In March 2003, Denmark became the first country in the world to introduce laws to severely restrict consumption of trans fats. This has been reported as a ban on trans fats, but the law is on ingredients rather than final products and the limit was placed at 2% of fats and oils to be used for human consumption. i.e. no food that humans may eat can contain more than 2% trans fats. Given that there is no limit deemed safe for human consumption, this would still allow traces of these ‘Franken-Fats’ to get into the human body where they cannot be metabolised. It was however, a bold move and one followed by Switzerland (April 2008) and New York City (for restaurants – enforced in December 2006 to take effect from July 2008) but sadly not adopted worldwide.
Such a progressive move by Denmark has been followed by the astonishingly regressive move – adopted in October 2011 – to tax foods containing a certain level of saturated fat. The magic number has randomly been set at 2.3% – foods above this level of saturated fat (by weight) will be taxed at the rate of 16 Danish Kroner per kilogram of saturated fat.
Time Magazine helpfully gave us some examples of what this will mean for standard food items: On October 1st “The average price of a half-pound package of butter increased by 2.5 krone (or 45 U.S. cents). A pound of cheese rose from 34.5 krone ($6) to 36 krone ($6.50). And don’t even think about lard. In a single day, the cost of a half-pound block of pork fat skyrocketed from 12 krone ($2.15) to 16 krone ($2.85) — a 35% increase.”
What are fats?
Fats, commonly known as lipids, consist of a wide group of organic substances that are not soluble in water. In simple terms, fats are chains of carbon atoms (chemical symbol C) with hydrogen atoms attached (chemical symbol H) and they have a COOH group at one end (carbon, oxygen, oxygen and hydrogen). There are two groups of fats in which we have a nutritional interest – saturated and unsaturated. Within the unsaturated category, there are two further types – monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Saturated fats are the most stable fats (this is merely a statement about chemical structure). They have all available carbon bonds filled with (i.e. saturated with) hydrogen. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. Interestingly, when our glycogen (storage form of glucose) capacity is full, the liver turns the excess glucose (from carbohydrates) into fat in the liver and it turns it into saturated fat. If saturated fat is bad for us, this could be the first example of the human body, in normal circumstances, trying to kill itself. Breast milk is also high in saturated fat, so did evolution also design us to kill our offspring? I have my own views on this; I’ll let you develop yours.
Unsaturated fats, quite simply, have pairs of hydrogen atoms missing. Monounsaturated fats have one double bond in the form of two carbon atoms ‘double-bonded’ to each other and, therefore, lack two hydrogen atoms. Mono means one and hence, with monounsaturated fat, there is one double bond. Monounsaturated fats tend to be liquid at room temperature (but solid at fridge temperature) and are the next most stable fat. The best known monounsaturated fat is oleic acid, the main component of olive oil. Oleic acid is also found in the oils from almonds, pecans, cashews, peanuts and avocados.
On the web site “margarine.org.uk” (described on the site as “the mouthpiece of the margarine and spreads industry”), unsaturated fats are described as follows: “In unsaturated fats, some of the carbon atoms are joined to others by a double bond and, therefore, could accept more hydrogen atoms.”[i] They could accept more hydrogen atoms. Isn’t that just a wonderful way of saying they are missing some hydrogen atoms (and are therefore less stable)?
Normally poly means many, but, in the case of polyunsaturated fat, it can mean only two. Polyunsaturated fats have two or more pairs of double bonds and, therefore, lack four or more hydrogen atoms. Polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room and fridge temperature. The two polyunsaturated fats found most frequently in our food are double unsaturated linoleic acid, with two double bonds, also called omega-6; and triple unsaturated alpha-linolenic acid, with three double bonds, also called omega-3. (The omega number indicates the position of the first double bond. If the double bond is three carbon atoms along from the right hand end, this is an omega-3 fat. If it is six carbon atoms from the right hand end, this is an omega-6 fat. The logic comes from the Greek alphabet, which goes from Alpha to Omega – like we go from A to Z). Omega-3 and omega-6 fats are called “Essential Fatty Acids” because the body cannot make them, so it is essential that they are consumed.
