How the “Experts” Conned You about Fat and Sugar

How the “Experts” Conned You about Fat and Sugar

It takes a lot to shock me—especially when it comes to the corrupting influence that food manufacturers have on people’s beliefs about what’s healthy and unhealthy. However, even I was stunned by a new article in the New York Times. Headlined “How the sugar industry shifted blame to fat,” it describes how sugar promoters paid researchers back in the 1960s to downplay the dangers of sugar and demonize fat.

According to recently discovered documents, the Sugar Research Foundation (now known as the Sugar Association) paid three Harvard researchers the equivalent of about $50,000 in today’s dollars to review research on sugar, fat, and heart disease. The catch? The sugar group picked the papers to review and made it clear that they expected the results of the review to be pro-sugar. I can’t imagine any scientists—especially Harvard researchers—accepting terms like these. All the money on the planet couldn’t make me lie to you about sugar being okay for you. 

But these researchers apparently had no problem at all with the deal. They replied, “We are well aware of your particular interest and will cover this as well as we can.” In other words—nod, nod, wink, wink. We get the hint. As they worked on their paper, the researchers shared drafts of it with John Hickson, a leading sugar industry executive. At the end, Hickson said, “Let me assure you this is quite what we had in mind, and we look forward to its appearance in print.”

The review, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine in 1967, had the intended effect. Stanton Glantz, who coauthored a new exposé of the incident in JAMA Internal Medicine, says, “They were able to derail the discussion about sugar for decades.” In addition, they skewed their findings to vilify saturated fat—which is currently being exonerated as a culprit in heart disease. As a result, the paper played a key role in creating the epidemic of obesity and diabetes we’re facing today.

Along with misleading research by other scientists like Ancel Keys, it gave us a government-sponsored food pyramid that’s heavily loaded with carbs and stripped of healthy fats and proteins. After decades of this diet, we’re fatter and sicker than we’ve ever been. The New York Times article notes that journals now require authors to disclose their sources of funding. But I can absolutely guarantee you that food manufacturers still find ways to corrupt scientific opinion.

If you don’t believe it, check out Scientific American’s recent hard-hitting article, “Science for Sale,” about the food industry’s influence on the American Society for Nutrition—which has ties to companies ranging from Coca-Cola to the World Sugar Research Organization. I know it’s unsettling to discover that much of the nutritional advice you’ve accepted from “experts” for decades is bought and paid for by the processed food industry.

But I hope that it’ll encourage you to be more skeptical about this advice in the future. And I hope that it will encourage you to eat more natural, unprocessed foods—because I trust the farmers who grow organic kale and the ranchers who raise pastured cows way more than I trust multi-million-dollar food lobbies and “nutrition experts” who are in bed with Coca-Cola!

Keep Thinking Big & Living Bold!