Thursday, November 20, 2014

Another blast on the trans-fat trumpet

For many years, the received wisdom in the medical literature was that eating saturated fat was bad for you and likely to give you heart attacks.  That was always nonsense and, in one of those 180 degree turns so common in the medical literature, has recently been abandoned.  Such fats are good for you these days.

Greenies and food freaks (largely overlapping categories, it would seem) hopped on the bandwagon a decade or so ago and began their usual coercive strategies.  They pressured food manufacturers to stop using such fats.  Vegetable oils were the thing.  And, like a lot of their products, the food manufacturers crumbled.

But vegetable oils were not really very suitable for making cakes and cookies.  But if you added some extra hydrogen atoms to the vegetable oils, you could get a suitable result.  The hydrogenated oils became known as trans fats.

But just as there is no such thing as a happy Greenie so there is no such thing as a happy food freak.  Various claims supported by problematical research appeared which said that trans fats were bad for you too.  They also could damage your heart.

So the food manufacturers again mostly crumbled and now use a lot of palm oil instead of saturated fats and trans fats. The cake you buy has had an adventurous past.

So now palm oils are under attack.  To produce enough palm oil, lots of new trees have to be planted and to plant those trees you have to chop down lots of other trees that were already there --  and that will not do at all!  So the limited supply of palm oil drives up its price and makes it too expensive for some food manufacturers -- who have therefore stuck with their good ol' trans fats.  So the shriekers still have a satisfying campaign to wage.  And below (below the chevrons) is the latest shot in the war.

It features work by the hyperactive and normally skeptical Beatrice Golomb but does her no credit.  The research has not yet been published in the journals so I have not been able to look closely at it but it clearly has one large problem:  It is based on self-reports, which are very susceptible to biases of various sorts.  In particular, self-reporters tend to tell you either what they think you want to hear or what they think will make themselves look good.

And that is a very obvious contaminant in the research below.  Because people are always being told how evil cakes and cookies are, consumption of them is unprestigious so many of those answering a self-report questionnaire will under-report how many of such evil products that they consume -- while people less influenced by popular fads will be little bothered by admitting to their actual diets.  So who are the cake and biscuit gourmands?  Fatties and the poor most likely.  And what do we know about the poor?  As Charles Murray showed long ago, they have lower IQs.  Shocking of me to mention it, I know, but facts are chiels that winna ding, as the Scots say.

And the memory task used by the gorgeous Dr Golomb (pic below) is IQ-related.  So the wicked eaters probably had lower IQs.   So it seems likely that Dr Golomb's finding is entirely artifactual  -- a product of her research methodology rather than information about the world.

I note that she did control for education but education and income are only weakly correlated, as many recent college graduates have found to their dismay.

Other research:  For one summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and the evidence of lasting harm from them is dubious. By taking extreme groups in trans fats intake, some weak association with coronary heart disease has at times been shown in some sub-populations but extreme group studies are inherently at risk of confounding with other factors and are intrinsically of little interest to the average person.

Food manufacturers should of course revert to using saturated fats, now that medical opinion is in their favour -- JR


I was pleased to receive a prompt and scholarly reply from Dr Golomb about my post.  Some scientists can get very defensive and snarky if their work is criticized but she did not. It says much for her character. I reproduce the reply below:

Dear John Ray,

 It is true that the findings are based on a food frequency questionnaire, and observational data are *always* subject to potential unmeasured confounding. That is why we never use(d) the word "cause" but only describe higher trans fat consumption as "associated" with worse memory. (I can't exactly say higher "reported" trans fat consumption because it wasn't actually trans fat consumption they reported.)

On the plus side, though, the data from which the analysis was done were collected in 1999-2004, a privileged time window vis a vis trans fat assessment --  after trans fat abstraction from foods was added to analysis of the Fred Hutchinson Food Frequency Questionnaire, but before the FDA trans fat labeling requirement that made it easy for people who were health conscious to more readily limit trans fats.