It is not widely known that all fats and oils, whether of vegetable or animal origin, are a combination of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat. Coconut oil has the highest saturated fat content of all foods at 92% saturated, 6% monounsaturated and 2% polyunsaturated. Lard is 41% saturated, 47% monounsaturated and 12% polyunsaturated. Olive oil is 14% saturated fat, 75% monounsaturated and 11% polyunsaturated. The above are 100% fats, so we can usefully compare their composition as percentages. Butter has a significant water content and a trace of protein, so 100 grams of butter has 51 grams of saturated fat, 21 grams of monounsaturated fat and 3 grams of polyunsaturated fat.[ii]
We simply cannot eat “saturated fat” – no such food exists in isolation in nature. A healthy human, who only eats real food as provided by nature can only reduce intake of saturated fat by reducing intake of all fats. An unhealthy human, who eats things that man makes, can reduce saturated fat intake and have this artificially ‘replaced’ by man-mad Franken-fats and/or carbohydrates – both substantially worse for us than nature’s real fats.
The role of Fat
Fat is utterly vital for human health – dietary fats serve four key purposes:
1) They provide the essential fatty acids (EFA’s);
2) They are the carriers of the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K;
3) They supply the most concentrated form of energy in our diets;
4) They help make our diets palatable. Food with little or no fat can be quite tasteless and sometimes difficult to digest.
Fats are crucial for every aspect of our wellbeing as they form the membrane (protective wall) that surrounds every cell in our bodies. Excluding water, our brains are approximately 60% fat (lipids in fact, including cholesterol).[iii] Fats also play a crucial role in cushioning vital organs, as some people have tragically found out when fat (and lean tissue) has been lost suddenly on a very low calorie diet. Put simply, with the right fats and enough of them our cells are strong, without them they are weak and prone to attack.
Let us look at these four key roles in more detail.
1) Starting with the EFA’s, good sources of the essential fats are as follows: omega-6 is provided by meat, eggs, avocado, nuts, whole grains and seeds and their oils (sunflower seeds, rapeseeds and pumpkin seeds as common examples). Omega-3 is found in meat, fish and fish oils – salmon, halibut, shark and swordfish being particularly valuable sources.
Omega-6 deficiency may cause: growth retardation; eczema-like skin conditions; behavioural disturbances; arthritis-like conditions; liver and kidney degeneration; excessive water loss through the skin accompanied by thirst; drying up of glands; susceptibility to infections; wounds fail to heal; sterility in males; miscarriage in females; heart and circulatory problems; dry skin and hair; dry eyes and hair loss.
Omega-3 deficiency may cause: growth retardation; dry skin; behavioural disturbances, tingling sensations in arms and legs; weakness; impairment of vision and learning ability; high blood pressure; sticky platelets; tissue inflammation; mental deterioration and low metabolic rate.
Both lists present a compelling case for ensuring adequate consumption of essential fats.
2) Moving on to the four fat soluble vitamins – A, D, E and K. (We can become blasé about the role of vitamins and minerals in the body. It may be interesting to read the following lists with the mindset – would you personally like to have any, or all, of the following functions impaired and can you be sure that you eat the foods necessary to deliver these vital nutrients?)
– Vitamin A has many functions within the body. It is needed for our sight, cell function, skin, bones, growth, reproduction, blood formation and to fight infection. Vitamin A is particularly important for pregnant women and growing children. Deficiency in vitamin A can lead to: sight conditions generally and night blindness particularly; growth and reproductive impairment; increased susceptibility to infections; and rough, dry, scaly skin. Retinol is the pure form of vitamin A – the form used most easily and readily by the body. This makes for a memorable connection between retinol, the retina of the eye and the role vitamin A plays in sight.
