogma.

In 1961, Dr. Keys sealed saturated fat's fate by landing a position on the nutrition committee of the American Heart Association, whose dietary guidelines are considered the gold standard. Although the committee had originally been skeptical of his hypothesis, it issued, in that year, the country's first-ever guidelines targeting saturated fats. The U.S. Department of Agriculture followed in 1980.

Other studies ensued. A half-dozen large, important trials pitted a diet high in vegetable oil—usually corn or soybean, but not olive oil—against one with more animal fats. But these trials, mainly from the 1970s, also had serious methodological problems. Some didn't control for smoking, for instance, or allowed men to wander in and out of the research group over the course of the experiment. The results were unreliable at best.

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But there was no turning back: Too much institutional energy and research money had already been spent trying to prove Dr. Keys's hypothesis. A bias in its favor had grown so strong that the idea just started to seem like common sense. As Harvard nutrition professor Mark Hegsted said in 1977, after successfully persuading the U.S. Senate to recommend Dr. Keys's diet for the entire nation, the question wasn't whether Americans should change their diets, butwhy not? Important benefits could be expected, he argued. And the risks? "None can be identified," he said.

In fact, even back then, other scientists were warning about the diet's potential unintended consequences. Today, we are dealing with the reality that these have come to pass.

One consequence is that in cutting back on fats, we are now eating a lot more carbohydrates—at least 25% more since the early 1970s. Consumption of saturated fat, meanwhile, has dropped by 11%, according to the best available government data. Translation: Instead of meat, eggs and cheese, we're eating more pasta, grains, fruit and starchy vegetables such as potatoes. Even seemingly healthy low-fat foods, such as yogurt, are stealth carb-delivery systems, since removing the fat often requires the addition of fillers to make up for lost texture—and these are usually carbohydrate-based.

The problem is that carbohydrates break down into glucose, which causes the body to release insulin—a hormone that is fantastically efficient at storing fat. Meanwhile, fructose, the main sugar in fruit, causes the liver to generate triglycerides and other lipids in the blood that are altogether bad news. Excessive carbohydrates lead not only to obesity but also, over time, to Type 2 diabetes and, very likely, heart disease.

The real surprise is that, according to the best science to date, people put themselves at higher risk for these conditions no matter what kind of carbohydrates they eat. Yes, even unrefined carbs. Too much whole-grain oatmeal for breakfast and whole-grain pasta for dinner, with fruit snacks in between, add up to a less healthy diet than one of eggs and bacon, followed by fish. The reality is that fat doesn't make you fat or diabetic. Scientific investigations going back to the 1950s suggest that actually, carbs do.

The second big unintended consequence of our shift away from animal fats is that we're now consuming more vegetable oils. Butter and lard had long been staples of the American pantry until Crisco, introduced in 1911, became the first vegetable-based fat to win wide acceptance in U.S. kitchens. Then came margarines made from vegetable oil and then just plain vegetable oil in bottles.

All of these got a boost from the American Heart Association—which Procter & Gamble, the maker of Crisco oil, coincidentally helped launch as a national organization. In 1948, P&G made the AHA the beneficiary of the popular "Walking Man" radio contest, which the company sponsored. The show raised $1.7 million for the group and transformed it (according to the AHA's official history) from a small, underfunded professional society into the powerhouse that it remains today.

After the AHA advised the public to eat less saturated fat and switch to vegetable oils for a "healthy heart" in 1961, Americans changed their diets. Now these oils represent 7% to 8% of all calories in our diet, up from nearly zero in 1900, the biggest increase in consumption of any type of food over the past century.

This shift seemed like a good idea at the time, but it brought many potential health problems in its wake. In those early clinical trials, people on diets high in vegetable oil were found to suffer higher rates not only of cancer but also of gallstones. And, strikingly, they were more likely to die from violent accidents and suicides. Alarmed by these findings, the National Institutes of Health convened researchers several times in the early 1980s to try to explain these "side effects," but they couldn't. (Experts now speculate that certain psychological problems might be related to changes in brain chemistry caused by diet, such as fatty-acid imbalances or the depletion of cholesterol.)

We've also known since the 1940s that when heated, vegetable oils create oxidation products that, in experiments on animals, lead to cirrhosis of the liver and early death. For these reasons, some midcentury chemists warned against the consumption of these oils, but their concerns were allayed by a chemical fix: Oils could be rendered more stable through a process called hydrogenation, which used a catalyst to turn them from oils into solids.

From the 1950s on, these hardened oils became the backbone of the entire food industry, used in cakes, cookies, chips, breads, frostings, fillings, and frozen and fried food. Unfortunately, hydrogenation also produced trans fats, which since the 1970s have been suspected of interfering with basic cellular functioning and were recently condemned by the Food and Drug Administration for their ability to raise our levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol.