{Of note, this was also before most of the positive press about chocolate, when chocolate consumption was still widely viewed as a vice (hard to imagine that time was so recent). Yet, despite this, more frequent chocolate consumption was linked favorably to memory, and to body mass index. (We presented the former finding a couple years ago -- someone else's findings connecting the two got a lot of attention in the NY Times, I understand, last week; the latter finding has been replicated, e.g.,  in a study of European adolescents, and according to a Principal Investigator who contacted us, was also found in a randomized study, supporting causality; and a study in rodents found that cocoa-derived epicatechin led to reduced fat mass with calorie consumption unchanged). Meanwhile, trans fats emerged as adversely associated with both outcomes. This makes sense given that chocolate is rich in antioxidants and has compounds that support cell energy (e.g. via mitochondrial biogenesis and vascularity), while trans fats are prooxidant (and proinflammatory), and adverse to cell energy.  (The hippocampus, a brain area important in memory, is especially vulnerable to cell death in settings of inadequate energy.)

We are encouraged by the fact that, so far, our findings based on the dietary data have almost to a one been replicated, and/or have experimental support from animal research (adding the element of causality). For instance we previously found that, even adjusted for calories and exercise, trans fat consumption was linked to higher BMI and waist circumference. (By the way, I will mention since we have discovered that some scientists -- i.e. peer reviewers! -- are confused on this point, there is no violation of the second law of thermodynamics in that statement. Calories are disposed of in a range of ways -- heat generation, fat deposition, creating blood vessels and mitochondria -- and just what is done with them is subject to modulation by signaling pathways, in turn influenced by dietary factors.) Consistent with this, primate data show that incorporating trans fats, without changing calories, leads to increased deposition of abdominal/visceral fat.

Anyhow, thanks for sending, and thanks for your interest!



I replied:


Thank you for that interesting reply

I think you should have a closer look at the recent literature on anti-oxidants.  I think we are midway through an 180 degree turn there.  The latest thinking is that antioxidants are actually bad for us.  The body needs plenty of oxidants. So pro-oxidants could be a GOOD thing!



Eating cookies and cakes could damage your memory -  regardless of your age

Fats found in some biscuits, cakes and processed foods could have a harmful effect on memory, researchers have warned.

The fats, known as trans fats, are used both in processed food and in restaurants, often to improve the texture, shelf life or flavour.

They are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to make it more solid, which is why they are often called partially hydrogenated oils.

Now, a study of 1,000 healthy men aged under 45 found those who ate the most trans fat had worse scores in a word memory test.

The link remained after taking account of age, education and depression.

Study leader Dr Beatrice Golomb, of the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, said: ‘Trans fats were most strongly linked to worse memory, in young and middle-aged men, during their working and career building years.

‘From a health standpoint, trans fat consumption has been linked to higher body weight, more aggression and heart disease.

‘As I tell my patients, while trans fats increase the shelf life of foods, they reduce the shelf life of people.’

The research team studied adults who had not been diagnosed with heart disease.  They were asked to complete a dietary questionnaire, from which the researchers estimated participants' trans fat consumption.

To assess memory, researchers presented participants with a series of 104 cards showing words.  Each person had to state whether each word was new or a word duplicated from a previously seen card.

Each additional gram a day of trans fats consumed was associated with an estimated 0.76 fewer words correctly recalled.

For those eating the highest amounts of trans fats, this translated to an estimated 11 fewer words – a reduction of 10 per cent in words recalled compared to adults who ate the least trans fat.

The average number of words correctly recalled was 86, according to research presented at the American heart Association’s Scientific sessions 2014 in Chicago.

Trans fat is widely considered the worst kind for your heart, even worse than saturated fat, which can also contribute to heart disease.

The UK food industry in recent years has reduced or eliminated industrially produced trans fat in foods.

Current dietary surveys suggest consumption levels provide less than one per cent of food energy, below the recommended two per cent maximum – about 5g a day.

The Food and Drug Administration is taking further steps to reduce the amount of artificial trans fats in the US food supply.