There is much debate as to whether plants can provide adequate vitamin A, or whether it needs to be consumed in an animal product. We can say the following with certainty: a) only animal products contain retinol; b) plant sources of vitamin A come in the form of carotene, which requires conversion within the body into retinol; c) even with Beta-carotene, the carotene most easily converted into retinol, there is substantial loss such that the conversion ratio is at best 6:1 (“The accepted 6:1 equivalency of beta-carotene to preformed vitamin A must be challenged and re-examined in the context of dietary plants”);[iv] d) not every person is capable of converting carotene to retinol “Diabetics and those with poor thyroid function cannot make the conversion. Children make the conversion very poorly and infants not at all”[v] and e) carotenes are converted by the action of bile salts and very little bile reaches the intestine when a meal is low in fat. Our grandparents put butter on their vegetables for good reason. We can confidently assert, therefore, that animal food generally, and liver particularly, are the best sources of vitamin A.
– Vitamin D is critical for the absorption of calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D is increasingly being studied in nutritional journals and its possible role in cancer prevention is being explored. Deficiency in vitamin D can lead to tooth decay, muscular weakness and a softening of the bones (rickets), which can cause bone fractures or poor healing of fractures.
Vitamin D is found naturally in oily fish (for example herring, halibut, catfish, salmon, mackerel and sardines) and unnaturally in fortified breakfast cereals. Vegetarians would need to eat 26 medium eggs each day (1,634 calories) to get 10 micrograms of vitamin D – considered an “adequate intake”. Mushrooms, which have been exposed to sunlight, are the only conceivable option for vegans. Over two kilograms of such mushrooms would need to be sourced and eaten daily to deliver 10 micrograms of vitamin D. Ideally, but not an option for vegans, these would need to be consumed with butter to make them ‘bio-available’ to the body.
– Vitamin E is a generic term for a family of fat soluble vitamins active throughout the body. We are learning more about the different forms of vitamin E and more of them are being found to have unique functions. The key role of vitamin E is as an antioxidant. The oxygen that we need to breathe can make molecules overly reactive and this can damage cell structure. This imbalanced situation involving oxygen is called oxidative stress. Vitamin E helps prevent oxidative stress by working together with a group of nutrients (including vitamins B3, C and selenium) to prevent oxygen molecules from becoming too reactive. Vitamin E protects the skin (cells) in much the same way as it protects other cells. We hear little about the possible heart protection role of vitamin E, yet it acts as an anti-blood clotting agent and it maintains healthy blood vessels.
Deficiency in vitamin E can lead to dry skin, poor muscular and circulatory function, damage to red blood cells and blood vessels and an inability of the white blood cells to resist infection.
Vitamin E is found naturally in seeds, nuts and oils that derive from these. Hence, we don’t need to eat animal foods to obtain vitamin E, but we do need to consume fats. Sunflower seeds are one of the best sources of vitamin E and they have 51 grams of fat per 100 grams of product.
– Vitamin K has a number of important functions, such as its role in blood clotting and wound healing. Vitamin K is very important for the health of our gut and it is being destroyed with the high modern consumption of anti-biotics, leaving humans prone to imbalance in the gut flora and concomitant illness. Deficiency in vitamin K complicates blood clotting and can manifest itself in nose bleeds, bleeding gums, heavy menstruation or even blood in the urine or stools. A propensity to bruise can also be a sign of vitamin K deficiency.
Vitamin K comes in two forms: K1 and K2. K1 is found in plants, green leafy vegetables particularly, and is also called phylloquinone. Vitamin K2 is found in animal foods. K2 is also known as menaquinone and comes in different forms – MK-4 through to MK-10 (the ‘MK’ comes from a phonetic abbreviation of MenaKwinone). Meat is a primary source of MK-4. Eggs and calcium rich hard cheese are particularly good sources of MK-7, 8 and 9. The Rotterdam Study[vi] concluded: “Intake of menaquinone was inversely related to all-cause mortality and severe aortic calcification. Phylloquinone intake was not related to any of the outcomes. These findings suggest that an adequate intake of menaquinone could be important for CHD prevention.” I share this as another example of the animal form of fat soluble vitamins being the most useful – in the context of current public health advice steering us away from these nutritious foods.