Yet paradoxically, the drive to get rid of trans fats has led some restaurants and food manufacturers to return to using regular liquid oils—with the same long-standing oxidation problems. These dangers are especially acute in restaurant fryers, where the oils are heated to high temperatures over long periods.

The past decade of research on these oxidation products has produced a sizable body of evidence showing their dramatic inflammatory and oxidative effects, which implicates them in heart disease and other illnesses such as Alzheimer's. Other newly discovered potential toxins in vegetable oils, called monochloropropane diols and glycidol esters, are now causing concern among health authorities in Europe.

In short, the track record of vegetable oils is highly worrisome—and not remotely what Americans bargained for when they gave up butter and lard.

Cutting back on saturated fat has had especially harmful consequences for women, who, due to hormonal differences, contract heart disease later in life and in a way that is distinct from men. If anything, high total cholesterol levels in women over 50 were found early on to be associated with longer life. This counterintuitive result was first discovered by the famous Framingham study on heart-disease risk factors in 1971 and has since been confirmed by other research.

Since women under 50 rarely get heart disease, the implication is that women of all ages have been worrying about their cholesterol levels needlessly. Yet the Framingham study's findings on women were omitted from the study's conclusions. And less than a decade later, government health officials pushed their advice about fat and cholesterol on all Americans over age 2—based exclusively on data from middle-aged men.

Sticking to these guidelines has meant ignoring growing evidence that women on diets low in saturated fat actually increase their risk of having a heart attack. The "good" HDL cholesterol drops precipitously for women on this diet (it drops for men too, but less so). The sad irony is that women have been especially rigorous about ramping up on their fruits, vegetables and grains, but they now suffer from higher obesity rates than men, and their death rates from heart disease have reached parity.

Seeing the U.S. population grow sicker and fatter while adhering to official dietary guidelines has put nutrition authorities in an awkward position. Recently, the response of many researchers has been to blame "Big Food" for bombarding Americans with sugar-laden products. No doubt these are bad for us, but it is also fair to say that the food industry has simply been responding to the dietary guidelines issued by the AHA and USDA, which have encouraged high-carbohydrate diets and until quite recently said next to nothing about the need to limit sugar.

Indeed, up until 1999, the AHA was still advising Americans to reach for "soft drinks," and in 2001, the group was still recommending snacks of "gum-drops" and "hard candies made primarily with sugar" to avoid fatty foods.

Our half-century effort to cut back on the consumption of meat, eggs and whole-fat dairy has a tragic quality. More than a billion dollars have been spent trying to prove Ancel Keys's hypothesis, but evidence of its benefits has never been produced. It is time to put the saturated-fat hypothesis to bed and to move on to test other possible culprits for our nation's health woes.

Ms. Teicholz has been researching dietary fat and disease for nearly a decade. Her book, "The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet," will be published by Simon & Schuster on May 13.

4/30/14

The Beginning Of The End For Privatization

Thanks yet again to Amy Kerr Hardin of Democracy Tree.

Lawmakers and Investors Tip Toe-Away from Privatization

Posted on April 29, 2014 by admin

First some bad news, then some good news in the war against privatization.

Bad Lawmaking

Justin Jones, former Director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, recently wrote an editorial on the ACLU Blog of Rights slamming lawmakers for enacting policies for the sole purpose of over-incarceration at the behest of private vendors and management companies. He cites in particular a recently passed law that turned a misdemeanor into a felony:

Introducing a cell phone into a correctional facility used to be a misdemeanor in Oklahoma. Now, it’s a felony. This change did not happen for any reason other than a private prison lobbyist provided his client with a good way to make even more revenue off of people already imprisoned. Bumping this crime up from a misdemeanor to a felony means that when a person is caught with a cell phone in prison, he or she will end up staying in prison even longer; in most cases the new sentence will be added to the end of the existing one, instead of allowing people to serve time for both the crime that landed them behind bars and the cell phone infraction simultaneously. More prison time, more profits.

Jones goes on to explain that this bump from misdemeanor to felony is “not smart, evidence-based policy” and it additionally provides “zero public safety value”. He urged the powers that be not to enact the law, but the lobbyists had already appealed to the governor’s base political nature. Financial greed, it seems, is the underpinning of criminal justice policy.

The rationale behind laws elevating cell phone possession to felony status argue that inmates are using them to conduct criminal activity behind bars — which most certainly does occur. But more often, it is for the obvious reason inmates crave other contraband items, such as food and drugs — for purely personal use.

Michigan too, has a law like that in Oklahoma. It was passed in June of 2012 with broad bipartisan support. The penalties in the Michigan version provide a double-whammy of incarceration — it punishes both the inmate and the person who provided them with the phone. Public Act 255 offers the following penalties:

A violation of the Act is a felony punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, a maximum fine of $1,000, or both.

