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Sunday 14 September 2014

The World's Longest-Running Refined Seed Oil Experiment

This table is from Dr Malcolm Kendrick's latest blog post, which is about the possibility of a retrospective "publication bias" deleting findings that don't support the lipid hypothesis on certain websites. The data, from the European Heart Study 2008, has been tabulated by Dr Kendrick to show the correlation between saturated fat consumption and CHD mortality between countries.


What's striking is the big gap between the countries of the former Soviet Union and the Western European states (and, for some reason, Israel). France, with the lowest CHD mortality, has the world's highest per capita butter consumption, Switzerland is similar, and olive oil countries don't come out too badly either. The UK, with its chicken twizzlers, mars bars, and fish fingers, and Israel, with its combination of soy oil plus high tech medical care, don't come out quite so well.

The massive rate of CHD in former Soviet states is attributable to many things - industrial and agricultural pollution, smoking and alcohol, untreated chronic infections, overwork, malnutrition, higher birthrate, lower incomes (the US CHD rate in 2008 was 126 per 100,000 - this is both sexes, age adjusted, so not exactly comparable to Dr Kendrick's table; see here for more age-adjusted data and discussion). To look at the correlations between these things and CHD is enough to question the existence of any diet-heart link whatsoever. What significance does a RR of 1.17 have in a world where RRs of 11.13 exist?

If, however, we must look at these statistics in diet-heart terms, one thing stands out to this student of history. Russia is the world's oldest producer, and consumer of vegetable seed oils. The sunflower was brought to Europe by the Spanish around 1510, and were established in the Netherlands (then part of the Spanish Empire) soon after. Peter the Great then brought the sunflower to Russia after his visit to the Netherlands in 1698. In 1716 a patent was granted in Great Britain for a method of extracting oil from sunflower seeds, and during the 1840s the Tsarist government of Russia began the manufacture of sunflower oil on an industrial scale.
Because the Lent restrictions of the Russian Orthodox Church forbade the consumption of fat, this seemed like a good idea at the time (once again the ascetic impulse will be the driver for a dietary change later to be justified and entrenched by theories about health).
The Great Soviet Encyclopaedia of 1979 naturally downplays the Tsarist achievement.

There were about 10,000 small vegetable oil and fat production shops and about 400 licensed, poorly equipped oil and fat plants in tsarist Russia. The vegetable oil output in 1913 was 538,000 tons; in addition, the equivalent of 192,000 tons of soap was produced (figured at a 40-percent fatty-acid content).

Under Soviet power, the vegetable oil and fat industry has become one of the major sectors of the food-processing industry, relying on advanced technology and a stable raw materials base. There are enterprises of the vegetable oil and fat industry in all of the Union republics. The largest are combines in Krasnodar, Moscow, Tashkent, Dushanbe, Irkutsk, Saratov, Kirovabad, Sverdlovsk, Gomel’, and Kazan, which account for 45 percent of the USSR’s total output of vegetable oil, about 65 percent of its margarine, and more than 75 percent of its soap and detergents.

In 1972 the vegetable oil and fat industry accounted for 5.4 percent of the gross output of the food-processing industry of the USSR, 2.5 percent of the work force, and 2.7 percent of the fixed industrial production assets.

The USSR is the world’s second largest producer of vegetable oils, soap, and margarine (after the USA). It accounts for more than 14 percent of the world’s vegetable oil. The output of vegetable oil in the USSR is growing steadily; production in 1972 was 3.6 times that of 1940 (see Table 1).

Owing to the increase in agricultural production, state purchases of oil-yielding crops in 1972 were twice the 1940 figure. The oil content of sunflower seeds, which account for 50 percent of all seeds processed by industry, has risen significantly. The material and technical basis for the vegetable oil and fat industry has grown. Production capacities for processing oil-yielding seeds have been increased primarily by modernizing existing extraction plants and building new ones. Introduction of the extraction method of processing oil-yielding seeds has made it possible to increase labor productivity, mechanize and automate production processes, and sharply increase the oil output from raw materials (see Table 2).

The proportion of oil-yielding raw materials processed by progressive extraction methods increased from 9.9 percent in 1940 to 81 percent in 1972.

Production in the margarine and soap industries is fully mechanized.

In the other socialist countries the vegetable oil and fat industry is based primarily on local raw materials. The volume of production has generally satisfied the needs of these countries. In 1972 the vegetable oil output in Rumania was 360,000 tons; in Poland, 213,000 tons; in Yugoslavia, 165,000 tons; in Bulgaria, 145,000 tons; in the German Democratic Republic, 131,-000 tons; in Czechoslovakia, 88,000 tons; and in Hungary, 80,000 tons.

The production of vegetable oil in certain capitalist countries was as follows: 830,000 tons in Italy (1972), 801,000 tons in the Federal Republic of Germany (1971), and 520,000 tons in France (1971). In the USA vegetable oil production in 1972 came to 4.6 million tons; the output of margarine was 2.6 million tons, and that of soap and synthetic detergents was 3.5 million tons.

