The Jew And The Carrot

Trans Fat: How A Staple of Parve Foods is Hurting Our Waistlines

By Roxanne Sukol

  • Print
  • Share Share

A few years ago, walking down the hallway in my children’s school, I turned to a friend and said, “Is it my imagination, or are the kids getting heavier?” She smiled indulgently. A study done in Chicago day schools confirmed what I suspected; the number of overweight children is rising, particularly in the Jewish community.

Complex and multi-factorial, the obesity epidemic is related to physical activity, portions, snacks, sleep, sunlight, and the lack of homemade meals. Though all American children are affected by these changed societal norms, certain subpopulations are at greater risk of developing obesity than others. As an internist, I see a unique threat attacking the Jewish community – the trans fats that are a base of a number of parve foods.

Simply, trans fat is not food. Trans, or “partially-hydrogenated,” fat increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes, enhances deposition of abdominal fat, causes so-called “good” cholesterol to fall, suppresses the immune response, interferes with reproduction, and decreases the nutritional quality of breast milk. It is also a signature of heart disease. Banned in some countries, and in a few American cities, the FDA has yet to outlaw trans fat across the country, despite the health risks associated with it.

The Origin of Trans Fat and the Jewish Community:
Parve margarine, a key ingredient in kosher baked goods, has its roots in Crisco, so named for “crystallized cottonseed oil.” In the late 1800’s, William Procter and James Gamble sought an inexpensive fat for their candle- and soap-making businesses. By 1905 they owned eight cottonseed mills, and the knowledge to convert liquid cottonseed oil to a solid. With the candle market shrinking, they made a startling decision, in retrospect, to market Crisco as a food. Cheap and with an unnaturally long shelf life, it was soon being sold for home and commercial use.

Crisco and margarine were particularly appealing to the kosher community because they could replace butter in traditionally dairy desserts. To attract the Jewish market, Procter & Gamble solicited endorsements from rabbis and other community leaders. Advertisements for Crisco stated that “The Hebrew Race has been waiting for 4,000 years” for a solution to its shortening problems. Oy vey.

Jewish immigrants, eager to adopt American customs, became a lucrative market for processed-food manufacturers. In 1912, Procter & Gamble launched a nationwide campaign to announce Crisco, and other examples abound. One consequence of the largely successful marketing campaigns was that traditional methods of food preparation, passed on for hundreds years, were forgotten in just two generations. Margarine and non-dairy “creamer,” (also made with trans fat) rapidly supplanted traditional fats – cream, butterfat, goose and chicken fat – to become an integral part of what we now call American kosher cooking.

Restoring Historical Patterns of Food Consumption:
Before the 1900’s, Eastern European Jews ate meats, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, butter, cheese, yogurt, fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains. And that’s about it. My great-grandmothers used these foodstuffs to make a wide variety of meals.

How will we reduce our consumption of trans fat? Remember that you cast a vote every time a bar code passes over a scanner. Parents, schools, and camps must decline to purchase products that contain even small amounts of partially-hydrogenated oils. Instead of margarine, we must relearn to bake as our ancestors did with, yes, butter or coconut oil, (which is a solid below 75 degrees), and to use other parve fats, like safflower oil, to bake historic recipes. Non-dairy creamer can easily be replaced by coconut, almond, soy or rice milk.

Efforts to reverse patterns that cause obesity are long processes but reducing trans fat is a good (and relatively easy) place to start.

Roxanne Sukol MD is a general internist in Cleveland, Ohio. She is preventing diabetes and obesity by teaching people how to tell the difference between real food and manufactured calories at her blog, “Your Health is on Your Plate”.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Trans Fat, Parve, Nutrition

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.