Michigan is among a number of states that have contracted with the private vendor, Aramark, to provide food services in its prisons. Aramark has been getting some bad press recently over a number of contract breeches, including workers caught smuggling contraband into prisons, and among those forbidden items are cell phones. Under Michigan law, every inmate caught with a phone stands to increase both private vendor profits and the cost to taxpayers. Albeit, the employee is typically acting for personal gain, but their employer could certainly reap the benefit.

Prison communications is big business in itself. Public Communications Services, Inc. is a major vendor of inmate land-line phone service, and they are the only means by which calls can be placed in or out of Michigan’s prisons. Below are their current rates, minus extra fees.

Phones controversies and food providers are only part of the for-profit landscape in our nation’s prisons. Other out-sourced services, such as management, security, maintenance, and laundry are also revenue streams that private vendors tap into to turn a buck off of taxpayers.

Public Policy Slowly Turns Away from Privatization

Yet, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Even some Republican lawmakers are beginning to understand what a drain privatization has become on taxpayer dollars.

Sen. John Proos (R-21) introduced legislation (SB-909) last Thursday that would limit the number of inmates in Michigan’s prisons to 38,000, down from the 44,000 currently allowed. In a WNMU interview, Proos said

“I think the county jails have already proven that they do it for a third to half the cost – on a per-day rate – that the state of Michigan operates its prisons. That’s a significant savings to our hard-working taxpayers.”

“Every dollar saved gives us a chance to invest in schools, — gives us a chance to invest those hardworking taxpayer dollars in areas that we all know will help, in the long run, to keep people out of prison.”

Unfortunately, the bill potentially foists the burden onto local communities, and it also leaves open the possibility for the state to transfer inmates in excess of the limit to “jails and other secure facilities” – which would include privately-run lockups. The final decision-making authority would lie with the Michigan Department of Corrections.

(In related legislation, three bills advanced out of committee today to the MichiganHouse floor for a vote — all passed, and will move on to the Senate. HB-5216, HB-5217 and HB-5218 would direct the Department of Corrections to evaluate the record of a released prisoner, and issue a “certificate of employability” when appropriate, plus offer limited liability to employers, and compel licensing agencies to consider the certificate alongside the conviction. The legislative package, supported by both parties, is tie-barred — meaning it’s all or nothing.)

In the larger fight against privatization, Justin Jones offers these public policy suggestions on how to “starve the for-profit prison beast”:

Eliminate mandatory minimum sentences.Transfer severely and/or chronically mentally ill prisoners to state agencies responsible for mental health treatment.Prohibit “lock-up quota” contracts with private prison companies, in which the jurisdiction promises to send enough prisoners to a private facility to meet a “lock-up quota” or pay the company for falling short of the quota.Make probation a real possibility for people convicted of non-violent crimes.

The Atlantic ran an interesting article last week, titled The Privatization BacklashThis should get the attention of fiscal hawks: One-in-six of federal, state and local taxpayer dollars line the pockets of private industry — that’s $1 trillion a year. At long last, that trend is finally coming under scrutiny at all levels.

In states and cities across the country, lawmakers are expressing new skepticism about privatization, imposing new conditions on government contracting, and demanding more oversight. Laws to rein in contractors have been introduced in 18 states this year, and three—Maryland, Oregon, and Nebraska—have passed legislation, according to In the Public Interest, a group that advocates what it calls “responsible contracting”.

Progressives have long reviled for-profit industries taking over our public institutions, often objecting on ethical grounds, with an understanding that it just doesn’t make budgetary sense either to give-away the store. Now, Republicans are climbing on-board with arguments for fiscal responsibility. It doesn’t matter how they get there, just as long as sensible public policy results.

Industry Divests from Private Vendors

Another front in the war against privatization in prisons is being fought within the private sector. Applying pressure on secondary companies that invest in privatization is showing some promise in limiting growth in the industry.

The civil rights group, Color of Changeannounced last week that they have successfully pressured three major corporations to divest from private prison companies based on “financial, moral, and political implications”. Scopia Capital, DSM, and Amica Mutual Insurance pulled $60 million in combined investments from two private prison industry giants, Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group. From their April 23rd press release:

“The leadership of these companies sets a much needed, powerful new industry standard: investments in private prison companies are unacceptable. What we see here is not simply a fluctuation of stock, but a conscious decision on behalf of major companies to cut ties with private prisons. That’s huge.” explained Rashad Robinson, executive director of ColorofChange.org. These companies show that divestment is not only the right thing to do, but also a smart financial decision. Today’s news marks an incredibly exciting step forward in the national movement to end for-profit incarceration.”

Whether talking to Republican lawmakers or corporate bean-counters, the argument against privatization on financial grounds seems to be making some headway.