‘Thunder snow’ freezes all of USA

Which proves global warming, of course

IT is called a ‘lake-effect’ snowstorm — and it has paralysed cities across the US, with temperatures falling to freezing in all 50 states, including Hawaii.

Lake-effect snow is produced during cooler atmospheric conditions when cold winds move across long expanses of warmer lake water, providing energy and picking up water vapour, which freezes and is deposited on the leeward shores.

CNN meteorologist Chad Myers calls it ‘thunder snow’.  “The steam from the lake ... (is) still much warmer than the air,” he said. “The air is in the teens and the water in the 40s. That steam comes up and wants to rise. That rise ... creates a thunder storm but it’s so cold it doesn’t rain. It just snows.”

The phenomenon paralysed the upstate New York city of Buffalo yesterday, forcing state police on snowmobiles to deliver blankets to stranded motorists on the main highway across New York State.

At least four people were killed in the storm, CNN reports.

One of the storm-related deaths was a vehicle accident, said Peter Anderson, a spokesman for the county executive. Three others were cardiac arrests as a result of shovelling.

In a region accustomed to highway-choking snowstorms, this one is being called one of the worst in memory.  “This storm is basically a knife that went right through the heart of Erie County,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.  “I can’t remember and I don’t think anyone else can remember this much snow falling in this short a period.”

The equivalent of a year’s worth of snow is going to pound some areas over a three-day period, Poloncarz said.

Meteorologists say temperatures in all 50 states fell to freezing or below on Tuesday.

That included Hawaii, where the temperature at Mauna Kea on the Big Island dropped to -0.5 degrees Celsius (31 Fahrenheit).

They say the low temperatures were more reminiscent of January than November.

The southeast wasn’t spared.  Schools closed in the North Carolina mountains amid blustery winds and ice-coated roads.  In Atlanta, tourists Morten and Annette Larsen from Copenhagen were caught off-guard by the sub-freezing weather as they took photos of a monument to the 1996 summer Olympics at Centennial Olympic Park.

“It’s as cold here as it is in Denmark right now. We didn’t expect that,” Larsen said, waving a hand over his denim jacket, buttoned tightly over a hooded sweatshirt.

The National Weather Service warned that the snow, generated by cold air blowing over the warmer Great Lakes, would continue through Wednesday and could eventually total 1.8 metres in places.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo deployed 150 member of the National Guard state militia to help clear snow-clogged roads and remove abandoned vehicles.


White House taunts GOP on climate change: ‘I don’t believe they can stop us’

The White House forged ahead Monday with yet another piece of its climate change agenda and bragged that Republicans are powerless to stop it.

A presidential task force unveiled a report on how communities across the country can prepare for the effects of global warming. In all, the recommendations on “climate preparedness and resilience” could cost the federal government more than $100 billion to protect drinking water supplies, shore up coastlines against rising sea levels and take other preventive measures.

The recommendations and subsequent expenses are just two pieces of an ever-expanding slate of global-warming that is sure to come under the microscope when Republicans assume control of the Senate in January.

But legal analysts say the Republicans have little ammunition to fight back, short of shutting down the federal government to stop Environmental Protection Agency funding.

White House officials, keenly aware of the executive power Mr. Obama holds on the issue of climate change, openly mocked incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Republican colleagues.

“I believe the president will complete actions. It is a top priority of his and I don’t believe they can stop us,” White House counselor John Podesta told reporters on a conference call Monday. “Not withstanding Sen. McConnell making this a top priority to leave the status quo, to leave the air dirtier.”

White House officials on Monday also detailed some the expenses associated with the task force recommendations, including $88 billion for North Atlantic states to protect against rising sea levels, $6 billion for Midwestern states to combat rising temperatures and $40 billion to improve California’s drinking water systems.

The report comes on the heels of other recent steps, including Mr. Obama’s greenhouse gas emissions deal with China. Under that agreement, the U.S. pledged to cut its emissions by at least 26 percent by 2025, while China merely said it will cap emissions no later than 2030.

