ARTICLES

COP26 AND CLIMATE CHANGE

This is the slightly expanded text of a talk I gave on the 9th November 2021 in the upstairs room of a pub near where I live to 11 people.  I did it as part of a public speaking award I’m working for.  I was keen to put on this mini-event while the COP26 conference was still running up in Glasgow.

My interest in ecology and awareness of climate change

We are all aware now of climate change: there have been droughts and forest fires followed by heavy torrential rains and floods in many places.  No continent seems to be spared.

Things are going wrong.

My personal interest in ecology started y0ung.  It started with me rescuing poorly mice and frogs and trying to save them in cotton wool beds in the dolls house, but they unfortunately died.

I gave money to the World Wildlife Fund to save whales and pandas in the 1970s.

Aged 14 I thought I’d save the world by becoming an ecologist and be on tele telling everyone what they should be doing.  I expected to be famous.  This obviously didn’t really plan out, but it did cause me to study hard to be able to go to university.  I found I could do just enough maths to get through if I set my mind to it and grit my teeth, though I was not keen on boring subjects.  I worked at what I didn’t want to do to get to university to save the world.

I went to Oxford Poly, which later became a university in 1980.  My original modular degree course was ecology and biology.  However, I then changed my course to anthropology and sociology because I really didn’t want to work in a biology lab and I found humans interesting.  I just did what interested me at the time.  This led absolutely nowhere, but I’m a blogger now.

COP26 “the last best hope”

The United Nations conference on climate change took place between the 31st October and the 12th November 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland.  It brought together every nation on earth.

The church service broadcast from Glasgow university chapel on radio 4 on Sunday 7th November echoed the statement that COP26 is “the last best hope” for our planet.

The conference was a gathering of the hopeful and the powerful.  Many indigenous peoples came to the conference to protest against structural injustices, loss of livelihoods and the sea taking away their island homelands.

There were prayers in the church service by people of all different religions about saving the planet.  Pagans called on Mother Earth to protect us as we protect her.

Saturday saw 300 demonstrations take place around the world calling for something to be done about climate change.

Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, hosting the conference proclaimed that they were asking for “ambitious commitments and bold compromises” by countries all over the world.

Pope Francis quoting his encyclical Laudato Si talked about “sewing beauty and not destruction” and joining with the poor to help them.

The aim of all the actions called for in COP26 are to control global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees centigrade and reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.  This is a timescale of a bit less than 30 years.

The aims of making tougher targets; discussing how to get countries to comply with their commitments; a net zero strategy; and finance to help poorer countries all amounted to a new global rule book.  This could be deemed a success, although present commitments mean we are heading for 2+ degrees of global warming over the next 30 years.

Wise choices and wrong choices

There’s a fine line between a wise choice and a wrong choice.

Both of these appear to be a good idea until they are put into practice; only then does the difference emerge.  In practice things either go right and the situation improves, or they go horribly wrong.

My own feelings about global warming have some ambiguity.  I think we need to be careful.

Extinction of life:

If you attribute the wrong cause to a problem, and because of this you do nothing about the real causes – the situation then gets worse, not better.

Unintended consequences:

If we trash our economy to ‘save the planet’, it will be the poor who fall off the edge and die.  Even if this was not the intention.

Destabilization:

Some countries are going ‘full carbon ahead’; while some democratic countries slam the brakes on.  If the balance of power shifted, and it is shifting, the collapse of our human ecosystem does not guarantee the preservation of natural ecosystems.

One thing I did note:

Protests led by Extinction Rebellion in 2019 were against the government, causing governments problems, and many protests  still are.

But the 300 protests worldwide which took place on Saturday 6th November took place within the context of COP26.  World leaders such as Barack Obama led these protests calling for change.  So the ‘them and us’ narrative has changed.  ‘We are all in it together now.’  Whoever thought this one up is not just a pretty face.  (Maybe I was right to study sociology after all).

Global warming has been of 1.1 to 1.5 degrees up to now

Global temperatures have increased by 1.1 to 1.5 degrees centigrade compared to pre-industrial temperatures.  However, the distribution of the increase in temperature is very far from even.  Summer temperatures in some places can approach 48 degrees centigrade making them barely habitable while other places experience cool, wet weather.

Environmentalists attribute global warming to the burning of fossil fuels.  Fossil fuels include coal, oil turned into petrol and diesel, and natural gas.

The equation for energy production from fossil fuels is as follows:

Fuel /hydrocarbons + oxygen = carbon dioxide + water

Carbon dioxide and water vapour are ‘green house’ gases.  Natural gas which is methane is also a green house gas.  Methane dissociates spontaneously into carbon dioxide and water.

Global warming issues involve:

  • Electricity production from coal or oil fired power stations – electricity to keep the lights on, computers running and industrial machines in constant motion.
  • Gas central heating of houses and offices.
  • Petrol and diesel for cars, lorries, trains and ships, as well as aviation fuel for airplanes transporting people and goods.

Cities are 1 or 2°C warmer than the surrounding countryside

The heat-generation of machines and the release of green house gases is noticeable to us all – as cities hardly ever have frost in winter.  The trees of the countryside become white with hoar frost when the temperature drops below freezing, while the town remains in positive figures and ice-free.  At least that’s what it’s like where I live in England generally.  This shows that human activity warms the atmosphere in towns.

The Arctic and Antarctic Poles are warming faster than elsewhere.  We’ve all seen images of glaciers melting and retreating, and sea ice in the Arctic breaking up.  This melting appears to be running away now and accelerating. 

At high latitudes it means that the permafrost is thawing out and starting to release ancient stores of methane.  This could become a major source of green house gases that are not coming from the burning of fossil fuels.  The fear is that once triggered, this situation spirals out of the control due to a positive feedback loop.

Global warming is happening.  Some argue about the causes of this.  But it is agreed that if humans have caused the problem, then humans should solve the problem.

The Origin and Uses of Coal and Oil

In all the talk of the evils of fossil fuels, let us not forget how useful coal and oil are.  Our entire economy is based on these products.   Fossil fuels not only drive petrol and diesel engines, and electric generators, but also most of the objects we use are made from fossil hydrocarbons.

First of all, coal provides the carbon used to make steel.  Steel is an iron-carbon alloy.  Most of the metal we use is steel.  The Industrial Revolution in the 18th century was based on discoveries of how to make steel which is much stronger than iron.

Secondly, plastics that were first developed for mass production in the Second World War – for example, as nylon to make parachutes and black-market stockings – are made from oil.

When they made the first plastic washing up bowl, they thought at the beginning they might only sell a few, but now most of our everyday objects are made of plastic.

Today 6 litres of oil is required to make a mobile phone.

Thirdly, artificial fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides are made from oil.  Thus, most of the food we eat that is not organically grown food, is derived from oil.

As if we hadn’t taken it far enough, people started putting petroleum products in their tea in the form of the artificial sweetener saccharin.

Finally, natural gas which is found in association with both coal and oil, is pumped to houses to keep their gas boilers and gas ovens going, but it can also be used to make artificial diamonds virtually indistinguishable from natural diamonds.

Where does this ‘black gold’ come from?

Obviously you have to mine it or drill for it deep underground.  But it actually comes from the surface of the earth in prehistoric times, this ancient surface now being deep underground covered over by sedimentary rocks (that are carbon sinks).  Oil, gas and coal were formed by ancient ecosystems on earth.

Oil is composed of cyanobacteria that lived in ancient shallow seas for billions of years in the Precambrian Era.  Precambrian cyanobacteria dates from 3.5 thousand million to about 600 million years ago.  Cyanobacteria photosynthesis formed the first oxygen in earth’s atmosphere. 

Photosynthetic bacteria is also known as ‘blue-green algae’. The remains of blue-green algae became trapped beneath layers of sediments, and under pressure became converted into oil with byproducts of methane gas and ground water.

Coal was mainly formed during the Carboniferous Period from 360 to 280 million years ago.  It was formed on land by club moss, horsetail and seed-fern trees that formed immense swamp forests.  When the land was invaded by tidal waves that brought huge quantities of sediments, the forests were buried suddenly.  Instead of decomposing, the trees trapped beneath layers of sediments were converted into coal.  The byproduct was also gas and water.

It’s strange to think that the product of ancient ‘tennis ball earth’, covered in blue-green algae like a giant green tennis ball, would be plastics. It is equally strange that steel would be the product of a prehistoric swampland.

Three levels of Environmental Action

For the Environmentalist there are three levels of action: personal, local and global; what we can do ourselves, what we can be part of in the community, and what is increasingly seeming to be beyond our grasp as we grapple with political issues and campaigns.

First the personal level:

My house runs on almost 100% green renewable energy:

  • I’ve got 21 solar panels – this means I get free electricity when the sun shines and export to the grid.
  • I have a heat pump instead of a gas boiler.  It pumps heat out of air and you get three units of heat for 1 unit of electricity.  It works better than a gas boiler as you don’t get the continual stop start situation which wastes energy.
  • I’ve got three batteries which are charged up by the solar panels in the daytime and store electricity to use in the evening and to run the heat pump.  Each battery stores 4.5 kw.
  • My electric provider is Social Energy who apart from buying electricity from renewable sources, are also setting up a grid of micro-producers who feed into the national grid.  (November 2021 – I’ve just had news that they’ve collapsed and I’m being transferred).
  • I’m one of the ‘Green Energy Pioneers’ of Social Energy because I invested my money in this new technology.

