Coronary Victim Wages War on ‘Poison’ Foods

The Baltimore Evening Sun

Phil Sokolof, a 65-year-old self-made millionaire from Omaha, Neb., is spending part of his fortune to fight heart disease and what he calls “the poisoning of America.”

A heart attack survivor, Sokolof--who still runs the successful metal manufacturing company that he started as a young man--contends that food giants are “poisoning” America by using palm oil and coconut oil in cookies, crackers, shortening, non-dairy creamers and many other foods.

The oils do not contain cholesterol but are highly saturated fat, which if consumed can push cholesterol to heart attack levels, medical experts agree.

Coconut oil has 100% more saturated fat than lard, an unhealthy animal fat still used extensively, says Sokolof, who defends his assertion that food processors are “poisoning” Americans by using such products.


Defining Poison

“That is a strong expression, but that’s why I use it and why it’s effective,” he said in a telephone interview. “The Random House dictionary defines poison as a substance that has an inherent tendency to destroy life or impair health.”

Coconut oil and palm oil are used in many products that boast they have “no cholesterol.” Sokolof calls this claim a form of deception since the oils help cholesterol form after consumption.

Manufacturers use the oils because of their taste, texture and ability to lengthen shelf life, he said.


Some food companies have called Sokolof “a quack” and “irresponsible.” A few insist they use “the best ingredients,” and others have just ignored him.

Recently, the National Heart Savers Assn.--a group Sokolof founded in 1985--ran $140,000 worth of full-page ads in the Wall Street Journal and USA Today blasting RJR Nabisco Inc. and nine other leading food manufacturers for use of coconut and palm oil.

The Offenders

The products cited were Nabisco Triscuit crackers and striped Chips Ahoy cookies, Post Fruit and Fibre cereal, Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers, Keebler Club crackers, Quaker Chewy Granola bars, Borden Cremora creamer, Carnation Coffeemate, Birdseye Cool Whip topping and Procter & Gamble Crisco.


Last April, the National Heart Savers Assn. launched National Know Your Cholesterol Month, which Sokolof hopes will become an annual cholesterol awareness campaign. The designation required congressional approval of legislation co-sponsored by 65 senators. Dr. Bruce McManus, an expert in cardiology, nationally recognized for his cholesterol research, is NHSA’s medical consultant.

“The public desperately wants to lower their cholesterol levels in the face of unequivocal evidence that high cholesterol leads to heart attack,” Sokolof said. “Only consumer pressure will force manufacturers to produce healthier foods. They will listen when the public quits buying their products.”

That’s why Sokolof, whose cholesterol count was 300 when he suffered his heart attack 22 years ago, launched his one-man campaign against saturated fat.

In its first two advertisements, which appeared recently in the New York Times and the New York Post, NHSA took Kellogg’s Cracklin’ Oat Bran to task for using coconut oil in a cereal consumers buy for its cholesterol-lowering bran.


After calling Sokolof irresponsible and threatening to sue, the Kellogg Co. of Battle Creek, Mich., notified Sokolof that it had found a way to eliminate coconut oil from the product.

Kellogg has replaced the coconut oil in Cracklin’ Oat Bran with cottonseed and soybean oils, eliminating the saturated fat content, said Joseph Stewart, senior vice president for Kellogg’s corporate affairs. The new product will be on shelves within three months.

He said Kellogg had been working on a new formula for Cracklin’ Oat Bran because the cereal maker sensed growing public sentiment against the use of tropical oils.

Sunshine Biscuits Inc. also has said it is taking tropical oils out of its cookie products; Pepperidge Farm has announced it will remove tropical oils from its breads and is making plans to remove them from its cookies and crackers.


“I’m ecstatic! It means that literally millions of ounces of coconut and palm oil will not be clogging Americans’ arteries,” Sokolof said.

Saturated Fat

“A lot of people don’t know that coconut and palm oil contain a high amount of saturated fat. Most saturated fat and cholesterol come from meats and dairy products. I want to inform the public about coconut and palm oils. I want them to read labels and avoid these products.”

Before his heart attack, Sokolof was thin, he exercised and didn’t smoke. But his cholesterol was dangerously high.


After his attack he brought his cholesterol down within the limits recommended by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

He simply stopped eating hamburgers, hot dogs, chili and pastries, all laden with saturated fats. And, he switched to fruits and vegetables, pastas and beans. Fish and chicken are good low-fat alternatives, too.

Commenting on his one-man crusade to save other people’s hearts and lives, he said, “One man can make a difference. This is a crusade from the heart. When you have enough money for your children and grandchildren, it’s time to give something back. How do you compare possibly extending someone’s life to money?”