To meet that goal, the administration is relying on its unprecedented restrictions on power plant pollution — regulations that have led to accusations of a “war on coal” — and new auto fuel-efficiency standards, among other steps.

Mr. Obama also is seeking $3 billion in taxpayer money to go toward a global climate fund aimed at helping developing nations boost their infrastructure.

Republicans appear ready to fight the president’s climate change agenda tooth and nail. After the GOP captured the Senate, Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said reining in the EPA would be a “top priority.”

He reiterated those comments over the weekend. “They’ve been on a rampage all across the country. And I think coal is the most conspicuous example, but it’s happening in a lot of other areas and I think you’re going to see bipartisan support for trying to rein them in,” he told an audience in Frankfort, Kentucky.

The larger climate change debate is intertwined with the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, the approval of which could come up for a Senate vote as early as Tuesday. The House already has passed legislation deeming the pipeline approved.

The White House, however, has hinted the president will veto the bill.


The Moral Case Against Fossil Fuels Matters. But It’s Absurd

Alex Epstein

Imagine you are talking to a tobacco advocate who claims that he has a new strategy for winning the hearts and minds of the public:

“We will explain to the public that we contribute to economic growth.”

“We will explain to the public that we create a lot of jobs.”

“We will link our industry to our national identity.”

“We will stress to the public that we are addressing our
attackers’ concerns—by lowering the emissions of our product.”

Would you be convinced? I doubt it, because none of these strategies does anything to address the industry’s fundamental problem—that the industry’s core product, tobacco, is viewed as a self-destructive addiction. So long as that is true, the industry will be viewed as an inherently immoral industry. And so long as that is true, no matter what the industry does, its critics will always have the moral high ground.

Sound familiar? Substitute “fossil fuels” for “tobacco” and you have the fundamental communications problem the fossil fuel industry–and anyone who supports fossil fuels–faces.

Opponents of coal, oil and natural gas have successfully portrayed fossil fuel energy as a self-destructive addiction that is destroying our planet and the energy industry as fundamentally immoral.

Why is the industry viewed as immoral? Because for decades, environmentalist leaders have made a false but unanswered moral case against the fossil fuel industry—by arguing that it inherently destroys our planet and should be replaced with environmentally beneficial solar, wind and biofuels.

According to this argument, it destroys our planet in two basic ways: by increasing environmental dangers (most notably through catastrophic global warming) and depleting environmental resources (through using fossil fuels and other resources at a rapid, “unsustainable” pace).

There is only one way to defeat the environmentalists’ moral case against fossil fuels—refute its central idea that fossil fuels destroy the planet. Because if we don’t refute that idea, we accept it, and if we accept that fossil fuels are destroying the planet, the only logical conclusion is to cease new development and slow down existing development as much as possible. That’s what gives moral standing to something like U.S.-China carbon emissions agreement, which deserves to be seen as an immoral cap on human progress.

I have come to believe that the moral case against fossil fuels is not only false, but is the exact opposite of the truth. Fossil fuels don’t take a clean environment and make it dirty, they take a dirty environment and make it clean. They don’t take a safe climate and make it dangerous, they take a dangerous climate and make it safe. The industry doesn’t deplete resources, it creates resources out of once-useless raw materials.

This is the moral case for fossil fuels. It will give us the moral high ground in the debate over fossil fuels. It is the subject of my new book.


Obama Says Keystone Won’t Benefit Americans, Contrary to Assessments by Dep’ts of State, Energy

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline to carry crude oil from Canada will only benefit our northern ally, and will neither lower gas prices in the U.S. nor entail a “massive jobs bill for the United States,” President Obama said while traveling in Asia last week.

During a press conference Friday in Yangon, Burma, Obama was asked about the project, which has been under review by the State Department for six years and faces a Senate vote on Tuesday.

“Understand what this project is,” he replied. “It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land, down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else.”  “It doesn’t have an impact on U.S. gas prices,” he added.