I like to see wind turbines and I’m excited about all the different ideas for producing renewable energy – I watch TV documentaries and radio programmes on it.  I’m also recycling obsessed.

 I can do my bit, and I enjoy doing my bit.  I also get a lot of government feed-in tariffs each year for being a pioneer so there’s hard-headed finance involved, not just woolly feelings.

Local projects to promote reforestation, give cities cleaner air, provide more allottments for people to grow their own food – all of this is fantastic.

This is of immediate benefit to me, my family and my community.

But what of solving the global problem of climate change?

In this, what I do is an insignificant drop in the ocean.

Governments pledge stuff, but it only gets worse not better.

There are big players not interested in ceasing to burn fossil fuels.

It can all seem over-whelming.

We can make right choices if we learn enough about it, but persuading others is more difficult.  We cannot force others to make right choices according to our own criteria, and as we see it.  So what do we do?

What can be done on a global scale?

Industrial Input Farming

Global scale right choices are not always evident.

In the 1970s and 80s the Green Revolution seemed like the best thing ever, the solution to all the world’s woes, the end of famine on earth, the triumph of scientific endeavour.  It was going well for 40 years. 

But look at where we are now.  Soils depleted, crop diseases spreading, famine returning to the poorest countries. 

What seemed like the right choice under one set of criteria is very much not the right choice under a new set of criteria.

Up until the 1970s farming was mixed farming in most parts of the world.

Animals kept for meat and milk produced manure to spread on the soil to make it fertile to grow crops.  Animals ate the parts of crops not suitable for human consumption.  There was a seasonal cycle through the year and rotation in the use of fields.

Traditional farming was replaced by industrial input farming by the Green Revolution.

Arable crops are now grown with artificial fertilizers, and often ground water irrigation.

Monoculture of crops on farms is now the general practice.

Animals are kept at high concentration with their waste entering water-ways and causing pollution.

There has been an acceleration of degradation of the environment since the year 2000 when herbicide and pesticide use started to hit all time highs.

The degraded soils, lacking natural humus produced by animal manure, decomposed vegetable matter, fungal threads and bacterial gels, are now turning to dust.

With ground water wells also running dry, it is said there is 30 years left before total collapse of the ecosystem of which we are a part.

Extinction irrespective of global warming occurring or not occurring

Industrial input farming is based on oil.  Not only do diesel engines pump water up from deep underground, but the inputs themselves are made from oil.  Artificial fertilizer, glyphosate herbicide and pesticide chemicals are made from oil.  The petrochemical industry now dominates farming.

Pollution is the result of all of this.

We used to hear about the extinction of certain species – noteworthy species such as whales, elephants or polar bears.  What we are hearing now is that whole broad categories or classes of organisms are being wiped out.

A third of insects have died.

That pesticides kill insects is just to state the obvious; that is what they are designed to do.  But herbicides designed to kill weeds probably kill insects too.  The reason for this that they destroy the invisible world of bacteria and maybe the microscopic world of tiny invertebrates too.

Insects, in my opinion, are not dying from global warming – insects are heat-adapted creatures in general.  I believe the chemicals used in agriculture, made from oil, are the direct cause of the extinctions of wild life now seen.

Glyphosate is a false amino acid that unweaves the very fabric life at the microscopic level.

We are not only ‘pulling the carpet from under our own feet’, but the carpet is disintegrating in our hands.  There soon won’t be a carpet but just chaotic tufts of what used to be a carpet.  There won’t even be a carpet mite trying to hang onto the last tufts because everything will be dead.

Personally, for me, the ecology disaster is the worst disaster because I’m a nature lover.

My first point is to note that extinction is going to occur irrespective of global warming.  This means that even if we were successful in capping global warming at 1.5 degrees centigrade, this does not prevent extinction from continuing.

My second point involves natural carbon sinks.  Ecosystems provide natural carbon sinks – they take up carbon from the atmosphere and incorporate it as plant material and animal tissues rather than the carbon remaining in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. 

Single cell algae with tiny calcareous shells form part of the phytoplankton floating in the surface waters of oceans.  The formation of the shell fixes carbon.  There is a seasonal blooming and die-off of algae.  When these tiny protists die, their shells sink down to the ocean floor where they form ooze, and the ooze eventually becomes limestone.  This process of sedimentary rock formation has been a major carbon sink operating on earth for millions of years.

If forms of life such as phytoplankton are killed off by chemical pollution, then natural carbon sinks could cease to operate as before.  If this happened then global warming would occur not only through the burning of fossil fuels, but also through loss of a natural balance.  Loss of natural carbon sinks would compound the problem.

Carbon capture and reflected sunlight

The actual solutions to global warming being pursued by the oil and gas companies are geo-engineering ones – carbon capture or sunlight reflection.

The idea is to use carbon capture to balance the exploitation of oil such that net zero can be reached by 2050.  Oil industry engineers favour these ideas as they can be proactive in implementing them.  It is also enlightened self-interest that would allow them to keep their licences to exploit oil fields in the foreseeable future.

Artificially removing carbon dioxide from the air and making it into carbon rich rocks to  bury them or use them seems like a good idea at first, if it worked.

But the other idea of reflecting sunlight away from the Poles by spraying particles into the air to form clouds I find more worrying.

What if it was too successful and we were plunged into sub-zero temperatures?

What if it was cloudy all the time and my solar panels stop working?

What if I had to have the heating on all the time throughout the year?

I fear stupid decisions based on targets – the net zero target leading to disasterous decisions taken unilaterally, where the second problem becomes worse than the first.

I now look up at the stars on clear nights, and I think – I will remember the days when I could gaze at the stars, and see the moon and the sun come up and go down – because

 I am able to see the sky.

What if we were condemned to live in cloudy obscurity permanently?  The coming darkness may not only be figurative, but also literal.

Conclusion on the COP26 conference

A.

Am I happy that the COP26 conference is taking place?

Yes, I’m happy as it is better to do something, than do nothing.

There is a Chinese proverb: “It is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness.”

B.

Am I happy with my renewable energy options?

Yes, very happy I like the new technology, it’s working for me.

C.

Do I think there is a sustainable future on the horizon?

  • No, because industrial input farming is destructive of the environment.

Chemicals used in farming are directly causing extinctions and more + more chemicals are being used.

The planet is becoming a network of human cities surrounded by factory farms.  The remaining wild life will be represented by animals that interact with humans on some level such as scavenging in bins or as protected, monitored species.

The invisible and unnotable forms of life are being directly poisoned by chemicals.  This may spell the loss of natural carbon sinks that have been operation up to now to maintain a balanced temperature and which have kept global warming low until recently.

Even if the target of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees is met, the destruction of life is likely to continue.

I have reached the conclusion, however, that the aim of COP26 to reach zero carbon by 2050 will be accomplished.  It will happen through carbon capture and the deflection of sunlight put in place by global control systems.

Environmentalism is being boiled down to one cause – atmospheric and ocean temperature.  This makes the message simple and easy to put out.  But I fear that if you attribute the wrong cause, then you do nothing about the real cause – and the situation gets worse, not better.  More chemicals are brought onto the market that destroy life, while everybody is looking the other way.

Summary:

Awareness of climate change

Yes, it’s happening now.  Things are going wrong.

COP26 “the last best hope”

The UN conference got together countries from all over the world to make commitments to control global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees centigrade and reach Net Zero Carbon emissions by 2050. 

A new global rule book has been drawn up.

Wise choices and wrong choices

The difference between wise choices an d wrong choices often only emerges when you try to put things into practice.  Wise decisions improve the situation, while unwise decisions can go horribly wrong.

Global warming has been of 1.1 to 1.5 degrees up to now

Global temperatures have increased by just over a degree compared to pre-industrial temperatures. 

The burning of fossils fuels, upon which our economy is based, releases green house gases into the atmosphere – this is a cause of atmospheric warming.

You can see the effects of green house gases as cities are always warmer than the countryside.  We witness on TV, images of glaciers receding and sea ice breaking up.

The release of methane from melting permafrost is a source of methane that can cause a positive feedback loop augmenting the problem.

The Origin and Uses of Coal and Oil

Despite the things that are now said about the evils of fossils fuels, there are uses of ancient hydrocarbons that are useful and good.

Most of the objects we use are made from oil, coal and maybe gas. 

These products come from the remains of ancient ecosystems.

Three levels of action: personal, local and global

On a personal level I’m happy to have a house running on renewable energy;  I’m enthusiastic about local projects to improve the environment for wildlife or give cleaner air to cities; but on a global scale I feel the overwhelming nature of the task faced by the world.  Every country has a hand in this, and countries represent a lot of separate entities.

Industrial Inputs Farming

The Green Revolution of the 1970s industrialized farming globally.  (I studied this in sociology in the 1980s).  Farming based on petrol product inputs brought an end to famines.  But we now see the limits to this system in the degradation of soils and massive pollution of water courses which empty their contents into the oceans.

Extinction irrespective of global warming occurring or not occurring

I believe the chemicals used in agriculture, made from oil, are the direct cause of extinctions seen on earth now.  This means that even if every target was met and global warming was brought under control, the extinction of life would continue.

Various forms of life act as natural carbon sinks, especially those that form calcareous shells. Even if these shells are tiny, the quantity of them from phytoplankton die-off can form ooze at the bottom of the oceans that is later transformed into limestone.

