Businessman Crusades against High Cholesterol
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) _ A multimillionaire who nearly died from a heart attack 22 years ago has spent $2 million on a crusade to pressure food industry giants into making healthier products, but the companies say his criticisms are misguided.
Phil Sokolof, 65, placed advertisments in newspapers this week depicting nine products he says are portrayed as healthy foods, but are ″poisoning″ Americans with saturated fats.
They include Nabisco’s Triscuit crackers, Procter & Gamble’s Crisco shortening, Kellogg’s Cracklin’ Oat Bran cereal, Pepperidge Farm’s Goldfish crackers, Keebler’s Club crackers, Sunshine’s Hydrox cookies and non-dairy coffee creamers Coffee Swirl from Kraft, Carnation’s Coffeemate and Borden’s Creamora.
Saturated fats have the effect of boosting the blood’s cholesterol level, according to scientists. An excess of cholesterol, a waxy compound, can clog arteries, thereby contributing to heart attacks.
The American Heart Association recommends a daily diet with no more than 30 percent of calories from fats and no more than 10 percent from saturated fats.
Sokolof, the owner of a construction equipment company, blames high cholesterol for the near-fatal heart attack he suffered in 1966 at the age of 43. His father and a brother-in-law died of heart attacks.
″There were no warnings,″ he said. ″I was thin. I exercised. I didn’t smoke. The only thing wrong was I had high cholesterol.″
In 1985, he wrote a $1 million check to establish the National Heart Savers Association. He has spent another $1 million to spread his warning about high cholesterol.
Heart Savers is registered in Nebraska as a non-profit organization. Sokolof has provided 99 percent of its funds and is the only staff member, he said.
Sokolof said his brush with death, combined with a 1984 government study on cholesterol, prompted his effort.
″It is a crusade. It is from the heart,″ he said Thursday.
But the targeted companies said the advertisements that ran Tuesday in The New York Times and New York Post were unfair and misrepresented their products.
″It’s irresponsible,″ Joseph Stewart, a senior vice president for Kellogg’s in Battle Creek, Mich., said Thursday. ″For someone to claim it is the poisoning of the American public is a gross exaggeration.″
Sokolof’s biggest beef is with companies that portray their foods as healthy by proclaiming ″no cholesterol,″ ″low salt,″ ″non-dairy,″ and ″made with 100 percent vegetable shortening.″
″McDonald’s still serves 30 million people a day, but when you eat a McDonald’s hamburger, you expect to get eight or 10 grams of fat,″ he said. ″Other people are selling foods that are inferred to be a health food.″
The chief culprits, Sokolof said, are palm and coconut oils, which are highly saturated even though they are vegetable oils. Companies use the oils because they are the most expeditious way to extend shelf life, he said.
Particularly upsetting to him is Cracklin’ Oat Bran cereal.
″They (Kellogg’s) came to market with Oat Bran because everyone wants to eat oat bran to lower their cholesterol,″ Sokolof said. ″But it has coconut oil in it, which has 100 percent more saturated fat than lard. It is worse than cholesterol.″
He also singled out Crisco, advertised as an all-vegetable shortening with no cholesterol. ″It has no cholesterol, but it does have palm oil, which is high in saturated fat and again worse than cholesterol,″ he said.
Cholesterol itself is only found in animal products, including meat and dairy items like cheese, whole milk and eggs.
Kellogg’s Stewart said Sokolof’s ads ″confuse legitimate efforts to educate people about the cholesterol problem.″ Fats, he said, are a necessary part of a healthy diet.
If consumers believe Sokolof, he said, they should eliminate every product that contains fat, including cheese, whole milk, beef, chicken and pork.
″They all have saturated fat,″ he said.
Sokolof counters that Kellogg’s is making light of the fact that the cereal contains 3.7 grams of coconut oil per serving.
″If you eat it for one meal of your life, that would be fine,″ he said. ″But they are providing food for millions of people who eat it every morning. You are talking about thousands of gallons of fat. You’re talking vats of fat.″
Ann Wainright of Pepperidge Farm said her company recently began using 100 percent soybean oil in all its breads.
″The elimination of coconut and palm oils in our cracker and cookie products is a high priority,″ she said.
Joe Simrany, vice president of marketing for Sunshine, said Sunshine had removed coconut oil from most of its products and wants to eliminate all tropical oils.
″National Heart Savers was aware of these efforts, but apparently they chose to ignore them,″ Simrany said. ″Recently, even in Hydrox, we have eliminated palm oil.″
Sokolof said he will continue placing ads.
″Kellogg’s isn’t going to listen to me, but if they get enough flak from the American people, they are going to change the formula,″ he said.