Friday, July 01, 2005

AHA Includes Trans-Fats in "Heart Healthy" No-Fad Diet

The Early Show [CBS] recently featured the American Heart Association's "No Fad Diet," a newly released book praised for promoting a healthy lifestyle to gradually and permanently lose weight. On their website, the article, Why 'No-Fad Diet' Really Works, promotes the book as the diet is for all those who are tired of trying to lose weight and failing.

Dr. Robert Eckel, the president of the American Heart Association [AHA] says, "We now have the science to say if you lose weight quickly, you really have to adapt a lifestyle to keep it off long term. Fad diets work, but not long term better than any other diet."

What caught my attention was the sentence, [t]he American Heart Association has stood by its dietary guidelines for four decades and the book is just a reflection of its desire to educate people about the heart-healthy way to eat and live and maintain a healthy weight, Dr. Eckle explains.

There are virtually no details provided about the diet online, so one is left with taking it on faith that the plan is really "heart healthy" and spending $24.95 to learn more by purchasing the book. I'm not one to take things on faith when it comes to nutrition, so I had to see for myself just what they're recommending and what falls within the definition of "heart healthy." A quick trip to Border Books and I had my very own copy of the book.

The back cover assures a reader that "The weight-loss strategies in this book are based on reliable scientific research and are backed by respected medical professionals. The American Heart Association has the information you can trust." [And, yes, the AHA is larger in the sentence on the back cover too!]

The implication is clear - the AHA is trustworthy, their professionals are the ones who are "respected" and they're able to wade through the mounds of research data and cull out only that which is "reliable." Got it?

My first stop within the pages are the sample menus. Why start anywhere else - the menus tell the story best about what they're recommending since they provide a very clear picture of what they're encouraging you to eat day after day.

The sample menus were an eye-opener!

This is not a trick question - Are trans-fats "heart healthy?"

Of course they're not - in fact, the National Academy of Sciences-Institute of Medicine [NAS-IOM] concluded in July 2002 that "trans fat promotes heart disease" and "the only safe intake of trans fat is ‘zero.’" They stated that this was an ingredient that has no safe level for human consumption. Trans-fats are found in foods listing "partially hydrogenated" oils and/or "shortening" and/or "margarine" and/or "fractionated" oil in the ingredients list - a result of chemically altering the oil through a process of adding hydrogen with a nickle catalyst to render it solid at room temperature.

So why then is the AHA including foods that have trans-fats in their sample menus and having the audacity to call them "heart healthy?"

Here are just a few shining examples from the sample menus:
  • Page 87 - 6" fast food ham submarine sandwich (290 calories)
  • Page 118 - 2 large rectangle low-fat graham crackers (108 calories)
  • Page 103 - 4 slices Melba Toast (78 calories)
  • Page 100 - 3 cups light microwave popcorn (63 calories)
  • Page 94 - 1 whole wheat english muffin (134 calories)
  • Page 109 - 1 glazed doughnut (fast food) (160 calories)
  • Page 114 - 4 reduced fat vanilla-flavored wafer-type cookies (60 calories)
  • Page 122 - 1 biscuit with bacon (fast food) (360 calories)

As pointed out in Shape last September, "Laboratory testing by CSPI and other consumer organizations has also detected the fats in places you might not expect: Breakfast cereals, microwave popcorn, frozen waffles, packaged pudding snacks--all contain partially hydrogenated oils, albeit in smaller amounts than a bucket of fried chicken. Even lowfat foods such as Kellogg's Low Fat Granola aren't trans-fat-free. "It's truly a stealth fat--it's everywhere," Severson says, noting that some seemingly healthful foods like peanut butter, breakfast bars, flour tortillas, bean dips and even baby foods contain trans fats.""

Remember, the NAS-IOM has stated that there is no safe consumption level of trans-fats for humans. So why are glazed doughnuts, fast food biscuits with bacon and microwave popcorn even on the AHA menus? Color me confused, but how are these foods "heart healthy" when the respected scientists at the NAS-IOM have concluded the only safe level of intake is ZERO?

Why did the AHA not have the guts to use the "reliable scientific evidence" and tell consumers straight out that trans-fats are deadly and then provide menus that show how to eat without them?

On page 35 they provide a bullet point with "Avoid trans fats" and then include foods notorious for their trans-fat content in their sample menus, giving a greenlight to eating them when following their "No Fad Diet."

On page 421 they provide recommendations on how to eat fast food with no warning about trans-fats from buns, spreads, cooking oils, french fries or battered fried foods on the fast food menus.

On page 422 they provide a list of foods that may "derail" your diet, and include the biscuit with bacon that they recommend in the sample menu on page 122 - and still no warning about trans-fats.

In fact, their one and only real attempt to provide useful information about trans-fats is found on page 432 and is incomplete - "Commercial products containing hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils include vegetable shortenings, stick margarines and backed good such as cookies and crackers."

While the marketing machine is in full swing to have the media promote this book as healthy, in my view this "diet" is unhealthy and has the potential to wreck havoc on your health in the long-term. It may have been written by "respected medical professionals" at the AHA, who claim they've used "reliable scientific evidence," but at the end of the day, this is one unhealthy way to eat based just on their menus encouraging foods with trans-fats.

And, don't get me started on "Heart Healthy Check" Logo!


  1. Good God, they're going to kill us all.
    So glad you pointed out the hypocrisy in this book.
    These people are dangerous.

  2. Hi Regina,

    I've been poking around in your blog for the last few days, as time permits (you are a very busy lady), and am pleased to see someone so eloquent post so much that validates this walking anecdote. I've searched the Blogspot for references to the article by Mary Enig and Sally Fallon named 'The Oiling of America" and have found none so I thought you might be interested in a link to it: The Oiling of America

    Mary Enig is not only one of the foremost biochemists in respect to lipids and author of many scientific articles and nutritional books but was one of the original whistle blowers on transfats.

    Hope you enjoy it if you're not familiar with it already and look forward to visiting your site on a regular basis. From a 7 way bypass survivor who has traded in his Liptor, Zetia and Actos for a modified South Beach (more fats, all low GI carbs) and nutrients that work.