The poisoning of small forms of life could interrupt naturally operating carbon sinks, and this would compound the global warming problem.

Carbon capture and reflected sunlight

Artificially capturing carbon is another way of sinking it.  This, and the reflection of sunlight by creating artificial clouds are the preferential solutions of petroleum company engineers.  They like pro-active solutions, not ‘stop what you are doing’ solutions.

I fear targets and human controls because I think they can go horribly wrong if someone gets it wrong.

Conclusion on the COP26 conference

  • I think it is a good thing that the COP26 conference has taken place.
  • I’m happy with my options for renewable energy, and doing my bit.
  • Do I think a sustainable future is possible?  No, because of the destructive effects of chemicals now used ubiquitously in agricultural and in the human-built environment.

I’ve reached the conclusion, none-the-less, that the target of Net Zero Carbon will be reached by 2050, but it will happen by using chemical means to capture carbon and store it, as well as by the deflection of sunlight.

I see the necessity of having a simple, clear message on global warming that is easily understood, but I fear that some of the real causes of global problems could be over-looked by looking for solutions in the wrong place, and so not identifying the real causes and their solutions.

I fear that reaching the target ≠ saving the planet.

Clare Merry

1st December 2021

4316 words

Chilean Esmeralda sailing ship confronting the Peruvian Huascar iron ship in the Battle of Iquique, 21st May 1879
Artist: Silva of Coquimbo 1997

Battle of Iquique: The Esmeralda, a wooden sailing ship was confronted by the Peruvian iron ship Huascar. Arturo Pratt refused to surrender and sailed his ship straight towards the modern iron ship. The iron ship made a hole in the Esmeralda with its steel hull. As the Esmeralda was sinking, Arturo Pratt and a sergeant jumped onto the Huascar with cutlasses and were immediately shot. Pratt is a Chilean national hero celebrated on the 21st May each year.

+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+

Palmed-off with palm oil

This is a history of transfats followed by palm oil which entered the diet to replace animal fats in the modern diet. The result has been bad cholesterol and cardiovascular disease for large numbers of people. The article explains what cholesterol is and how to lower bad cholesterol through a high fibre diet. Alternative oils to palm oil are discussed and a return to butter suggested. The article lays out clearly and simply why each thing is either good or bad for you.

Written in November 2017

History of transfats

Prior to 1910 the dietary fats of Western nations were mainly of animal origin.  They included butterfat, lard and beef tallow.  These fats contain stearic acid which is a saturated fat and very small amounts of cholesterol.  There were also natural oils such as olive oil and sunflower oil that contain saturated and unsaturated fatty acids.  There were not enough of these natural products to feed growing populations in the 20th century.

In 1909 a new industrial method of partially hydrogenating vegetable oil was invented in the USA such that the oil became solid and resembled lard.  In 1911 it started to be marketed under the name Crisco as a ‘shortening’ to be used for baking.  At first it was made of hydrogenated cottonseed oil, but later it was made from soybean oil since this was a by-product of soybean protein for which there was a growing market.

The solid part of the hydrogenated oil consists of transfats.

Margarine made from hydrogenated oils was found to be more stable and less prone to turning rancid than natural oils and fats.  By the 1920s transfat margarine was increasingly replacing butter.  The trend to use hydrogenated oils containing transfats in baking bread, pies, cakes, biscuits and cookies continued to increase up to the 1960s, by which time it had totally taken over the market.  It was claimed that the unsaturated fats that are transfats of vegetable origin were healthier than the saturated fats of butter and lard of animal origin.

Transfats can also be of animal origin.  Whaling nations used hydrogenated whale oil to make transfat margarine, and fishing nations used fish oil for this purpose (though they kept this quiet since people don’t like the idea of putting fish oil on their toast).

By 1956 a large increase in coronary artery disease had been noted in Western nations.  However, dieticians continued to oppose consumption of animal fats in favour of transfats.

In the 1980s someone led a campaign against McDonald’s, criticizing them for use of beef tallow for frying their French fries since tallow contains saturated fat.  The company responded alongside most other fast food outlets by switching straight away to frying in hydrogenated vegetable oils containing transfats.  (Hydrogenated oils were cheap so this was not a problem for them).

In the 1990s there was renewed scrutiny of the impact of transfats on health.  Mandatory labelling of transfats was brought in.  There were calls to ban the sale of transfats.  Studies showed that there is no safe level of transfat consumption – any amount consumed contributes to cardiovascular disease.

By the year 2000 the public woke up to what transfats were doing to them.  People did not want to buy products now labelled as containing transfats anymore.  Although any products in supermarkets labelled ‘Partially hydrogenated oils’ still do contain transfats.

In 2003 traders in Malaysia started providing transfat free bakery and confectionary fats made from palm oil to the giant food industry companies in the USA, and around the world.

UK supermarkets decided voluntarily to stop using transfats in their products in 2007 due to public pressure.

It was found in studies that replacing transfats in the diet by unsaturated plant oils halves the risk of coronary heart disease.  Also, replacing transfats by saturated animal fats, surprisingly, reduces the risk by almost as much.

So nobody eats transfats now, or do they?

Fast food has been fried in hydrogenated oils since the 1950s.  This practice continues in many parts of the world today.  It means that when you eat out, you may be consuming transfats.  Hydrogenated oils containing transfats are more stable, which means they can be used for high temperature deep frying.  Bakery take away food also often contains transfats.

Soybean oil has the second highest production in the world after palm oil.  It is still being processed into hydrogenated oil containing transfats.  In Britain the use of soybean oil by restaurants and fast food places is being replaced by rapeseed oil due to people complaining about genetically modified crops.  Soybean oil comes from GM crops while rapeseed has not been genetically modified.

Margarines can be made from hydrogenating oils so that they remain solid at room temperature.  Even lightly hydrogenated margarines may contain 40% transfats.  These margarines are recognized as being unhealthy.  But around the world, plenty of fish oil is still being transformed into transfats and sold as margarine; whaling however, was banned in 1986.

What is a transfat?

Unsaturated fatty acids in natural vegetable oils have double carbon bonds in a cis configuration.  The addition of hydrogen atoms during hydrogenation of these oils causes some of the carbon bonds to take on a trans configuration.  This slight change, changes the shape of the molecule.

trans fatty acid is straight, while a cis fatty acid is kinked.  This change in shape causes the trans molecules to pack together more tightly.  It is this that causes the unsaturated transfat to form a solid, while the unsaturated cis fat is liquid oil.  The solid transfat is difficult to break apart and it remains solid at human body temperature; hence the difficulty with digestion of it.

Animal products contain small amounts of transfats that are also solid.  However, the chemistry of these fats is different to the artificial ones so their effects on the body are not as bad.

Transfats are classified as ‘edible’.  However, studies have shown that transfats provide no known benefit to human health.  They cannot be used by the body for anything.

Good and bad cholesterol

Although cholesterol is found in small quantities in a varied diet, most cholesterol is synthesized by the body because the body needs cholesterol.  A human male synthesizes about one gram of cholesterol a day.  The body has a feed-back mechanism such that when cholesterol is available in the diet, the body compensates by synthesizing less of it.

The body requires cholesterol since it is, among other things, a precursor of steroid hormones such as testosterone, and a precursor of myelin sheath surrounding neurons in the body and in the brain.

In the blood stream there are two types of cholesterol bound to protein transporter molecules.  High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is ‘good cholesterol’.  It is taken to tissues to synthesize hormones, myelin sheath or cell membranes, or it is taken to the liver to make bile salts.  Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) circulating in the blood is ‘bad cholesterol.’  It cannot be used to synthesize components of the body.

It has been shown that transfats raise the levels of LDL bad cholesterol in the blood stream, while lowering the level of HDL good cholesterol.  Transfats also cause free triglycerides to occur in the blood stream, that is, fat that is not bound to transport molecules.

The reason why small LDL cholesterol molecules and free fats are bad is because they are scavenged by macrophages in the blood stream in an attempt to eliminate them.  Macrophage white blood cells engulf LDL particles and form foam cells.  It is these foam cells that stick to the walls of arteries forming atherosclerosis deposits.  If a plaque of atherosclerosis detaches from the artery wall and moves to the heart it can cause a heart attack or if it moves to the brain it can cause a stroke.

Transfats when metabolized in the liver competitively inhibit the metabolism of other fats and perturb the body’s ability to metabolize essential fatty acids that the body needs.

The effects of transfats are proportional to the amount eaten.  High consumption of transfats has been, and still is a major cause of obesity.  Transfat consumption leads to the deposition of intra-abdominal fat – fat deposited around the organs of the abdomen internally.  Consumption of transfats has also been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, and  type 2 diabetes.

Cholesterol is a component of milk so in the diet it is found in cheese and other dairy products, as well as in eggs.  Human breast milk is also high in cholesterol, and deemed to be the ideal food for babies.  However, when the mother consumes transfats, these transfats appear in her milk, and in the blood stream of the infant.  The amount of transfat in the blood stream of the child is directly affected by the amount of transfat consumed by the mother.

New born babies and children do not choose what they eat, and yet their development is being affected by these artificial fats that the body cannot use, and which inhibit the synthesis of what the body needs for its development.

Palm oil replaces transfats

When transfat had to be listed as an ingredient of packaged foods and the public did not wish to eat transfats or buy these products any more, the food industry turned to palm oil as a substitute.  This happened between 2003 and 2007.

