How the sugar industry shifted blame to influence what we eat
For decades, people have tried to eliminate fat from their diets in order to decrease their chances of heart disease. But newly discovered documents show the public may have been misled, and there may be another main culprit when it comes to heart disease.
Researchers began to study the dietary causes behind a large amount of men dying of coronary heart disease (CHD) in the 1950s. By the 60s, two conflicting studies were receiving attention – one identified fat and cholesterol as the main dietary factor behind CHD, while the other claimed sugar was to blame.
New documents published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reveal that Harvard nutritionists may have actually been paid by the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF) to influence a study emphasizing the link between fat and heart disease, thus taking the attention off of sugar’s harmful effects. Many of today’s dietary recommendations may have been shaped by that research.
“The SRF set the review’s objective, contributed articles for inclusion and received drafts. The SRF’s funding and role was not disclosed. Together with other recent analyses of sugar industry documents, our findings suggest the industry sponsored a research program in the 1960s and 1970s that successfully cast doubt about the hazards of sucrose while promoting fat as the dietary culprit in CHD,” the researchers said.
The new documents show that the SRF paid scientists the equivalent of almost $50,000 in today’s dollars to publish the review on sugar, fat and heart disease.
Lisa Osowski, a registered dietitian at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill., urges people to seriously consider the dangers of sugar consumption on overall health.
“In addition to heart disease, high sugar diets are associated with an increased risk of dental caries, diabetes, cancer and obesity. Obesity is a risk factor for many diseases including hypertension and stroke,” says Osowski. “Foods containing added sugar are hyper-palatable and trigger satisfaction signals in the brain, more so than nutrient dense natural foods, which makes it easy to overeat these foods, which can also lead to obesity.”
Current FDA guidelines suggest limiting added sugars to 10 percent of daily calories, but in American diets, added sugars contribute an average of 13 percent, says Osowski.
In order to cut back on the amount of sugars, she offers these recommendations:
- Limit soda, candy, refined grains
- Limit foods containing high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup solids, malt, fructose, honey, molasses and crystallized dextrose
- Watch for added sugar in fast foods, processed foods and condiments
In addition to restricting sugars, Osowski also suggests the following tips to keep your heart healthy through diet:
- Consume foods to meet – not exceed – calorie needs
- Eat a variety of vegetables and whole fruits
- Eat more whole grains such as brown rice, oatmeal, popcorn, quinoa, whole wheat
- Eat protein rich foods such as fish, eggs, beans/legumes, nuts/seeds, lean poultry and meat
- Drink more water
- Plan ahead to make better food choices, cook and eat more at home
- Limit sodium and trans fats, limit processed foods
- Reduce portions of high calorie foods
“A healthy, balanced diet is part of a long-term health maintenance plan, which includes staying close to your ideal body weight through regular physical activity at work and leisure,” adds Dr. Robert Johnson, an Advocate Heart Institute cardiologist at Advocate Condell Medical Center. “This becomes particularly important as we age, because our basal calorie requirement declines.”
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