It’s not really about sugar or its money

He came home last night and asked, “So, what’d you think of the Sugar thing today?” Well, I didn’t think it was big news. I thought this—the act, as a whole, of industries shelling out a shit ton of money to shift the message— was something we had already accepted, with or without the “evidence” to show how, why, and exactly when it happened. Sadly, the truth behind the dark corners of the research world.

A piece in the New York Times, titled “How the Sugar Industry Shifted Blame to Fat“, outed ways in which the Sugar Research Foundation (now known as the Sugar Association) essentially funded and formed nutrition recommendations in the 60s and 70s*. Last year, Coca Cola published where their money goes, and that list was shocking. At least one of Michael Pollan’s books outlined the ways in which large food companies and industries have had their hand in nutrition policies. He notes the American paradox: “The more we worry about nutrition, the less healthy we seem to become.”

*If you prefer something other than the NYT’s take: “Sugar industry secretly paid for favorable Harvard research” on STAT 

Not great news!

Apparently financial disclosures in some medical journals weren’t required until the mid-1980s, so the Sugar Association basically says it’s OK that they did this in 1967 (and likely before that).

In any year, disclosure laws or not, we hold science to a higher standard. We want to trust it. In the years that followed the studies cited in that NYT piece, people had faith in the humanity of researchers dishing out these “new” nutritional guidelines to save us from heart disease and the like. I wasn’t alive at the time, but I certainly lived right through the fat-phobia era that ensued.

Harvard’s chairman of  the T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Dr. Walter Willet, notes: “…research should be supported by public funding rather than depending on industry funding.” Sure, sure. In a very ideal world we will have an increase in public funds for nutrition research. The not-so-great news is that in the current world, we don’t.

Good news!

The Sugar Association never managed to get sugar off of a nutrition facts label, or out of ingredient lists on packages. (A stretch, yes, but we gotta give ourselves thin layers of good news.) Did they try? I would guess yes, but I have no idea. If someone wants to dig into that, let’s do it.

The good news is that this article is only one of MANY that have taken down the fourth wall. It’s not the first; it won’t be the last. But we’re aware of it. People are talking about it. We know what’s happening. We are more cautious and conscious consumers. That’s progress! Progress after taking like eighty steps backward, yes, but progress nonetheless. Let’s take it.

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This is not to spark the 874th debate about whether sugar or fat is worse for our health. Don’t let this “news” lead you down that road.

It can always be simple

Pay attention to the types of fat (e.g. saturated, unsaturated, trans), and amount of added sugar in any given food. That matters. We should all do that!

Fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, etc.—the OG “whole” and “natural” foods—have a natural balance of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Eat more of those. (But you don’t have to JUST eat those.) Nature isn’t in it for the money or the headlines.

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