Monday, April 10, 2006

AHA Gets a Pass on Health Damaging Trans-fats

In July 2005 I wrote a scathing review of the American Heart Association's "No-Fad Diet," a book promoted as "weight-loss strategies...based on reliable scientific research and are backed by respected medical professionals. The American Heart Association has the information you can trust."

The main thrust of my criticism was that here we have the AHA including foods rich with trans-fats in their sample menus and advice, yet the scientific evidence is clear that trans-fats are a detriment to health. The sample menus in the book included things like fast food bacon biscuits, donuts, animal crackers, fast food sub sandwiches, and microwave popcorn. All foods notorious for high levels of trans-fats.

Recently two publications have mentioned my review in their own review of the book. Souix Valley Hospital & Health System Newsletter, Winter 2006 and the March 16, 2006 edition of The Mountain Times.

The Souix Valley Health Newletter

The book relies heavily on the credibility of the AHA, and one internet blogger, Regina Wilshire, criticizes Dr. Eckels for including some sample menus that contain unhealthy trans-fats. What the book proposes, more than anything else, however, is a practical approach to diet that may involve compromises. While there may be no safe level of trans fats, a low level is better than a high one.

The Mountain Times

The No-Fad Diet book gains a great deal of credibility from its explicit association with the American Heart Association, which is highlighted in large type on the back cover. However, Regina Wilshire, an internet blogger who says she has lost weight successfully through the low-carbohydrate Atkins approach, takes the AHA to task for using sample menus that encourage the eating of foods containing trans-fats.

“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,” Wilshire writes. Wilshire’s examples, taken from the book, include: low-fat graham crackers, light microwave popcorn, whole wheat English muffins, reduced fat vanilla wafers, a six-inch fast food ham submarine sandwich and a glazed doughnut.

Dr. Eckel and the AHA are certainly not endorsing trans-fats, and they might well be embarrassed by such criticisms. What the book proposes, more than anything else, is that any effort to lose weight is bound to involve some compromises between the ideal and the practical. While there may be no safe level of trans fats, a low level is better than a high one.

These excuses mix just enough fact with fiction to sound halfway credible! Sure trans-fats are unhealthy they say. But instead of stating the hard truth - one should not eat any man-made trans-fats, they give consumers a false sense of security, give the manufactuers of this poison a free pass, and excuse the AHA from responsibility for promoting the junk food! This sets the lay public up for poor health as many will not be able to distinguish these few facts from the unsubstantiated bunk.

And the bunk here is that "a little" trans-fat is better than a lot.

The long-term health effects are disregarded and the science that concludes man-made trans-fats are detrimental to health are dismissed.

The reviews state that including foods with trans-fats is not an endorsement. Double-speak. The idea that the AHA and the author, Dr. Eckel, aren't "endorsing" trans-fats is without merit - if they're in the book, specifically included in a sample menu for one to follow if they can't make a menu themself or want a simple easy exmple to follow - that's an endorsement no matter how you slice it. It's myopic to think it's not.

Let's not forget, the long-term health effects are specficially negative to the cardiovascular system - the very thing the AHA purports to be providing evidence-based information about in an effort to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease! The data clearly shows that man-made trans-fats (partially hydrogenated oils) elevate LDL and lower HDL - two things everyone, even the general public, understands increases the risk of cardiovascular disease!

Yet, the AHA gets a free pass for including foods with trans-fats from almost every reviewer of the book. I find this unacceptable and will continue to maintain that the book is not based on evidence, is not healthy, is certainly not going to reduce one's risk for cardiovascular disease, and is a hazaard to follow in umpteen ways. More distrubing is that it is nothing more than lip-service to an unwitting public - the public trusts the AHA and the AHA is promoting a diet that includes a class of fats that the Institutes of Medicine (IOM) concluded have "no safe level" of consumption for humans.

The idea that the public simply won't accept a diet that isn't littered with foods that are unhealthy is not a reason to lie to them, pacify them and tell them they can have their cake and eat it too. Instead of attempting to engage in a meaningful dialogue where facts based on facts are exchanged, the AHA pushes emotional buttons in an attempt to sway readers from the task at hand - eliminating man-made trans-fats from the diet. It's a pitiful and pathetic act and not worthy of any attention by those who are looking to engage in that meaningful dialogue in pursuit of truth about diet and health.

In fact, what we need is a scientific community dedicated to neutralizing harmful ingredients we have inflicted on ourselves; not endorsing and recommending ones we know are harmful. If America is craving healthy snack foods let them eat organic fruit and nuts. Is that such a difficult idea or what?

If we are going to make a difference we must start by taking the path of truth and stop lying to the American public that junk food is acceptable in moderation.

The hawked book promises “don’t give up your favorites." Instead of evoking integrity, the book is schizophrenic - promoting a "no fad" approach to diet while also promoting foods known to be damaging to health.

By refusing to support industry that is detrimental to our health we can send a message to the puppets we have sitting in many of the leading health organizations: health does not come out of a can, a bottle, or any other man made disposable. Health does not come from chemistry. Health comes from the soil - from real whole foods that served us well for millenia that too many today wouldn't even recognize if itwere on their plate.

We have all heard the saying, "Think globally, Act locally." Well, your own body is as local as you can get. Everything you consume is a personal statement of how you view your body and health.

This is a personal challenge to any and all of my friends and readers who see the irony of the AHA encouraging donuts, fast food bacon biscuits and other assorted junk food - Let's all take a stand for ourselves, our health and say "enough is enough." Put down the soda, the chips, and donuts and declare your body a toxin-free zone. If you're not up to this challenge, ignore me and belly up to the bar. It was the wise bartender who said "name your poison."

Aren't we lucky to have so many to poisons to choose from?

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