3) The fact that fat supplies the most concentrated form of energy in our diets is used against this macronutrient in today’s modern, obese environment. It is argued in our calorie obsessed world that we should avoid fat because of its calorie content. There are two ironies here:
a) Man would not be here today without the energy supplied by fat (predominantly from animals, but also from nuts) during evolution and particularly during the ice age and in regions of the earth where vegetation was not available. At 80-90% water and containing only approximately four calories per gram, humans would simply not have been able to get enough vegetation to survive. (If any ancient berry approximated to, say, a wild strawberry in nutritional content, Neanderthals would have needed over three kilograms of berries to provide 1,000 calories).
b) The second irony is that fat cannot make us fat – only carbohydrate can do this. The glycerol backbone, which turns fat particles into a triglyceride (the form in which adipose tissue is stored), is produced in the presence of glucose and insulin – the environment created following the consumption of carbohydrate.
4) In this carbohydrate consuming/calorie avoiding world, we have lost the awareness of the palatability and unique satiety of fat. 100 grams of a well known brand of cereal, marketed to slimmers, contains rice, wheat (whole wheat, wheat flour), sugar, wheat gluten, defatted wheat germ, dried skimmed milk, salt, barley malt flavouring, and a number of added vitamins to give the product nutritional value. This brand has 76 grams of carbohydrate and 379 calories per 100 grams of product. Most people could eat 100 grams of this with relative ease. (I work with people who commonly binge on cereal). Try to eat 300 grams of “pork chop, boneless, raw lean and fat” – calculated by the USDA database as having slightly fewer calories than the cereal and no carbohydrate content. It will be substantially more filling, and therefore more difficult, to eat the meat than the cereal.
What Denmark now needs to tax
So, Denmark has started down the road of destroying human health. People who eat real food will be penalised for all fat consumption, as they cannot reduce saturated fat consumption in isolation. People who eat fake food will be able to increase their consumption of man-made, bleached, deodorised and emulsified alternatives to real fats and/or their consumption of fattening carbohydrates.
However, I wonder if Denmark knows which foods contain more than 2.3% saturated fat?
From the extremely useful United States Department of Agriculture -all-foods database, we can find the following:
– Beef, Porterhouse steak, raw, trimmed to 1/8″ fat (USDA reference = URMIS 2145) will be taxed; Beef, Sirloin, lean only (URMIS 2244) won’t be. Hence humans will be encouraged to eat an unnaturally high ratio of protein to fat – taxing (excuse the pun) the liver and our vitamin A requirement further.
– Pork chop, boneless, raw, lean and fat escapes tax with 1.5% saturated fat. However, Pork, fresh, loin, top loin (chops), boneless, separable lean and fat, raw [America’s cut chops, Pork top loin chops, Strip loin chops, URMIS #3369] will be taxed at 2.5% saturated fat. Again – the fact that pork has far more unsaturated than saturated fat seems to have escaped the wisdom of Danish-powers-that-be. Somewhat amusingly, the notoriously ‘low fat’ meat, favoured by fat phobics, venison, will be taxed: Venison, game meat, deer, ground, raw has 3.4 grams of saturated fat per 100 grams of product. Interestingly, venison is the only meat thus far that I have been able to find with more saturated than unsaturated fat. Not that one fat is better or worse than the other – all real fats are vital – but just to dispel nonsense that we have been told.
– Fish – that ‘heart healthy’ oily fish, which we are encouraged to eat – will likely be taxed. The less nutritious white fish likely won’t be. Mackerel has almost twice the saturated fat of our boneless pork chop above. Again – the polyunsaturated fat ‘darling’ of dietitians will suffer for being in the same food as something with more than 2.3% saturated fat content. Damn nature for putting all the fats in all the foods!
– Eggs, although only one third saturated fat and with the main fat being that so-called super fat “mono-unsaturated” – will be taxed. That’s a tax on a product containing omega-3 and omega-6, complete protein and a phenomenal range of vitamins and minerals – the closest a vegetarian will get to a super-food.
– Cheese, with the vital vitamins A and D (the UK currently gets approximately 50% of the minimum vitamin A requirement and barely 25% of the paltry vitamin D requirement) and an abundance of the crucial minerals calcium and phosphorus, as well as zinc, will be taxed heavily. That’s osteoporosis set to continue its relentless rise and rickets in children set to continue.