Until 2009 in the USA palm oil was simply labelled as ‘vegetable oil.’  In December 2014 the EU followed suit with new regulations that the type of vegetable oil had to be specified in the list of ingredients on food packaging.  It is now labelled as palm oil, palm kernel oil or palm fat.

Palm oil comes from the genus Elaeis of the Palm tree family.  The oil is derived from the mesocarp of the fruit and is reddish in colour.  Palm kernel oil from the kernel of the fruit.  Palm oil is unusual for a vegetable oil in that it is highly saturated.  That is why it is solid at room temperature.  This is also why it became a substitute for transfats and lard which are also solid at room temperature.  Many bakery goods and pastry require a form of solid fat to make them ‘light’ and crumbly.

Palm oil contains saturated palmitic acid.  Animal products such as butter or lard contain saturated stearic acid.  While butter contains 51% saturated fat as stearic acid and other fatty acids, and palm oil contains 44% saturated fat as palmitic acid, palm kernel fat contains 81% saturated fat as palmitic acid.

Another oil of the Palm family is coconut oil.  Coconut oil contains 86% saturated fat though not as palmitic acid.  Coconut oil, palm kernel oil and cocoa butter have a higher percentage of saturated fat then any animal product which includes butter, lard or duck fat.

The production of palm oil continues to increase.  Palm oil has the highest production per hectare of any vegetable oil.  Palm oil has the highest production of all types of oils, representing 32% of global oils and fats in 2012.

In supermarkets around me in Britain, I have found palm oil in a huge number of products:

Palm oil is now put in all factory-produced sliced bread.  It is put in bakery loaves of ‘English’ bread in nearly all supermarkets, except one, and this includes the ‘healthy’ multiseed loaves and organic loaves.  Palm oil is found in most rolls, cobs, baps, buns and paninis.

Palm oil is an ingredient of tea cakes, hot cross buns, doughnuts, pastries, pies, cakes, biscuits, crackers, crisp breads, oatcakes and pizza.  It is included in almost all products made with wheat flour; almost all pastry as well as uncooked rolls of pastry.  Palm oil is also an ingredient of all chocolate except Fairtrade, Co op own brand chocolate and Fin Carré.  It is found in custard, ice cream, cheese cake and supermarket puddings.  Margarine and spreadable buttermilk margarines, the so-called healthy alternatives to butter, contain palm oil.

Palm oil is found in battered fish, some frozen meals and ready meals, most brands of crisps except Walkers and some breakfast cereals.  Palm oil is a new ingredient to stock cubes, stock pots, gravy granules and stuffing.  To top it all, you can’t find a Christmas pudding free of palm oil and free of lumps of palm kernel fat.

I was shocked to find that palm oil is now being put into formula baby milk of most brands and in baby rusks, though it is not put into the jars of baby food.

Sodium palmitate derived from palmitic acid from palm oil is a food additive put in foods for ‘mouth feel’.

It is almost impossible to shop in any supermarket, with one exception, and not buy products containing palm oil.  Also, you can hardly find a place to eat out without being served up food containing palm oil.  It is ubiquitous.

Everything that once contained sunflower oil that is quite unsaturated now contains saturated palm oil or palm kernel fat – which is worse.  Palm oil is used because it is cheap.

What is bad about palm oil?

Some people claim that cold-pressed red palm oil has health benefits due to it containing antioxidants.  However, by 2006 it was already known that palm oil has similar effects on cholesterol as transfats.

Consumption of palm oil raises both the LDL bad cholesterol and the HDL good cholesterol in the blood stream.  This means it is not quite as bad as transfats which raise bad cholesterol while lowering good cholesterol.  Nonetheless, the World Health Organization has warned that, like transfats, palmitic acid (the saturated fat contained in palm oil) increases the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.

Consumption of palm oil causes atherosclerosis fat deposits to be deposited in the arteries.  The reason for this is that the saturation of palmitic acid is different to the saturation of milk fat or of lard.

The effects of palm oil are directly proportional to the amount you consume.

Since the replacement of transfats by palm oil some 14 years ago, the death toll from coronary heart disease has continued to rise globally.  The problems of obesity are getting worse.  A 2006 study supported by the National Institutes of Health and the USDA Agricultural Research Service concluded that palm oil is not a safe substitute for partially hydrogenated fats in the food industry due to its cholesterolemic effects.

A study has shown that the huge increase in gut-related diseases is linked to a decrease in gut bacteria diversity in human populations.  It is not known why this is happening.  Could this also be related to the introduction of palm oil as a food stuff?  This will be discussed later.

Saturated vegetable oil may be cheap as an ingredient in food, but once it is deposited in everybody’s’ arteries, what is the real cost to society and to the individual?

Virgin and hydrogenated coconut oil

Coconut oil is also called copra oil.  It comes from the kernel of the coconut Cocos nucifera.

Coconut oil has been used for a long time to pop Popcorn and to make South Asian curries.  This is because it can be used to fry at a high temperature.

It is currently fashionable to buy virgin coconut oil from health food shops for frying food.  The high saturated fat content of coconut oil consists of 50% lauric acid, 17% myristic acid and only 9.5 % palmitic acid.  Proponents of consuming coconut oil as a health food claim that lauric acid does not cause cardiovascular disease or diabetes.  Health organizations often warn against its consumption since they claim that it raises both HDL and LDL cholesterol.

It may be the hydrogenation of coconut oil that causes the health problems.  Thus, these problems would not be caused by virgin coconut oil.

The high saturated fat content of coconut oil already makes it resistant to rancidification, and this means it keeps well.  However, refined coconut oil melts at 24˚C.  In hot climates where ambient temperatures reach above 40˚C, the oil is often hydrogenated, that is to say, the unsaturated part of it is transformed into transfats so that it will only melt at 36-40˚C.

Only 8% of the coconut oil is unsaturated fats and with hydrogenation these are changed into transfats, but if this is consumed continually it may have extremely negative effects on health.  The NHS states that cardiovascular disease is more common in South Asian and African people.  These people come from places where palm oil and hydrogenated coconut oil are used to fry food.  The risk factor for the disease is likely to be in cooking habits, rather than in ethnicity.

In many places, hydrogenated coconut oil is still used in bakery goods and confectionary, and in non-dairy coffee creamers.

Orang-utans and palm oil plantations

84 % of the world’s palm oil is produced in Malaysia and Indonesia.  Nigeria, Thailand and Colombia are also large producers.  Various African countries are going into palm oil production now to supply rising demands for it.

The orang-utan is native to Malaysia and Indonesia, and lives in the tropical rainforests of these islands.  From the year 2000 onwards these forests started to be destroyed by logging, unnatural forest fires and road-building to make way for palm oil plantations.  This destroyed the habitat of the orang-utan and many other animals that are now endangered species.

The island region of Sarawak has had 80% of its rainforest cleared and on the peninsula of Malaysia 60% of the forests are now gone forever.  At current deforestation rates, the forests are predicted to be extinct by 2020.

Some national parks have been established to save parts of forests.  The orang-utan survives only in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra, and is critically endangered.  Since 2004 there have been efforts to produce sustainable palm oil and not encroach on virgin forests anymore.

Animal fats and stearic acid

Animal fats include butter, lard, suet, beef dripping and tallow.

Butter is made by churning any sort of milk or cream, but usually cow’s milk.  The action of churning separates the butterfat from the butter milk, so that the butterfat can be drawn off to make butter.

Lard is the white adipose fat tissue of pigs.  It is composed of triglycerides and fatty acids.  The fatty acid content of lard depends on the diet of the pig (this implies that the fat tissue of humans also depends on the diet of the human, and this means that not all body fat is the same).  Lard, sometimes thought of as ‘poverty food’ is used to make sausages, paté, mince pies and (homemade) Christmas puddings.  It is still used to fry Fish n’ chips ‘up north’ in Britain in some places.

Suet is the hard fat of beef or mutton.  Suet used to be used to make dumplings, jam roly-poly, spotted dick (school dinner puddings) and Christmas pudding.  Suet is rendered (heated) to make tallow.  Tallow can be used for deep frying.

Beef dripping is the collected fat and juices from roast beef.  People used to eat bread and dripping in the ‘olden days’.

The saturated fat of palm oil is palmitic acid, while the saturated fat of animal products such as butter is stearic acid.  Stearic acid is a waxy solid at room temperature.  Stearic acid is easier to digest than palmitic acid.

When stearic acid is metabolized by the body, it desaturates to oleic acid – the same unsaturated fat contained in most vegetable oils.  It is for this reason that eating butter lowers bad cholesterol.

Butter is a mixture of different fats with milk proteins and water.  Traditionally butter was made in Northern Europe where the weather is generally not too hot.  Butter is solid when the weather is cool.  In hot climates butter melts and goes off, becoming rancid.  When this happens the chains in fatty acids break down forming smaller components.  Rancid butter contains butyric acid and diacetyl.  Rancid butter or oil tastes bad, and it is not healthy to eat it.

Butter contains 81% butterfat which includes 51% saturated fat mainly as stearic acid.  In general animal fats contain about 30% stearic acid.  The 31% unsaturated fats include linoleic acid which is an essential fatty acid that the body needs to build its cells.  Butter also contains a small amount of ‘good’ cholesterol.

Some plant oils are high in stearic acid.  Cocoa butter, also called theobroma oil is traditionally used in making chocolate.  Cocoa butter contains stearic acid, palmitic acid and oleic acid in quite high proportions.  It melts at body temperature.  Today food manufacturers substitute cheap palm oil in the place of cocoa butter to make most brands of chocolate.

