Letters to the editor, August 2017

This article was originally published in August 2017

Coconut oil

Is coconut oil healthful? Recent media attention has made me wonder.

— Anonymous

PCC replies: The media attention comes from the American Heart Association’s (AHA) Presidential Advisory in April titled “Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease” that reiterated its longtime stance against saturated fats. Media focused on the section about coconut oil, which is a saturated fat, but the report was much broader, suggesting Americans replace dietary saturated fats with polyunsaturated and/or monounsaturated fats.

Over the years, coconut oil has been touted as a healthy fat for a variety of reasons.

Much of this is due to the medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) in coconut oil that are metabolized very differently than long-chain saturated fatty acids. MCTs do not elevate unhealthy LDL cholesterol levels, but coconut oil is only about 12 percent MCTs. Most of the saturated fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, which does increase LDL levels.

Coconut oil also raises “good” cholesterol (HDL) and, therefore, its overall impact on heart health has been viewed by many as fairly neutral. The AHA report, however, says changes in HDL cholesterol no longer should be considered beneficial and instead we should focus on what fats elevate LDLs.

The report mentions that 72 percent of Americans rate coconut oil as a “healthy food” compared to just 37 percent of nutritionists, and the AHA addressed this disparity. It states, “we advise against the use of coconut oil” because of its high saturated fat content (82 percent) that raises LDL cholesterol, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Chicken welfare

PCC is my most trusted place to shop and the items I buy there are of the highest quality. Service is always great.

I have read recently about the cruelty involved in raising chickens that are too big to support themselves and as a result spend the last part of their lives in pain. I see eggs marked as humanely grown but I do not know of any rating system for chickens.

While PCC offers several options for organic and free-range chickens, they all are very large. I would like to see smaller chickens and smaller breasts and thighs sold at PCC, since this seems to be one of the ways to ensure humane treatment of chickens.

As an added concern, in the past year I have bought three packages of chicken breasts (from three different sources, not PCC) that had a horrible rubbery texture. Two of these were free-range or organic. I have read that this is an industry-wide problem resulting from growing chickens that are too big. So this is another reason I would like to see smaller chickens and parts at PCC.

Thanks for all your great work. — Mary

PCC replies: When it comes to chicken, large breasts and thighs are not always a sign of poor animal welfare. Various species of chickens have been bred for these traits, so size doesn’t necessarily mean the birds are not healthy or well-raised. However, some large-breasted birds, without doubt, are from industrial farms where they spend their lives in a crowded building with no access outside.

PCC has strong animal welfare standards for all animals, including chickens. All our chicken suppliers are smaller, local farms. We also visit farms and processing facilities to make sure they meet each requirement on PCC’s Animal Welfare Checklist. All the chickens we sell have access to the outdoors where they may exercise, engage in social behaviors and are free to roam.

If you’re looking for smaller chickens in general, Palouse Poultry pastured chickens from Ephrata, Washington, are smaller. They’re sold whole, range from 3-4 pounds each and are delicious! Mary’s chicken also is a great option for juicy, tender chicken.

Oils in deli foods

I would like to see the sunflower, safflower and canola oils used in the deli foods replaced with healthier oils, such as (unrefined and fresh) olive, flax, avocado, peanut, etc. Safflower, sunflower and canola are polyunsaturated oils, high in omega-6 fats.

The deli food is delicious but could be much healthier for us with such substitutions. The prices would go up slightly but, if not PCC, where can we find the healthiest carry-out?

— Name withheld on request

PCC replies: PCC replies: The sunflower oil used in PCC deli recipes is a high oleic sunflower oil, with very low levels of polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids. High-oleic sunflower oil is rich in monounsaturated fats, with a nutritional pro-file similar to olive, avocado and peanut oils.

As you mentioned, switching to these other oils would certainly increase the price of our deli foods. While peanut oil is a versatile, affordable oil, it is also a very common allergen. Flaxseed oil is an excellent choice for increasing intake of omega-3 fats, but it’s not suitable for cooking, and its robust nutty flavor is welcome in some dishes but not others.

Avocado oil is a great choice for cooking but costs twice as much as other culinary oils. The high-oleic sunflower oil used in PCC deli recipes actually has lower levels of polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids than avocado oil, so we feel it is an excellent choice for shoppers looking to reduce their consumption of polyunsaturated oils, high in omega-6 fats.