Obama’s remarks contradict other assessments – including those of the Departments of State and Energy – that the 1,179-mile pipeline could not only create thousands of American jobs and pump billions of dollars into the U.S. economy but also increase the nation’s energy security.

The American Petroleum Institute, the trade association that advocates on behalf of the U.S. oil and gas industry, on Monday issued a plea to Obama about the pipeline and its benefits.

“Mr. President, do not outsource the 42,000 American jobs this pipeline represents, to move Canadian and U.S. energy resources from North Dakota and Montana, to U.S. refineries on the Gulf Coast,” API President and CEO Jack Gerard said in a statement.

“Americans are embracing our domestic energy renaissance but they can’t fully benefit from it unless there is a robust infrastructure system to transport the fuels they demand,” he added.

In a commentary on Friday the Wall Street Journal questioned Obama's understanding of global economics and the oil trade.  “Someone should tell the President that oil markets are global and adding to global supply might well reduce U.S. gas prices, other things being equal,” it said. “A tutor could add that Keystone XL will also carry U.S. light oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale.  “So even if he thinks that bilateral trade only helps Canada, he’s still wrong about Keystone.”

TransCanada, the company in charge of the Keystone XL pipeline construction, calls it “the definition of shovel-ready infrastructure project,” and cites the State Department’s own findings. (The department is in control of the project’s destiny because of its “international” element.)

“Almost overnight, Keystone XL could put 9,000 hard-working American men and women directly to work,” TransCanada says on its website. “The U.S. State Department’s Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement found that the project would support more than 42,000 direct and indirect jobs nationwide.”

“In addition to construction jobs, an estimated 7,000 U.S. jobs are being supported in manufacturing the steel pipe and the thousands of fittings, valves, pumps and control devices required for a major oil pipeline,” it states.

“TransCanada has contracts with more than 50 suppliers across the U.S., including companies in Texas, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Indiana, Georgia, Maryland, New York, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Ohio, Arkansas, Kansas, California and Pennsylvania.”

TransCanada also cites a Canadian Energy Research Institute prediction that Keystone XL will add $172 billion to America’s gross domestic product by 2035 and will create an additional 1.8 million person-years of employment in the United States over the next 22 years.

The pipeline will also make the U.S. less dependent on foreign oil, thus increasing energy security, it says, citing a Department of Energy study.

“Keystone XL Pipeline will have the capacity to transport 830,000 barrels per day of crude oil from Canada and the continental United States to refineries on the Gulf Coast, where it can displace much of the higher-priced oil those refineries currently import from overseas,” TransCanada says.

“This view is backed up by a December, 2010 U.S. Department of Energy study which states: ‘Increased Canadian oil imports will help reduce U.S. imports of foreign oil from sources outside of North America.’”

In a move seemingly unheard of just weeks ago, the U.S. Senate is set to vote on Tuesday on legislation that would approve the Keystone project, a bill passed by the House of Representatives last week.

Obama has said he has not changed his position on the pipeline but has not specifically said he would veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

Asked again about the project at the end of a G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia on Sunday, Obama raised another potential objection – climate change.

“We’re going to let the process play itself out,” he told reporters. “And the determination will be made in the first instance by the Secretary of State. But I won’t hide my opinion about this, which is that one major determinant of whether we should approve a pipeline shipping Canadian oil to world markets, not to the United States, is: does it contribute to the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change?”


Australian PM will soon look like a genius for refusing to drag Australia to yet another climate fiasco

Even as he continues to win plaudits from visiting Chinese and Indian leaders, the high priests and priestesses of the fourth estate are in full-throated rebellion against Tony Abbott. Defensive, embarrassing, timid, insular, clumsy, flawed, weird, cringeworthy – this is just a sampler of media comment on Abbott’s performance at the G20 in Brisbane.