Shea butter made from the nuts of the African Shea tree contains mainly stearic acid and oleic acid with small amounts of three other fatty acids.  The stearic acid causes Shea butter to be solid at room temperature.

Up to 1910 people mainly consumed butter and lard as a source of fats in Western nations.  During the 20th century, consumption of butter dropped, as transfats took over and now in the 21st century palm oil is the fat used in most consumables.  During this time, obesity, diabetes and heart disease have surged up to epidemic proportions.  In 1960 heart attacks and strokes became the number one killer.  Obviously you have to die of something, but consumption of unnatural and unhealthy saturated vegetable fat has also brought a serious decline in well-being.

A study carried out in 2015 showed that consumption of butter does not increase the risk of stroke, heart disease or diabetes.  The reason for this is that the stearic acid and other ingredients of butter raise the level of HDL good cholesterol in the blood stream, while also causing the LDL bad cholesterol particles to aggregate into larger particles called Large LDLs.  (The smaller the cholesterol particle is, the more likely it is to be incorporated in atherosclerosis deposits in your arteries).  Butter also contains lecithin which aids in cholesterol metabolism and is sold as a health food.

Butterfat is a source of energy.  It can be metabolized by the mitochondria of cells to produce a lot more ATP than carbohydrates do.  Artificial fats such as transfats cannot be metabolized because the body does not have the enzymes to do so – they simply clog up the system.

Eating too much animal fat would undoubtedly make you fat, since the excess triglycerides are stored in fat tissue.  However, you do have the possibility of burning off the fat by doing exercise.

The Mediterranean diet

This diet has a lot of olive oil included in it.  Virgin olive oil is a traditionally produced cold-pressed natural oil.  This diet is better than a low-fat diet for lowering the incidence of strokes.

Lack of good fats can lead to depression, osteoporosis and cognitive decline.  So the idea is to replace ‘bad’ fats with ‘good’ fats.

The Mediterranean diet protects against metabolic syndrome which is characterized by:

Abnormal cholesterol

Abdominal obesity

High blood pressure

High blood sugar leading to type 2 diabetes

When olive oil or sunflower oil is consumed in the place of hydrogenated oil or palm oil, the level of bad cholesterol in the blood is reduced.  The body will only make the HDL cholesterol that it needs.

The Mediterranean diet is good because it is palm oil-free.

Cardiovascular disease

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the number one cause of death in the world.  One quarter of the population in the USA will die of cardiovascular disease.  Half the population of some low socioeconomic classes in America have cardiovascular disease.  In the UK a sixth of men and a tenth of women die of cardiovascular disease.  It is the same story in all countries and among all ethnicities.

The map for deaths from cardiovascular disease shows that it is high everywhere.  The only places where it is not the number one killer are places where other causes of death such as from unclean drinking water and bad sanitation reach catastrophic proportions.

Cardiovascular disease is caused by the deposit of fatty material in the arteries called atherosclerosis deposits.  Small particles of LDL cholesterol get lodged in the artery walls and become oxidized.  White blood cells then turn into macrophages and invade the artery walls to ingest and get rid of these fat particles.  In so doing they form foam cells.  If there is sufficient good cholesterol in circulation, the macrophages recruit HDL cholesterol particles to hook onto the LDL cholesterol particles and remove them.  If, however, the HDL removal of fats does not keep up, the LDL cholesterol remains lodged in the artery wall as a deposit.

The atherosclerosis deposit consists of LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, dead cells and living foam cells.  Over time the deposit becomes a fibrous plaque and later on calcium is deposited in it which causes it to harden.  Hence, it is often referred to as hardening of the arteries.

The artery responds to the narrowing of the diameter of the lumen (the central conduit) by enlarging itself.  This stops immediate blockage from occurring, but over time the arteries become permanently inflamed and unable to respond to the body’s circulatory needs.  This situation gets worse as the plaques harden with the deposition of calcium and other crystallized material.

Atherosclerosis deposits can accumulate over several decades without the person being aware of it.  Atherosclerosis generally causes no pain, and no specific or localized symptom except for angina in some people.  The first symptom is often a heart attack.

Death occurs when a plaque consisting of atherosclerosis suddenly ruptures in a blood vessel and a large broken-off  piece enters the heart  and coronary arteries blocking them up.  The rupture of a plaque often causes bleeding and the formation of a thrombus, or blood clot.  These blood clots combined with fat deposits, once they enter the blood circulation, can lodge anywhere including in the brain where they cause strokes.

Coronary heart disease is attributed to high blood pressure on many health websites; however, high blood pressure is a symptom of blocked arteries, not the cause of blocked arteries.  It is artery-clogging that diminishes the diameter of blood vessels, thereby raising the pressure of the fluid inside them.

The narrowing of coronary arteries is treated surgically by stenting, angioplasty or bypass surgery.  A stent is a tube inserted permanently into an artery to widen it.  Angioplasty is a balloon placed temporarily inside an artery to widen it.  Coronary bypass surgery uses a blood vessel from the leg to bypass a narrow section of artery near the heart.

Statins to lower cholesterol

The NHS response to high cholesterol is to prescribe statins.  What are they?

Statins lower blood cholesterol by competing with the substrate to bind onto the active site of an enzyme in the liver that makes cholesterol.  The enzyme is called HMG-CoA.  In effect, most cholesterol does not come from the diet; it is made internally.  Statins lower both HDL and LDL cholesterol.

The lowering of LDL cholesterol reduces atherosclerosis deposits and lowers the incidence of cardiovascular diseases.

Statins have cumulative side effects.

The problem with taking statins is that they lower the body’s production both of good cholesterol and bad cholesterol.  One of the most noted side effects of taking statins is muscle weakness.

There are two possible reasons for muscle weakness caused by statins.  The first is that HDL cholesterol is used to make testosterone.  It is not widely known that both men and women have testosterone.  Women have more testosterone than estrogen in their bodies, in fact, androgens are precursors to estrogen.  Men, however, have five times more testosterone than the average woman.  Low testosterone both in men and women causes muscle weakness.

Secondly, cholesterol is an important component of the myelin sheath that surrounds and insulates neurons.  When the neurons of the body are demyelinised it causes muscle weakness since the muscles do not respond well to signals from the brain.  Prolonged demyelination would, in the end, amount to peripheral nerve damage.

When the neurons in the white matter of the brain are demyelinised, it causes memory loss because the signals cannot be conducted properly.  The white matter of the brain is white in colour due to the presence of myelin fat made from cholesterol.  Most of the bulk of the brain is in the white matter, so demyelination would cause shrinkage of the brain inside the skull.  The space left behind in the skull is taken up with fluid.

People on statins can get memory loss, muscle sphincter problems leading to incontinence, muscle pain (myalgia) and depression.  Again the depression may be linked to lack of sex hormones due to lack of the precursor cholesterol to make them.

A journalist writing in New Scientist recently (2017) described how when taking statins he became unable to run or follow the exercise regime that he previously followed due to muscle weakness.  If you take statins so as not to have a heart attack, but they cause you not to be able to exercise, then surely this is counter-productive?

If you just stopped eating palm oil and hydrogenated oils, then you would not need statins to lower your bad cholesterol; your muscles would remain strong; and you could do prolonged aerobic exercise to give your heart a good workout and thus keep it strong.

People who take statins are told by their doctors to reduce their consumption of transfats.  It may be the avoidance of products containing hydrogenated oils that gives the health benefit, and not the statin itself.

Fat digestion and distribution

Fat digestion occurs mostly in the small intestine via pancreatic lipase and bile salt emulsification of fats.  Short and medium chain fatty acids are absorbed into the blood stream through the small intestine walls like other absorbed nutrients.  However, long-chain fatty acids are absorbed through the walls of the large intestine villi and reassembled again into triglycerides on the other side of the membrane.  The triglycerides are coated with cholesterol and protein to make chylomicron.

Chylomicron is released into lymphatic ducts that lead to larger lymphatic vessels.  The lipoprotein molecules of chylomicron are transported via the lymphatic system to a location near the heart where the arteries and veins are larger.  The thoracic duct empties the chylomicron into the bloodstream via the left subclavian vein.  On the journey the triglycerides often break down into free fatty acids.

This description helps explain various things:

Firstly, the digestion of larger, heavier fats by the villi of the large intestine shows how palmitic acid that is difficult to digest could be the reason for diverticulitis of the large intestine.  This disease found in many people is treated with dietary fibre.

Secondly, it may be this emptying of the lymphatic system fats into the blood stream close to the heart that produces coronary heart disease – the heart being the first organ to get the impact of fats entering the system (a bit like what happens to the kitchen drain after one big fry up too many and the fat in the frying pan being poured down the drain).  After a fatty meal, the triglycerides in chylomicron cause the blood plasma to appear milky because it is loaded with fats.

Hypothesis on the origin of bad cholesterol

The small amounts of cholesterol from animal fats in the diet are not the source of the problem of bad cholesterol, especially since dietary cholesterol consists of ‘good cholesterol’.  The cholesterol problem arises in the human body itself.

It is my hunch that the body produces only good cholesterol, and not bad cholesterol.  It needs to make HDL cholesterol as a precursor for vital components such as cell membranes, steroid hormones and the myelin sheath of nerves.  Cholesterol also supplies the ingredients for synthesis of vitamin D.