– Milk – if you want the fat-free nonsense, with the delivery mechanism for the fat soluble vitamins removed – no tax. If you want the ‘full fat’ version (still only c. 3-4% total fat) the saturated fat content could get close. Those dairy farmers had better to be able to measure this one to the gram or ml – it’s going to be touch and go!
Nuts, Seeds & Fruit
– Sunflower seeds will be taxed, at 4.5 grams of saturated fat per 100 grams of seeds. The 18.5 grams of monounsaturated fat and the 23.1 grams of polyunsaturated fat in sunflower seeds get ‘taxed’ indirectly by association. At a whopping 33mg of vitamin E per 100 grams of product, sunflower seeds are unbeatable for vitamin E. This is the body’s natural anti-oxidant, so we are taxing a unique natural anti-oxidant that would help with heart and blood health.
– Any nuts – prepare to pay highly for the natural fats and terrific amounts of nutrients in nature’s gold nuggets in a shell.
– Avocado just escapes at 2.1% saturated fat. Olives are also dangerously close at 2% saturated fat.
Butter is not the only real fat that will be taxed. That ‘superfood’ of the Mediterranean diet, olive oil, is 14% saturated fat – 9 times that of our boneless pork chop. That will get a hefty fine on its claimed healthful benefits. Sunflower oil ditto. Lard, mostly unsaturated fat (60% infact – not many people know that) will also get clouted, despite this being (like butter) one of the most stable, and therefore safe, fats to cook with.
I think that’s covered real foods – meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, nuts, seeds & fruit and real fats. Vegetables and sugary fruits are the only real foods to escape this Danish madness. I have deliberately not mentioned any manufactured foods because I couldn’t care less about any of them. Tax them out of reach. Heck – ban the horrors – but don’t attack nature’s real foods when the real culprits are those made by man.
A final thought
My passion is obesity. All I care about is how we can reverse this horrific epidemic that we inflicted on our fellow humans. I am convinced that our change in dietary advice (USA 1977 and UK 1983) was responsible for the concomitant obesity epidemic.
I open my book The Obesity Epidemic: What caused it? How can we stop it? with the following quote from the UK document (Proposals for nutritional guidelines for Health Education in Britain (1983))
“The previous nutritional advice in the UK to limit the intake of all carbohydrates as a means of weight control now runs counter to current thinking and contrary to the present proposals for a nutrition education policy for the population as a whole… The problem then becomes one of achieving both a reduction in fat intake to 30% of total energy and a fall in saturated fatty acid intake to 10%.”
And so started the obesity epidemic…
The data in the UK National Food Survey is extremely comprehensive, to the point of including detail on both macro and micronutrients. The information on macronutrients says that we consumed 51.7 grams per person per day of saturated fat in 1975 and 28.1 grams in 1999. The food examples in the data tables support this – all fat, butter, meat, whole milk and eggs – real foods and sources of saturated fat – are down. Dramatically in some cases – we eat half the number of eggs that we used to and one fifth of the butter and whole milk.
During the time, in which we all but halved saturated fat intake in the UK, obesity increased from 2.7% for men and women in 1972 to 22.6% for men and 25.8% for women in 1999.
Fat doesn’t make us fat – only carbs can do that. Theoretically, biochemically and empirically, the evidence is irrefutable. Although not to the Danes apparently. They have shown themselves to be a few rashers short of a packet.
[ii] United States Department of Agriculture nutritional database. www.nutritiondata.com
[iii] McIlwain, H. and Bachelard, H.S., Biochemistry and the Central Nervous System, Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, (1985). Estimates the composition of the brain to be (approximately) 78% water, 10-12% lipids, 8% protein, 2% soluble organic substances, 1% carbohydrate and 1% inorganic salts.
[iv] Solomons, N. W. and J. Bulux. “Plant sources of provitamin A and human nutriture.” Nutrition Review, July 1993.
[v] Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig, “Vitamin A”, (March 2002).
[vi] Geleijnse JM, Vermeer C, Grobbee DE, Schurgers LJ, Knapen MH, van der Meer IM, Hofman A, Witteman JC, “Dietary intake of menaquinone is associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease: the Rotterdam Study”, The Journal of Nutrition, (November 2004).