But it is perhaps better to see Abbott as someone who refuses to agree at all times with outspoken, self-appointed pressure groups that breed around controversial questions. He makes an inviting rhetorical target precisely because he embodies that down-to-earth quality in our national spirit that has been all but obliterated by the modern obsession with courting fashionable opinion. His bluntness – such as his defence of Big Coal or his threat to “shirtfront” Putin – takes him where mealy-mouthed politicians fear to tread.

I say this as someone who disagrees with his stance on Ukraine. It is one thing to try to subject the Russian-backed rebels to some scrutiny for 17 July; it is another thing for the leader of a middle power to issue dire threats and warnings to a nuclear power with vital strategic interests at stake in a region that has been in its sphere of influence for centuries.

All things considered, however, Abbott’s diplomatic conduct in recent days has been defensible.

Start with the China trade deal, a major victory for our exporters that will add tens of billions of dollars to the economy. The prime minister promised to clinch unprecedented and lucrative agreements with Japan, South Korea and China by the end of the year. His foreign affairs and trade team have achieved this goal with aplomb. The three nations account for about half of all our exports.

The critics were having a field day feasting on Abbott for daring to talk about his government’s domestic policy challenges; never mind that the leaders were invited to the G20 opening session to discuss how domestic politics impede a pro-growth reform agenda.

Then there is the G20 growth agreement itself, which will dramatically improve the lives of people all around the world, so long as nations deliver on their promises. Even Michael Gordon, one of Fairfax Media’s many Abbott critics, has conceded that for the first time the world’s richest economies have committed themselves to a specific (and ambitious) growth target and they have been prepared to allow independent bodies to scrutinise their approaches.

We are told that on climate change, the G20 leaders spectacularly wrong-footed Abbott. Yet he has merely defended the national interest and kept faith with the Australian people who gave him an electoral mandate to abolish Julia Gillard’s widely unpopular carbon tax. We are also told that Paris is the moment when the world will come together to save us from an excess of greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a fair bet Abbott’s position will be vindicated at the United Nations climate talks next year.

Shortly before Brisbane, Beijing concluded a bilateral accord with Washington in which they agreed (on a non-binding basis) to begin reducing their annual emissions by 2030. The understanding is clearly that, since Obama signed up to this deal (and indeed presented it as a triumph), he will not push the Chinese any further at next year’s meeting in Paris.

Meanwhile, Obama needs to ask the US Congress to appropriate $3bn for the global climate fund. Republicans will oppose it, and many Democrats repudiated Obama’s energy agenda in the recent midterm elections. No member of the visiting Washington press corps, judging from the press conference on Sunday, evidently thinks the issue is an American priority. Congress won’t legislate a carbon tax or a national emissions trading scheme.

As for China, their leaders’ priority is to grow their economy at 7-8% annually and to reduce poverty; and the cheapest way of doing so is via carbon energy (president Xi did not even mention climate change in his address to parliament yesterday.) True, Beijing is investing in renewable energy projects and piloting cap and trade schemes in some provinces. But China is also building a coal-fired power plant every 8-10 days and its net emissions continue to escalate steadily (on 1990 levels, Australia is set to cut its greenhouse gas emission by 4% by 2020.)

Any “deal” at Paris will merely give China and India a free rein until the 2030s without any binding obligation to be monitored and scrutinised by the west on their actual behaviour. That is why Abbott is wise to make any Australian climate policies conditional on a legally binding, verifiable, enforceable and genuinely global agreement to replace the Kyoto protocol. Even the Germans have essentially done that.

What is shaping up now, as Benny Peiser of the London-based Global Warming Policy Forum predicts, is a huge blame game over the likely failure to agree to a post-Kyoto treaty. China and India will blame the west for its failure to deliver $100 bn per annum – yes, $100bn – that was promised at Copenhagen. Obama and the left will blame the Republicans. The EU will blame the Americans. Climate enthusiasts and developing nations will blame all and sundry.

And Abbott will look like a genius for keeping Australia on the margins of yet another climate summit fiasco.



For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

Preserving the graphics:  Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere.  But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases.  After that they no longer come up.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here or here


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