A sugar industry scandal is rocking the research world, serving as a strong reminder that public policy should take industry-sponsored studies with a grain of salt (or sugar) before making sweeping national recommendations.
In an analysis published in JAMA Internal Medicine, a team of researchers from the University of California outlined how they unearthed documents and evidence busting the sugar industry for funding Harvard research. Despite emerging evidence back in the 1950s that sugar caused coronary heart disease, the sugar industry paid Harvard to downplay that link and instead focus saturated fat’s link to heart disease. We’ll never know exactly how many lives that decision cost, but we do know today that added sugars are the root of many modern day diseases. If only we reduced sugar consumption decades ago, we’d likely be a much healthier country today.
Instead, the misguided (or even corrupt) studies led to recommendations that led Americans away from butter and toward a diet full of more unnatural, manufactured fats like margarine and low-fat, sugar-infused snacks. And what a disaster that’s been.
Details of the Sugar Industry Scandal
The sugar industry scandal really took hold in the 1960s as more and more studies linked high-sugar, low-fat diets to higher blood levels of cholesterol. Effectively, this ID’d added sugar as the bad guy, not naturally-occurring fats.
To save sugar’s reputation, a sugar industry scandal was born. The sugar industry funded Project 226, which resulted in a literature review from the Harvard University School of Public Health Nutrition Department. The sugar industry funded this study, which blatantly blamed cholesterol and saturated fat for heart disease, not sugar. And it was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, one of the world’s premiere medical journals, in 1967. Back then, researchers weren’t required to disclose funding when publishing studies like they are today. (1)
The Harvard study concluded there was “no doubt” that the only dietary intervention required to prevent coronary heart disease was to eat less cholesterol and to eat polyunsaturated fat instead of saturated fat. (2)
The San Francisco Gate writes that the Sugar Research Foundation, today known as the Sugar Association, paid Fredrick Stare and fellow Harvard faculty member D. Mark Hegsted what would be about $50,000 today to write the review critical of sugar’s link to heart disease. Neither researcher is alive today. (3)
Final Thoughts on the Sugar Industry Scandal
After studying functional medicine and nutrition for years, I stopped believing the lies perpetuated by the sugar industry — and the scientific communities that unfortunately stood behind them.
But the path of destruction that these policies have left behind is colossal. It not only led to premature deaths but also destroyed people’s quality of life and took a toll on the healthcare system. It was irresponsible, and we’re still feeling its effects more than 50 years later.
Today, we know that to really lower cholesterol fast, eliminating added sugars is one of the best remedies.
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