Amy Kerr Hardin

RELATED: Frontline will be airing a series titled Prison Statestarting today. It focuses on the generational revolving door of incarceration in communities of color.

4/11/14

What Do the Koch Brothers Want?

Here is a very interesting article about the infamous Koch brothers, fossil fuel barons who aim to own America.
Thanks to Bill Moyers for sharing this article from Senator Bennie Sanders.


What Do the Koch Brothers Want?

As a result of the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, billionaires and large corporations can now spend an unlimited amount of money to influence the political process.

Perhaps, the biggest winners of Citizens United are Charles and David Koch, owners of the second-largest privately run business in America Koch Industries.

Among other things, the Koch brothers own oil refineries in Texas, Alaska, and Minnesota and control some 4,000 miles of pipeline.

According to Forbes Magazine, the Koch brothers are now worth $80 billion, and have increased their wealth by $12 billion since last year alone.

For the Koch brothers, $80 billion in wealth, apparently, is not good enough. Owning the second largest private company in America is, apparently, not good enough.  It doesn’t appear that they will be satisfied until they are able to control the entire political process.

It is well known that the Koch brothers have provided the major source of funding to the Tea Party and want to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

What else do the Koch brothers want?

In 1980, David Koch ran as the Libertarian Party’s vice-presidential candidate in 1980.

Let’s take a look at the 1980 Libertarian Party platform.

Here are just a few excerpts of the Libertarian Party platform that David Koch ran on in 1980:

“We urge the repeal of federal campaign finance laws, and the immediate abolition of the despotic Federal Election Commission.”

“We favor the abolition of Medicare and Medicaid programs.”

“We oppose any compulsory insurance or tax-supported plan to provide health services, including those which finance abortion services.”

“We also favor the deregulation of the medical insurance industry.”

“We favor the repeal of the fraudulent, virtually bankrupt, and increasingly oppressive Social Security system. Pending that repeal, participation in Social Security should be made voluntary.”

“We propose the abolition of the governmental Postal Service. The present system, in addition to being inefficient, encourages governmental surveillance of private correspondence.  Pending abolition, we call for an end to the monopoly system and for allowing free competition in all aspects of postal service.”

“We oppose all personal and corporate income taxation, including capital gains taxes.”“We support the eventual repeal of all taxation.”

“As an interim measure, all criminal and civil sanctions against tax evasion should be terminated immediately.”

“We support repeal of all law which impede the ability of any person to find employment, such as minimum wage laws.”

“We advocate the complete separation of education and State.  Government schools lead to the indoctrination of children and interfere with the free choice of individuals. Government ownership, operation, regulation, and subsidy of schools and colleges should be ended.”

“We condemn compulsory education laws … and we call for the immediate repeal of such laws.”

“We support the repeal of all taxes on the income or property of private schools, whether profit or non-profit.”

“We support the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency.”

“We support abolition of the Department of Energy.”

“We call for the dissolution of all government agencies concerned with transportation, including the Department of Transportation.”

“We demand the return of America's railroad system to private ownership. We call for the privatization of the public roads and national highway system.”

“We specifically oppose laws requiring an individual to buy or use so-called "self-protection" equipment such as safety belts, air bags, or crash helmets.”

“We advocate the abolition of the Federal Aviation Administration.”

“We advocate the abolition of the Food and Drug Administration.”

“We support an end to all subsidies for child-bearing built into our present laws, including all welfare plans and the provision of tax-supported services for children.”

“We oppose all government welfare, relief projects, and ‘aid to the poor’ programs. All these government programs are privacy-invading, paternalistic, demeaning, and inefficient. The proper source of help for such persons is the voluntary efforts of private groups and individuals.”

“We call for the privatization of the inland waterways, and of the distribution system that brings water to industry, agriculture and households.”

“We call for the repeal of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.”

“We call for the abolition of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.”

“We support the repeal of all state usury laws.”

In other words, the agenda of the Koch brothers is not only to defund Obamacare.  The agenda of the Koch brothers is to repeal every major piece of legislation that has been signed into law over the past 80 years that has protected the middle class, the elderly, the children, the sick, and the most vulnerable in this country.

It is clear that the Koch brothers and other right wing billionaires are calling the shots and are pulling the strings of the Republican Party.

And because of the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, they now have the power to spend an unlimited amount of money to buy the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the next President of the United States.

If they are allowed to hijack the American political process to defund Obamacare they will be back for more.

Tomorrow it will be Social Security, ending Medicare as we know it, repealing the minimum wage.  It seems to me that the Koch brothers will not be content until they get everything they believe they are entitled to.

Our great nation can no longer be hijacked by right-wing billionaires like the Koch brothers.

For the sake of our children and our grandchildren, for the sake of our economy, we have got to let democracy prevail.