And so on - the communist love of boring statistics was useful after all.
But wait - there's more. If the Tsars boosted the seed oil industry, the Bolsheviks, for political reasons, destroyed whatever dairy industry there was in Russia during their genocidal campaign against the "kulaks", which they defined as any farmer rich enough to own a cow, plus anyone they didn't like or who opposed their seizures of food, summary executions, and so on.
To destroy the dairy farmers they needed a substitute - so Soviet Russia, beginning in the 1920s, became the first large scale producer of soy products.
The USSR was the first nation in Europe and the second nation in the Western world (after the USA) to become a major producer of soybeans. Soybean production, which reached significant levels in the mid-1920s, rose to a remarkable peak of 283,000 tonnes in 1931, but had fallen back to a low of 54,000 tonnes in 1935, after which it increased steadily. At the time of this peak, starting in 1931, the USSR built a large Soybean Research Institute in Moscow, attracted some of the top soybean and soyfoods researchers from western Europe (Rouest, Berczeller), and did extensive soyfoods research, focusing on soymilk and tofu, durin
g the early 1930s.

So by any utopian diet-heart, lipid hypothesis theory of history, those former Soviet states should have had CDH beat years ago.
By the test of reality, on the other hand, you would be better off living in France on butter, cheese, cream and, hey, if you like it why not, olive oil. 


Galina L. said...

People in Russia love their sunflower oil and, unfortunately, consider it to be the healthy alternative to animal fats. Olive oil is much more expensive and less tasty from Russian's point of view. Unrefined sunflower oil, especially from roasted sunflower seeds, is tasty indeed, and there are refined varieties used for cooking. It was very difficult for me to convince my mom to stop using sunflower oil.

As far as I know, people in Israel often prefer margarine due to their religion traditions. Here is the article about the famous Passover margarine shortage

"Since the laws of kashrut mandate the separation of milk and meat, margarine is an important butter substitute in recipes that are served with meat meals. Some of the recipes that require large amounts of margarine include Passover desserts, such as cookies."

Puddleg said...

Wow I didn't know about the margarine, it figures tho - a meat sandwich could be a tricky thing to keep kosher.
Unrefined sunflower oil would at least have some choline...

Puddleg said...

2 years later, Israel suffered an equally grave butter shortage -,7340,L-3974405,00.html

A severe shortage of butter has become prevalent in Israel over the past few days, with some supermarket chains running completely out of the product and stocking shelves instead with its unsatisfying and unhealthy substitute, margarine.

Mamon Magazine has learned that the Israel Dairy Board and the Agriculture Ministry have appealed to the Treasury with a demand to increase butter imports from Denmark and Holland by 400 tons.

The dairy market is protected and allows almost no importation, and that which exists is under tight supervision by the Industry, Trade, and Labor Ministry. Only around 550 tons are imported annually, in a market of some 9,000 tons of local production.

George G said...

Not related to this topic,
but I read that Peter Gutteridge just died.
Very tragic.
I think he once played with The puddle ?

Puddleg said...

True, Pete was keyboard player and later guitarist from 1985-1987, is on our first record Pop. Lib.
A big part of my life for many years besides.

George G said...

You must have known him well.

None of the reports give a cause of death.

Puddleg said...

There's some good acounts of Pete here

George G said...

Thanks George
That was a very interesting and informative article.
It sure was kind and generous of you to offer Peter a room at your house to stay.

Galina L. said...

You are a very good friend, George. It is horrible when your friends go downhill and even die. When I was young I abandoned couple guys because I thought I would be always scared of what may happen with them, I tried to pursued one of them to stop drinking without much success.

Puddleg said...

Pete looked after me when I needed it, many times.
He was the sort of friend who would find it funny, if annoying, when I locked myself out and smashed a window getting back into his house.
we all need friends like that.

Puddleg said...

Russian diet, 1820s

Galina L. said...

Most of over-wise healthy traditional foods in Russia is cooked or served with a sunflower oil - salted hearing is served covered with minced onion , green or regular and oil is poured over, cabbage soup is made with sauteed in sunflower oil carrots and onions, boiled potatoes are often served with oil, chopped dill and salt, the famous Russian Vinegret - the root vegetables salad where beets and pickles or sauerkraut are important ingredients is dressed with generous amount of sunflower oil, sauerkraut is rarely served without that damn oil as well. It is everywhere.

Galina L. said...

It is nice to have good friends who are like second self.

Galina L. said...

Another name for a sunflower oil in Russia is a lent oil, so it is widely used also due to religious tradition, like margarine by Jewish people.

Puddleg said...

I wonder if it's relevant that Orthodox Finns have 5 times the CHD mortality rate of Lutherans...
I was thinking this was due to psychosocial factors, but...

Galina L. said...

It could be due to the Orthodox requirement to consume a seed oil during lent times (there are several lents during a year and some lent days during a week). Orthodox Greeks use olive oil, but their Northern religious followers had to use raps,hemp,flax and sunflower seeds.

Puddleg said...

Here's a news version of the Finnish transition

Galina L. said...

From reading your link, I got an impression that the people in North Korelia were eating a very high animal fats diets which was not low enough in carbs to be healthy, I suspect that when fats are very high, carbs get more unhealthy.
North Korelia was a part of Russia, and bread is worshiped there.

Galina L. said...

George, is there any research on humans about saturated fat being protective for liver? I managed to find only articles on Pubmed about experiments made on rats, even though they mentioned "it has been demonstrated in an epidemiological study of alcoholic cirrhosis that dietary intake of SF was associated with a lower mortality rates, whereas dietary intake of USF was associated with a higher mortality. In addition, oxidized lipids (dietary and in vivo generated) may play a role in liver pathology." I try at the moment to give some recommendations to fellow Russians what to eat while drinking during Christmas season, and people have a hard time to comprehend what is wrong with bathing a salted hearring(a popular appetizer) in a sunflower oil. I hope you don't mind my question on a such old post

cavenewt said...

Galina, maybe this will help.