The liver releases HDL cholesterol into the blood stream where cholesterol transporter proteins combine with it, and take it to glands such as the adrenal glands and gonads, to the brain and to tissues as building block material.

There are two possibilities; either a metabolic pathway in the liver for producing HDL cholesterol is truncated such that the larger product is not finished off by the enzymes responsible for cholesterol production.  This results in LDL and VLDL cholesterol leaving the liver.  Or HDL cholesterol is produced and leaves the liver, but later, while it is in transit through the blood vessels, it breaks up into smaller pieces of cholesterol some small LDLs and some very small VLDLs.  This would be due to instability in the lipoprotein cholesterol complex.

A third possibility occurs at the location of the pancreas, where the enzyme cholesterol esterase produced by the pancreas, causes ester bonds to be broken releasing free fatty acids from cholesterol.  Is this splitting up of molecules causing the small pieces of LDL cholesterol to occur?

Palmitic acid is known to give rise to LDL cholesterol.  When palmitic acid is metabolized, it desaturates to palmitoleic acid, and not to oleic acid as in the case of stearic acid.  There is something about palmitic acid or its metabolite palmitoleic acid that means that when the body uses it to make cholesterol, things go wrong.

It is the shape of molecules that dictates their function.

The shape of molecules of saturated fat is lineal and straight.  It is the tight packing of straight shaped molecules that makes saturated fat solid.  Palmitic acid has a straight shape, and it packs tighter than stearic acid.  Stearic acid is shown sometimes to have a straight shape, and sometimes to have a slight kink.  Transfat molecules imitate saturated fat in having straight molecules.

Unsaturated fat has kinked, curved and bent molecules.  Some are even doubled up on themselves.  So they will not pack tightly.  This is why unsaturated oils remain liquid.

Enzymes, substrates and products work like 3D jigsaw puzzles.  The shape of the molecule is all-important.  Composite molecules such as protein transporters and cholesterol have different degrees of stability depending on the shapes of the components.

Lipoprotein transporter molecules carry cholesterol as esters.  A cholesterol ester is a cholesterol molecule linked to a fatty acid.  This is where the problem occurs.

It seems that when the starting substance is palmitic acid rather than stearic acid or an unsaturated fatty acid, the cholesterol made from it is either truncated, or unstable, or liable to enzymatic break up.

The body would not make a product such as LDL cholesterol specifically.  LDL cholesterol is not useful to the body.  On the contrary, the body tries to deal with small bits and pieces in the blood stream.  LDL is deposited when the body cannot get rid of it fast enough and is overwhelmed.  Atherosclerosis is the result.

None the less, the body actually makes palmitic acid as a precursor to making longer fatty acids in cells.  The body also changes excess carbohydrates into palmitic acid to store in fat cells.  The problem seems to come when it is eaten in excessive quantities and it travels through the lymph system to the blood system.  The system gets overwhelmed by the quantity of palmitic acid thrown at it when nearly every product in the diet contains palm oil.

Fibre lowers cholesterol

Mitochondria in cells use fats to release large amounts of energy in the form of ATP.  It is not a good idea to eliminate fats from the diet.

Some fats are essential fatty acids that the body cannot make.  These include linoleic acid also called omega 6 and alpha-linoleic acid also called omega 3.  Eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid found in fish oils are part of what is called omega 3.  Therefore it is a good idea to eat a balanced amount of these fats.

Excess fats in the diet and the wrong type of fats in the diet are the problem.  You could take statins to lower the body’s production of cholesterol, although if you overdo it, you may end up with insufficient HDL cholesterol precursor to make your body’s components.

Another way of lowering the body’s cholesterol is to eat foods containing fibre (Fiber in American).

This is how it works:

HDL cholesterol acts as a receptor that binds mobilized cholesterol in the blood stream, including excess cholesterol.  In the liver, the cytochrome P450 enzyme oxidizes the cholesterol to transform it into a steroid acid to make bile acid.  Later this acid is conjugated with taurine and glycine to make sodium and potassium salts that are known as bile salts.

Bile acid is stored in the gall bladder which reaches 4 cm long when distended.  It secretes bile salts into the small intestine to help break down fats.  The bile in the intestine can either be reabsorbed through the large intestine walls or excreted as feces.

If the diet is high in fibre, soluble fibres in the diet bind bile acids in the small intestine.  This prevents the bile acid from being reabsorbed by the intestine.  The sequestered bile acids pass out of the body in feces.  Loss of bile acid by excretion causes the body to synthesize more bile acid from cholesterol.  In this way, the cholesterol level in the blood is reduced by reverse cholesterol transport.  Gums such as gum arabic are especially good for stabilizing and removing bile acid, and so lowering cholesterol.

Reverse cholesterol transport is the reason why having high enough good HDL cholesterol in the blood stream keeps the bad LDL cholesterol low.

Fermentable fibres are consumed by gut bacteria in the large intestine producing short-chain fatty acids.  These short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) are absorbed and they provide various health benefits.  One benefit of a SCFA called propionic acid is that it suppresses cholesterol synthesis by the liver and thus reduces the levels of LDL cholesterol.

A high fibre diet also helps with obesity since the bulk of fibre makes you feel full, while not providing calories.  Viscous fibres may reduce some lipid absorption.

Therefore, to overcome problems caused by fats, you need to eat fibre.  This is true, but be careful.  Wholemeal bread sold today nearly always contains both fibre and palm oil, so you get the problem and the solution in the same bite.  This might not even be ‘two steps forward and one step back’; it could end up as ‘two steps forward and three steps back.’

Gut flora and inflammatory bowel diseases

Inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and ulcerative colitis are characterized by constant diarrhoea.  These gut problems are thought to be caused by bile acid diarrhoea or malabsorption of bile acid.  They are treated with drugs that are bile acid sequestrants, as well as corticosteroids and immunosuppressants.

The root of the problem is an imbalance in the gut flora.  This means that the gut does not have the right ‘good’ bacteria to aid in digestion.  The solution to this type of trouble is to eat fruit.  This is because fruit contains fermentable fibre.  The pectin in fruit as it ferments in the bowel provides a medium for good bacteria to grow.  The other type of food that cures gut problems is milled pseudocereal fibre since it forms a gel in the gut that retains good bacteria.

You may think it is counter-intuitive to eat fruit and fibre if you have diarrhoea, but, in fact, these whole foods could help cure the problem and prevent it from recurring.

A gluten and dairy diet

Gluten comes from the Latin for glue.  It is the mixture of proteins that make dough elastic.  The more dough is kneaded, the more gluten forms long strands and cross-links.  This makes the bread product chewy. 

The word ‘shortening’ is the name for fat used to make pastry because the fat shortens gluten strands in the dough.  The result is that rather than getting chewy bread such as a bagel with long gluten strands, you get a light, crumbly pastry and tender baked goods with short gluten strands.

Shortening used to be lard or suet of animal origin.  Later transfats were used as shortening which mimic lard.  Now palm oil, palm kernel fat and coconut oil are used as shortening, even by vegans.

Many people are avoiding gluten found in wheat flour, barley and rye grains which are members of the grass family.  Instead they only consume pseudocereals such as oats, rice and maize that do not have gluten proteins. 

I am going to suggest that you ‘go against the grain’ and use gluten in your diet to benefit your health (if you do not have an actual allergy to gluten).  If you know that you have inadvertently eaten transfat or palm oil or suspect that you have, you could use the ‘shortening principle’.  By eating bread with high gluten content such as a bagel, the gluten may attach itself to the saturated fat in the gut and thereby ‘trap’ the fat.

Palmitic acid is solid at body temperature and difficult to digest.  Long gluten strands may be able to attach themselves to this fat, thereby preventing palmitic acid from sticking to the gut lining and lodging within its folds causing diverticulitis and inflammatory bowel discomforts.

It may be a build up of undigested fat that leads, not only to diverticulitis of the lining of the large intestine, but also to colon cancer.  Eating fibre is recommended in the prevention of colon cancer.

In the ‘olden days’ we were told never to eat eggs without toast or bread because it would make you ill.  The association between fat and gluten could be the reason for this folklore recommendation.

It has been found that a diet rich in dairy products decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease.  An increase in HDL cholesterol produced by eating dairy products containing stearic acid helps lower LDL cholesterol.

Dairy is good. If, however, you buy low-fat skimmed milk, it may contain retinyl palmitate to replace the vitamin A lost when the milk fat was removed.  With this you are back to another form of palm oil again, so low-fat dairy will not be much good.

Animal feeds

One study found that some zoo animals such as chimpanzees have experienced a decrease in the diversity of their gut flora, the same as humans.  Animals are getting ill, just as humans are getting ill with gut-related diseases.

Pets such as cats and dogs are now becoming obese, and losing their fitness and ability to take exercise.  What are these animals eating?

The ingredients on the labels of dog food and cat food list ‘Oils and fats.’  It is not specified which oils and fats, and this is highly suspect.  It means that they are cheap oils and fats, and these are palm oil or hydrogenated oil.  I found only one brand that listed the ingredients as animal fats which is the traditional food of cats and dogs.

It looks like our pets are being fed fats that they cannot properly metabolize, so they are getting ill like us.  Suet balls fed to wild birds contain beef suet, but fat balls fed to wild birds are made from ‘Oils and fats’ of a non-specified type.  So we are even poisoning the wild life around us.

What about animals kept to provide milk and meat?

