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!
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • Pierre Dulaine wants to do in his hometown of Jaffa what he did for kids in Manhattan: teach them to dance.
  • "The first time I met Mick Jagger, I said, 'Those are the tackiest shoes I’ve ever seen.'” Jewish music journalist Lisa Robinson remembers the glory days of rock in her new book, "There Goes Gravity."
  • 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.