The majority of PCC deli recipes use a 50:50 blend of organic extra virgin olive oil and organic high-oleic sunflower oil.

PCC shoppers’ desires

After reading “The Big Fat Surprise” by Nina Teicholz, I sought fattier meats. But like the anonymous writer in June’s letters to the editor, I’ve been frustrated by the offerings at PCC. Months ago, I commiserated with a butcher at View Ridge about the lean ground beefs. For now, I resort to lamb burgers since ground lamb has more fat, but I’d like beef burgers once in a while.

How does PCC know what your customers want? Only a very few might express opinions and, even then, how do you know how many others have the same opinion? If PCC doesn’t offer what we want, how will you know? It’s not a simple case of your seeing sales of whole-fat yogurt go up while nonfat yogurt sales go down. You can’t track sales of what you don’t offer. Maybe we go elsewhere to get what we want, or maybe we just make do.

For the record, I’d love to see more fat on beef — and more cuts with bones, which have nutritional benefits.

— Julie Scandora

PCC replies: Thank you for sharing your feedback on the meat offerings in our stores. Remember, we have butchers in the store who can accommodate special requests, whether a shopper wants more or less fat on meat.

In general, to learn what customers want, we do our best to consider the information available from multiple sources including market trend data; recommendations from our vendors, farmers and ranchers; and changes to offerings from our competitors. Perhaps most importantly, we listen to feedback from our shoppers delivered through letters and emails, phone calls, social media and in our stores.

We realize sales on existing products only tell part of the story and it’s likely we don’t carry every available option each customer may be looking for during a visit, but we do feel our close relationships and ongoing conversations with suppliers and customers give us unique insight other grocery operations may not have.

If there are ways you think we could elicit more feedback, we’d love to know!

Greek yogurt impact

I trust PCC to do the research that most consumers can’t easily do. Have you looked into yogurt issues recently?

The View Ridge store stocks predominantly Greek yogurt. There are very few options for milk-based regular yogurt. I love Greek yogurt but read an article about the adverse environmental impacts associated with the production of this type of yogurt. The brand involved, one you carry, was Chobani.

The issue was that the whey discarded after making Greek-style yogurt is more acidic, requires special handling to prevent environmental problems, and was a concern in the community where one of the Chobani plants is located (New York state). Has PCC looked into the issue?

— John Russell

PCC replies: We have indeed heard about the acid whey problem and are in the process of surveying our Greek yogurt vendors to ask how they are dealing with it.

When Greek yogurt makers strain their yogurt to make it thick, acid whey is the liquid strained out. It’s sometimes spread on fields as fertilizer but, as Greek yogurt has grown sharply more popular in the past several years, companies have had to innovate ways to manage much more acid whey.

It is a waste that needs to be treated properly before disposal. Whey decomposition is toxic to the natural environment, robbing oxygen from streams and rivers and causing “dead zones.”

Chobani reportedly is exploring new ways to reduce waste and currently is using a reverse osmosis machine on-site to filter water from acid whey so it can be reused.

Wallaby organic Greek yogurt, also sold at PCC, sells its acid whey byproduct to a nearby treatment facility where it’s converted into methane energy.

Maple Hill Creamery yogurt, also sold at PCC, takes its acid whey byproduct to an anaerobic digester in New York state where it’s turned into electricity and powers the city of Cortland.

We’ll report back when we hear how our other Greek yogurt producers are handling acid whey.

Valuing PCC

Just wanted to let you know that I have shopped at PCC since the late 1970s. I love the stores just the way they are — I love the size of the stores, the friendliness of the employees, the quality of the produce, and the commitment to farmers, organic, etc. I love the Sound Consumer and find it to be thought-provoking as well as a great source of information. This model works and I hope there isn’t pressure to change it too much.

— Diane Cook

Also in this issue

Restoring soil with regenerative agriculture

UW researcher David Montgomery traveled around the United States and abroad to see how large and small farmers and scientists are restoring soil fertility — and doing it much faster than he thought possible. His research bodes well for the future of food and agriculture.

Hydration for health

Feeling thirsty? Water is so important for good health that our bodies require more of it than any nutrient. Learn about special products at PCC you can add to boost water’s flavor and nutrition and quench thirst.

News bites, August 2017

GE salmon in Indiana?, Contaminated drinking water, Produce tattoos, and more