Some cows are fed grass and alfalfa silage, while other cows are fed grain feeds including ‘High oil premix fodder’.  I do not know what oil is being used for these cattle feeds.  What is known is that the milk produced by grain fed cows is different from, and thought to be not as good as that produced by grass fed cows.

Fish farms also buy these grain feeds to feed their farmed trout and salmon.

I do not know what the actual effect of feeding animals palm oil would be.  What I do know is that this is not a little problem, but a global problem.

My palm oil-free diet

I eliminated hydrogenated oils containing transfats from my diet when I returned to England over 15 years ago.  Prior to this I had eaten them every day in the form of margarine made from fish oil.  Two years ago I eliminated 99% of palm oil from my diet within the sphere of my own home and my own food preparation.  I did this because I experienced pain in the gut and a feeling of heaviness when I ate bread containing palm oil.

It was a difficult diet to follow, especially when I first started and had to read every label in a supermarket, and memorize what I could and couldn’t buy.  The truth is that palm is in nearly everything so what I can buy is very limited.  With time I learnt which products and brands are palm oil free, so it got easier.

However, I am aware that when I go out to eat in a restaurant or get tempted by some fast food, I do not know what is in the food and which oil has been used to fry the fried food.  I often come home feeling heavy, as if I have over-eaten when, in fact, I did not eat that much.  I then suspect transfats and palm oil yet again.

When I go to a third world type country, I basically know that I’m back on the transfats again, like all the rest of the local population.

This problem with going abroad and eating out possibly does not occur if you only travel in Europe, and only eat in expensive restaurants, rather than eating what the locals eat.  Populations in the third world are fed on cheap ingredients.

It is my belief that the human body can digest and use natural ‘wholesome’ foods of diverse types.  I eat all types of whole grains and that includes bread made from wheat flour.  I eat a lot of milk products such as cheese as well as eggs that contain good cholesterol.  I eat real butter and ‘all butter’ biscuits.  I eat meat in moderation with vegetables.

I buy ‘foreign’ bread such as pitta bread, nan bread, ciabatta and baguettes which do not contain palm oil.  I also buy crumpets that are free of palm oil.  I often have to spend more on bread by choosing top of the range speciality loaves of bread.

A life without chocolate is not the life for me.  Every brand of chocolate now contains palm oil except Fairtrade chocolate, Co op own brand and Fin Carré from Lidl.  So that’s saved me.

I eat a lot of fruit and fibre.  This includes desiccated coconut on cereals or desserts.

I eat sugar and avoid sweeteners.

I put salt on my food, although I’ve been told not to by people drinking an electrolyte drink containing sodium and potassium salts for ‘oral rehydration therapy’ while on a walk.  The salt they are drinking cost them a lot more than the salt I consumed, and I prefer salt on food than in drinks.

Concerning oils I use olive oil, sunflower oil and rapeseed oil, butter on toast and I buy cakes and other bakery products that contain rapeseed oil.

I consider that this is a health-promoting diet.  I consider that I am healthier now than before; my weight is stable and not too high.

I have had no further gut problems since I have done the following:

  • Added a spoonful of milled flax seed, linseed, oat bran or chia seed to my oat cereal and milk before microwaving it for breakfast. (This fibre forms a gel in the gut in which good bacteria can grow).
  • I eat fruit as dessert for the two other meals in the day.
  • I try never to eat more than one small plate of food and keep meals 5 hours apart (it is important to feel hungry before eating).
  • I avoid over-consumption of real coffee or food with a lot of chilli in it (hot curries).
  • I avoid products containing palm oil as it is a gut-irritant.
  • I avoid products containing glycerine at all cost. Glycerine is added to some cakes and icing to keep them moist.  It has dire consequences for the digestive system causing nausea and vomiting.  (Children given cough mixture containing glycerine often end up with this.  Cakes with a lot of icing on have the same effect).

So whatever else befalls me, at least my gut is ok now.

In order to recover from the effects of eating transfats, like all the other people around me, for over 40 years of my life, I took Hawthorn extract capsules for 3 weeks on two occasions.  I now drink a Hawthorn, Dandelion and Burdock tea quite often or Rose tea.  Hawthorn is reputed to clean the arteries from fatty deposits.

Saturated fat controversy

The link between eating ‘junk food’ laden with fat, carbohydrates and sugar, and chronic health conditions has been amply discussed in the press.  Studies show that as early as age 30 the arteries begin to clog up and the groundwork is laid for future heart attacks.

A Scripps Research Institute study in 2008 showed that rats fed on unlimited junk food for several weeks, wanted more and more food.  When the junk food was taken away and replaced by a healthy diet, the rats starved for two weeks rather than eat nutritious things.  This demonstrates the addictiveness of this type of food.

Attention has been called to the fact that cooking oils are tested for safety in the laboratory on their own, in their pure state, while in real life the oils used for deep frying are reused many times over.  When starchy foods are fried and the oil reused, it can lead to the formation of acrylamide in the oil, especially when the oil is not filtered to remove food particles.  Acrylamide may be a carcinogen and cause cancer.

Also, excessive use of the same oil can cause it to break down.  Oxidation of oil affects unsaturated oils more than saturated ones since saturated oils have high oxidative stability.

With battered food, the batter absorbs the oil it is fried in, so if the oil is old or contaminated, it leads to the consumption of higher amounts of any unhealthy chemicals contained in the oil.

It seems that if in doubt the safest thing is to blame the Americans.  So there has been much blame for ill health directed towards the Western diet typically eaten by Americans, Europeans and increasingly by people in the developing world.  But it is maybe worth noting that palm oil is a common cooking ingredient in India, Malaysia and Indonesia, in parts of Brazil, and in Africa.  Palm oil is used as a cooking oil in poor communities around the world.  The Americans cannot be blamed for this.

In the debate about fat, nearly everyone seems to agree that one should cut down on saturated fat.  The world health organization (WHO) has recommended that the intake of saturated fat should be less than 10% of the daily energy intake.  When one considers that the amount of palm oil contained in food products is not visible, how would I be able to know how much of it I had eaten?  You’d have to have the information available and be a mathematician to know what this 10% represented in terms of real food.

In this debate no distinction is made between the different types of fats that contain saturated fatty acids – dairy products, meat products, cocoa butter, coconut oil….  There is no mention at all in this debate of palm oil or palm kernel fat.  But doctors readily tell us what not to do.

Then I thought, if they – those official people – are telling us to stop eating saturated fat, then why are they not complaining about how difficult it is to find food that does not contain it?  Am I the only one struggling to find supermarket food products that do not contain palm oil?  Do all these doctors and dieticians buy their food in health food shops?  Or are they like doctors who reach for a cigarette when stressed?

I had a chance encounter with an NHS dietician.  I asked her about palm oil.  She said all oils are a mixture of things (fatty acids).  This is true.  She acknowledged that palm oil is highly saturated and it is in everything.  I asked; does this fact have any bearing on the treatment you offer to patients suffering from obesity?  She answered; we only worry about the big picture, not about the details.  I asked her, so what is the big picture then?  She said, obese people eat too much food whether it be fast food or healthy food.  I asked her if they have any success in people’s weight reduction?  She said, no virtually no success because people lose two stone, then put it back on again.  The only thing that works is gastric bypass surgery.  However, she said they listen to people’s psychological problems which cause them to over-eat.

It seems to me that a scientific approach is to look at the detail – look at what is actually being consumed and what it does to you.  If you only repeat a mantra and listen to people’s problems which excuse their eating habits, the ‘big picture’ is just going to keep on getting bigger.

What are the alternatives to palm oil?

Cold-pressed olive oil or sunflower oil are the gold-standard in edible oils.  They are traditional unsaturated vegetable oils that do not result in bad cholesterol in the blood stream.  They provide some essential fatty acids such as linoleic acid and alpha-linoleic acid that must be included in the diet since the body cannot make them.

However, the world cannot be fed on ‘gold standard’ oil such as virgin olive oil or other natural, traditional oils since there is not enough for the world population.  Butter and lard are also far more healthy than their replacements, but there is not enough produced for everyone in the world to have this luxury.

The major oils used in the world today are chemically extracted from oil-producing crops or vegetable byproducts.  The following oils are derived from chemical extraction using solvents: palm, soybean, rapeseed, corn, cottonseed, ricebran, peanut or groundnut and some sunflower oil.

Chemical extraction is quicker, gives higher yield, and is less expensive.  Some people question whether traces of the solvent hexane remain in the end product.  Mechanical pressing methods can be used instead of solvent extraction, but yield less.

These oils are often bleached to improve the colour and deodorized to remove off-putting smells.  The industrial processes used to do this employ things such as activated charcoal, steam, filters, heating and cooling.  These processes are unlikely to affect health negatively.

In the case of palm oil, RBDPO oil is produced to be sold on World Commodity Markets.  RBDPO stands for refined, bleached and deodorized palm oil.  Companies buy this product and further fractionate it to produce palm olein to be used as cooking oil or process it into washing powder and other soap products.  RBD – refined, bleached and deodorized coconut oil is produced in a similar way.

Corn oil and ricebran oil have high smoke points so are suitable for frying food.  However, the main alternative to palm oil is rapeseed oil or Canola. 

Rapeseed or Canola oil

Rape means turnip and it belongs to the genus Brassica napus of the cabbage family.    Wild rape was turned into the crop oilseed rape by plant breeders breeding out the erucic acid that the wild plant contains since 1973.  In quantity erucic acid would be toxic, but the crop plant now contains only tiny amounts of it and so has become edible.

