I like to think that we can trust researchers to report the facts correctly. Especially when it comes to nutrition and health! However, newly released historical documents show otherwise. During the 60’s, the sugar industry paid researchers to down play the link between sugar and heart disease and shift the blame to fat. This research then shaped five decades of other research and dietary recommendations. It lead people to fear saturated fat and keep on blindly consuming sugar. With so much evidence of the negative effects of sugar, how is it that the sugar industry blamed fat?
Sugar Coating the Findings
The University of California, San Francisco, recently published a historical paper that shows that the Sugar Association paid Harvard scientists the equivalent of about $50,000 to manipulate their findings during the 1960’s. At the time, scientists were beginning to debate the role that sugar and fat played in heart disease. To protect the sugar industry from potential losses, the reviewers carefully selected papers to include. This helped them to dismiss the data on sugar as weak and give more credibility to the data that implicated saturated fats.
Following the publishing of this report, low-fat diets became the norm as health authorities endorsed them.
And, this isn’t the only case of how the sugar industry blamed fat. The New York Times revealed that Coca-Cola provided millions of dollars to fund researchers who down played the link between drinking sugary drinks and obesity. Another report funded by candy companies even claimed that children who eat lollies tend to weigh less than those who don’t.
Fortunately, it’s becoming common practice for researchers to fully disclose their sources of funding when publishing reports. And, although this doesn’t stop industry players from influencing the findings of reports, it does make it easier to identify any potential sources of bias. Even so, it would be great if there was even more transparency when it came to reporting research findings. Because, how are we, as consumers, meant to analyse each scientific report to determine if it’s valid?
The Take Away
It’s disappointing to see how the sugar industry blamed fat. But, in my opinion as a fitness professional, regardless of what the research says, we can all benefit from eating fewer processed foods.
We took a step in the right direction with the recent review of the Australian Healthy Eating Pyramid. The new prescription encourages people to eat less refined sugar and more heart healthy fats. Following these nutritional guidelines helps to maintain steady insulin levels which reduces the risk of diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
Focusing on fuelling your body with a good balance of quality whole foods as well as living an active life is by far the best way we know to maintain good health. Unfortunately, it still doesn’t prevent illness from occurring but it’s definitely a big step in the right direction.