I’m the little guy who fights the food giants and wins,” says 66-year-old Philip Sokolof. He has a right to boast—he bought it. A heart attack survivor, Sokolof has spent more than $2 million battling high cholesterol and has waged a public campaign against the use of tropical oils in cookies, crackers and cereals. One typically subtle ad placed by the Omaha manufacturer in the Wall Street Journal and USA Today was headlined, “The Poisoning of America!”
Sokolof’s beef is that these foods might be considered healthy—unlike such familiar artery doggers as meat and eggs—unless you read the fine print. He was outraged to discover that Kellogg’s Cracklin’ Oat Bran contains a highly saturated oil. “People are eating oat bran to lower their cholesterol,” he says, “and they’re putting coconut oil in it.” Now, however, Kellogg’s has announced it will be removing coconut oil from its products. “I consider it just a flat outright victory,” says Sokolof, who admits that some food manufacturers had begun the process of remaking their products without the versatile, cheap tropical oils before his ads appeared. Still, Sokolof deserves credit for speeding up the process. “It certainly appears he’s done a fine job of arm-twisting,” admits Arthur Murray, president of Sunshine Biscuits Inc., which quit using coconut oil two years ago.
Sokolof’s zealotry is perhaps understandable. His father died of a heart attack at the age of 65, his brother-in-law at the alarmingly young age of 42. Sokolof survived his own heart attack 22 years ago at age 43, but “it was quite a shock,” he says. “I didn’t smoke, I exercised daily.” By becoming vigilant about his own diet, Sokolof reduced his cholesterol count from a potentially lethal 300 to a livable 190—and discovered hidden dangers lurking on the supermarket shelves.
A widower, Sokolof has yet another reason to campaign for healthier foods—an 8-year-old grandson, Mark Javitch, who also suffers from high cholesterol. “When they bring out the ice cream and cake at a birthday party,” he says, “it’s kind of hard for Mark not to eat it.” But, in Granddad’s book, everyone deserves an occasional indulgence. “I have a steak once a month,” confesses Sokolof. “And I love Pepperidge Farm cookies. They have coconut oil in them now, but they’re going to reformulate them. I can hardly wait.”