In 1978 an innovative process was devised in Canada to remove the bitterness from the oil.  It allowed rapeseed oil to be processed into ‘Canola oil.’  Canola stands for Canada Oil Low Acid.  This is a more appetizing name for the house wife than rape.  Canola is chemically extracted and deodorized to remove the smell of cabbage.  Production of rapeseed has greatly increased since 2010, and it has become the third source of vegetable oil in the world today.

Rapeseed oil or Canola oil has the lowest amount of saturated fat of almost all vegetable oils.  It has between 5.3 and 7% saturated fat, while olive oil has 14%, sunflower oil has 11% and butter has 51%.  It is high in omega 3 and omega 6 which is good.

Despite chemical extraction, reviews on the health effects of consuming Canola or rapeseed oil have given favourable results.  It has been shown to lower total cholesterol and bad cholesterol levels as well as improve sensitivity to insulin, thus protecting against diabetes.  If sources of saturated fat are replaced by unsaturated Canola oil, the risk of cardiovascular disease is significantly reduced.

Oilseed rape fields now add fluorescent yellow patches to the landscape in Britain in the month of May.  Per hectare its production of oil is very high.

Biodiesel  

Most diesel fuel comes from fractional distillation of crude oil or petroleum.  It is now called petrodiesel to distinguish it from biodiesel.  Diesel can also be made from natural gas and from coal liquefaction.

Biodiesel can be made from a wide variety of starting materials.

Firstly, biodiesel is made from virgin oil feed stock.  The vegetable oils used for this are rapeseed oil in Europe and soybean oil in the USA.  Soybean oil is a byproduct in the production of food made from soybean protein.

Biodiesel can also be made from the waste products of food industries.  Old vegetable oil used to fry food can be collected up from fast food places and restaurants to make biodiesel.  Animal fats left over from meat processing also make good biodiesel.  Waste fish oil has been used as fuel to power fish freezing plants.

Biodiesel can be made from algae grown on sewage sludge and from the sewage sludge itself.  Diesel fuel can be made from biogas.  This is a good way of reducing the amount of sewage that has to be dealt with.

It is an extremely good idea to use waste products, byproducts and sewage to make biodiesel since this would lower the contamination from these products and turn them into useful commodities.  Biodiesel has lower sulphur content than petrodiesel, so it is more environmentally friendly.

As far as using virgin oil feed stock to make biodiesel is concerned, we should not be making biodiesel out of rapeseed oil that has the lowest amount of saturated fat in it; we should be turning rapeseed oil into cooking oil and eating it.  This could replace eating palm oil which has the highest amount of saturated and indigestible fat in it. Palm oil is used in Asia to make biodiesel but this is not environmentally friendly.

It is illogical for the European Union to be making biodiesel to run cars out of rapeseed oil, when we could be eating it to become more generally healthy.  We could stop importing palm oil for human consumption, and instead use it only to make detergents.  From a health point of view it is fine to wash yourself with Palmolive soap or wash your clothes with detergent made from palm oil, but you should not be eating it.

Palm oil produced on existing palm oil plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia could be used for making detergents, but there should be an absolute stop to planting new palm oil plantations at the expense of rainforests.

Human evolution and diet

Inuit people traditionally ate large quantities of animal fats such as whale blubber.  The Fuegian people of Tierra del Fuego, now extinct, drank liquid fat heated up inside a piece of intestine as a drink.  These tribes became adapted to a very high fat diet and had the capacity to digest it.

Modern people do not do enough physical exercise to even cope with a full English breakfast each day.  We sit in front of computers, and order food rather than going out on onerous hunting trips.  We cannot eat large quantities of saturated fat since we do not have the capacity to digest it.

Primitive tribes people may have a level of enzyme production, cholesterol metabolism and bile acid production that far outstrips the average capacity of modern humans who live on cushy bland diets.  Modern humans may have undergone ‘devolution’ not evolution.  People become adapted to a particular type of diet.

For the past 14 years since 2003 we have continually eaten saturated fat in the form of palm oil in almost every product, but we are not going to be able to adapt to this diet.  Nor are we going to evolve the ability to metabolize transfats, for which we do not possess the correct enzymes.

Evolution by natural selection requires a mortality rate that wipes out most of the population with the exception of a few individuals who can cope with the new conditions due to the genetic variation they possess.  The path to evolving the ability to cope with these new food stuffs would involve too much belly ache, gut-related diseases, diabetes, heart attacks and strokes.  It is just a pathway to generalized illness in the population.

There are multiple variants of the proteins that form the lipoprotein transport particles for cholesterol within human populations.  It was found that people who have a rare genetic variant of the HDL protein called Apo-A1 Milano HDL do not get atherosclerosis.  A study was conducted in 2006 to see if this protein could be administered to people suffering from angina to treat their condition.  A dramatic reduction in coronary plaque volume was noted.  There are on-going trials to develop a drug or gene-transfer methods to treat coronary artery disease using this gene variant.

If natural selection were at work, then the only people to remain healthy would be those who possessed the gene for Apo-A1 Milano HDL proteins.  This would be a tiny minority of people.  If modern medicine were to be effective, you would have to insert this gene into the genomes of all of the world’s human populations, but cost rules this out.

The best course of action is to eat food for which the human body is already adapted.  Peoples of the Neolithic between 6000 and 2000 BC started eating cereal grain crops and started keeping animals to provide milk as well as meat.  This has meant that humans have become adapted to eating grains with gluten and dairy products for thousands of years.  Humans have hunted animals and eaten animal fat for hundreds of thousands of years, supplemented by the gathering of edible roots, seeds, leaves and berries.

The simplest and most cost-effective course of action is for humans to eat foods for which they already have the digestive enzymes, protein carriers and metabolic enzymes to cope with the organic molecules contained in the food.  This is not a special diet, just a diet consisting of wholesome food.

Conclusion

Autopsies of US soldiers who died in the Second World War, Korean War and Vietnam War found that the young men had ‘gross evidence of coronary arteriosclerosis’.  Soldiers used to be given cigarettes so smoking was blamed for it, along with the consumption of processed foods.

Smoking may be a contributory factor in atherosclerosis; however, I believe that the fats eaten are a more direct factor.  Atherosclerosis deposits occur when the body is overwhelmed by problematic molecules that are too many for the body to deal with properly.

I have tried to follow a palm oil-free diet for two years now.  I know of only two other people who also try to do this.  This came about when I noticed a link between pain in the gut and a feeling of heaviness, and palm oil in bread.  I’m trying to practice what I preach.

The rise of common diseases mirrors the use first of transfats, and then of palm oil as food ingredients.  The government claim that they wish to do something about such things as childhood obesity.  And yet, most people are condemned to eating palm oil in most processed foods every day because there are virtually no alternatives.  You can only avoid palm oil by spending more money on higher quality food, choosing very carefully and living on unprocessed whole foods.  What is the meaning of government policy to reduce obesity while it is almost impossible to buy products in any supermarket that do not contain saturated palm oil and saturated palm fat?

The link between palmitic acid contained in palm oil and bad LDL cholesterol is well documented.  And yet the public has not been well informed about what they are eating or the long-term health deterioration it is known to cause.

The people who eat the most palm oil are those who eat more cheap processed foods and fast food.  This tends to be people of the lower socioeconomic classes and their children.  Transfats in the diet of mothers are passed on to their breast-fed babies, and it is highly likely to inhibit their development.  It is a matter of social conscience to oppose the sale of unhealthy barely edible food stuffs that do most harm to the poorest and least able to choose in this world.

I have not given many details of scientific studies on diet.  Every claim gets a counter-claim.  A scientific study often gets a contradictory study to put the first study down, and sow confusion.  You need to look at who is funding these studies.

I have made a plausible case for palm oil not being a healthy substitute for transfats.  The alternative is simple and not ridiculously expensive – that rapeseed oil or sunflower oil should be used in food.  There are also lots of other different types of vegetable oils that can be used.

Making pastry requires solid fat.  In this case it would be better to return to using lard or suet animal fat, than to use transfats or palm fat.  Shea butter is a possible vegetarian alternative to animal fats when solid fat is required.  Rather than eat margarines that now all contain palm oil, it is better to eat butter like before.

Palm oil has been palmed-off on us as ‘vegetable oil’ without mention that it is more saturated than animal fat and has a different type of saturation.  Really the solution is cheap and easy – it only requires political will – but a change in the use of oils could have very far-reaching consequences in improving health and well-being for the general population.

Now that Britain is leaving the EU we could make a decision to use our rapeseed oil as cooking oil, and not make biodiesel out of it, while banning the import of palm oil and palm kernel fat as a food stuff.  This would bring about a healthier nation and there would be less pressure on the NHS.

Bibliography

NHS choices: Celiac disease; Crohn’s disease; IBS;  Ulcerative colitis

Wikipedia: Atherosclerosis; Biodiesel; Butter; Canola oil; Cardiovascular disease; Cholesterol; Cooking oils; Dietary fiber; Fatty acid; Gallbladder; Junk food; Lard; Orang-utan; Palmitic acid; Palm oil; Saturated fat and cardiovascular disease controversy; Statins; Stearic acid; Suet; Tallow; Transfats

Cube boats by the artist Sonia Rivera, Coquimbo, Chile