You've Been Bought

Paleo, Primal, low carbohydrate and ketogenic enthusiasts and supporters have known for a while now that eating fat does not make you fat. The conventional wisdom would have you believe that dietary fat not only contributes to weight gain, but to heart disease, diabetes and a host of other non-infectious diseases. It turns out this advice has been a hoax, with bribes and faked research to back it all up!

For 40 years, the sugar industry's priority has been to shed doubt on studies suggesting that its product makes people sick. A recent analysis ‘Sugar Industry and Coronary Heart Disease Research: A Historical Analysis of Internal Industry Documents’ was published earlier this month in JAMA Internal Medicine. The internal sugar industry documents were found in public archives by a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco.

According to this study of archival documents, beginning in the 1960’s, the sugar industry paid Harvard researchers to bury research linking sugar intake to heart disease and to instead make fat the culprit.

‘These internal documents show that the Sugar Research Foundation initiated coronary heart disease research in 1965 to protect market share and that its first project, a literature review, was published in the New English Journal of Medicine without disclosure of the sugar industry’s funding or role’.

This decades-long effort to stack the scientific deck in favor of sugar consumption is why recent USDA's dietary guidelines only speak of sugar in vague generalities - reduce the intake of calories from solid fats and added sugars. It also explains why the FDA insists that sugar is on the 'generally recognized as safe' (GRAS) list, despite considerable evidence suggesting otherwise. It is why some scientists' urgent calls for regulation of sugary products have been fallen on deaf ears, 

UCSF researchers analyzed more than 340 documents indicating the relationship between the sugar industry and Roger Adams, then a professor of organic chemistry who served on the scientific advisory boards for the sugar industry, and Mark Hegsted, one of the Harvard researchers who produced the literature review. This is the same Mark Hegsted who played a pivotal role in the initial Dietary Guidelines published in 1977.

The documents showed that in the 1960’s, the sugar industry was well aware of evidence that linked sugar consumption to high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels and that high sugar consumption was considered to be a risk factor for coronary heart disease.

The sugar industry commissioned Project 226, a literature review written by researchers at the Harvard University School of Public Nutrition Department, which concluded there was 'no doubt' that the only dietary intervention required to prevent coronary heart disease was to reduce dietary cholesterol and substitute polyunsaturated fat for saturated fat in the American diet.

The sugar industry paid the Harvard scientist the equivalent of what today would amount to $50,000.

The conclusion of the report served the sugar industry’s interests by arguing that studies 'associating sucrose with coronary heart disease were limited' and that sugar should not be included in assessments of risk of heart disease. This information is still pervasive in all aspects of modern daily life, from medical advice to dietary guidelines and conventional wisdom.

According to the UCSF press release, researchers funded by the sugar industry uncovered that the industry would spend $600,000 (the equivalent of $5.3 million by current standards) to teach 'people who had never had a course in biochemistry…that sugar is what keeps every human being alive and with energy to face our daily problems,'

Among the documents released was a speech from 1954 by Sugar Research Foundation (SRF) president Henry Hass, which showed that they recognized that if Americans adopted low-fat diets, then per-capita consumption of sugar would increase by more than one-third.'

The literature review helped shape not only public opinion on what causes heart problems but also the scientific community’s view of how to evaluate dietary risk factors to heart disease,' said lead author Cristin Kearns, who discovered the industry documents.

Other documents revealed the sugar industry became concerned in 1962 when evidence concluded that a low-fat diet high in sugar could elevate serum cholesterol level. In 1964, the SRF vice president and director of research, John Hickson, said new research on coronary heart disease found that 'sugar is a less desirable dietary source of calories than other carbohydrates,' and referred to the work of British physiologist John Yudkin, who had been challenging population studies singling out saturated fat as the primary dietary cause of coronary heart disease since 1957 'and suggested other factors, including sucrose, were at least equally important.' Hickson proposed that SRF ‘could embark on a major program’ to counter Yudkin and other ‘negative attitudes toward sugar’.

It found that Hickson recommended an opinion poll 'to learn what public concepts we should reinforce and what ones we need to combat through our research and information and legislation programs,' a symposium to 'bring detractors before a board of their peers where their fallacies could be unveiled,' and recommended the sugar industry fund coronary heart disease research to 'see what the weak points there are in the experimentation, and replicate the studies with appropriate corrections. Then publish the data and refute our detractors.'

By the early 1970s, Stare ranked among the industry's most reliable advocates, testifying in Congress about the wholesomeness of sugar even as his department kept accepting funding from sugar producers and food and beverage giants such as Carnation, Coca-Cola, Gerber, Kellogg, and Oscar Mayer.

By 1973 the links between sugar, diabetes, and heart disease were sufficiently troubling that Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota convened a hearing of his Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs to address the issue. Rather than approve a serious investigation of the purported links between sucrose and disease, American sugar companies quit supporting the SRF's research projects. Instead, via the Sugar Association, they would spend roughly $655,000 between 1975 and 1980 on 17 studies designed, as internal documents put it, to maintain research as a main prop of the industry's defense. Each proposal was vetted by a panel of industry-friendly scientists and another committee staffed by representatives from sugar companies and 'contributing research members' which included Coca-Cola, Hershey's, General Mills, and Nabisco. Most of the cash was awarded to researchers whose studies seemed explicitly designed to exonerate sugar.

Like the tobacco industry before it, the sugar industry may be facing the inexorable exposure of its product as a killer. Science will ultimately settle the matter one way or the other, but as the tobacco industry learned a many years ago, even the inexorable can be held up for a very long time. For now, when it comes to anything associated with sugar, it is up to you, the consumer, to be armed, vigilant and aware.

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