For years the common wisdom and recommendation from dietitians has been to eat a low fat diet. This has resulted in a significant surge in sugar consumption. Diabetes and obesity rates have also soared. As a result of these alarming trends, increased scrutiny has been placed on low fat diets. In addition, more and more evidence is beginning to surface that perhaps a low carbohydrate diet higher in fat may actually be better for diabetes and cardiovascular disease risk factors.
One might ask what organizations were behind the push to shift to a low fat, high carbohydrate diet from what was traditionally a high fat, low carbohydrate diet?
Recently published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) is an article that exposes how the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF) helped radically shift the American diet to a low fat and high sugar diet starting in the 1950s.
As detailed in the journal article, in 1954, Henry Hass, the president of the foundation, "identified a strategic opportunity for the sugar industry" to "increase sugar’s market share by getting Americans to eat a lower-fat diet".
In recently discovered documents Henry Hass was quoted as saying that "if the carbohydrate industries were to recapture this 20 percent of the calories in the US diet (the difference between the 40 percent which fat has and the 20 percent which it ought to have) and if sugar maintained its present share of the carbohydrate market, this change would mean an increase in the per capita consumption of sugar more than a third."
Later in 1964 in a communication to an SRF subcommittee documents showed that there was concern over new coronary heart disease (CHD) research which implicated sugar as having a possible role in heart disease. The subcommittee documents noted “from a number of laboratories of greater or lesser repute, there are flowing reports that sugar is a less desirable dietary source of calories than other carbohydrates."
The SRF was concerned that some scientists like, "British physiologist John Yudkin had challenged population studies singling out saturated fat as the primary dietary cause of CHD and suggested that other factors, including sucrose, were at least equally important."
This led the SRF to "embark on a major program” to counter Yudkin and other “negative attitudes toward sugar." including performing opinion polls to "learn what public concepts we should reinforce and what ones we need to combat through our research and information and legislative programs”.
There was also an attempt to silence other scientists by bringing "detractors before a board of their peers where their fallacies could be unveiled.”
The organization also published CHD research in 1965 to protect its' market share. In 1967 they published a literature review which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine but didn't disclose the sugar's industry's funding or role. These research downplayed the role of sucrose as contributing to CHD.
The SRF also influenced the "National Institute of Dental Research’s National Caries Program to shift its emphasis to dental caries interventions other than restricting sucrose. The industry commissioned a review, “Sugar in the Diet of Man,” which it credited with, among other industry tactics, favorably influencing the 1976 US Food and Drug Administration evaluation of the safety of sugar.
Thus, the SRF was able have a profound influence on research, public policy, and ultimately our health. In my opinion, the role of this organization and others to push the low fat and high carbohydrate diet has been catastrophic and has led to one of the biggest health crises we have ever faced.
Luckily, there is hope. There is more and more evidence emerging about the benefits of a diet high in vegetables, moderate in protein, and high in fat. For those in need of more information feel free to contact me.
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