How the Sugar Industry Blocks Health Research: A Thirty Year Scandal

The Case Against Sugar

Gary Taubes (2017)

Taubes is an investigative journalist whose main focus is the deplorable state of public health research in the US.

During the 1990s, Taubes cut his teeth debunking the shoddy studies leading to public health recommendations that salt in the diet leads to high blood pressure and heart disease (which turn out to be totally groundless). He followed this with a series of exposes on the biased studies erroneously linking saturated (animal) fat to obesity, heart disease and cancer. These studies, and the infamous “low fat diet” western doctors have been pushing for nearly fifty years have been a major culprit in our current global epidemic of obesity, diabetes, cancer and tooth decay (see The Role of Western Medicine in the Epidemic of Obesity, Diabetes, Heart Disease and Tooth Decay).

His most recent book, The Case Against Sugar, focuses on a successful 30-year effort by the sugar industry to shut down independent research into sugar as a major causative agent in these chronic illnesses.

He maintains a big part of the problem was the demise of German and Austrian research into obesity after World War II. This European research, informed by the developing fields of genetics, metabolism and endocrinology, supported a hormonal regulatory defect as the primary cause of obesity. Lacking this background in genetics, metabolism and endocrinology, US researchers were blinded by their puritanical bias that lack of willpower causes obesity. With the discovery of metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance (both aggravated by high sugar and carbohydrate diets), it turns out the European researchers had it right all along

For me, the most interesting part of this talk is Taubes’ discussion of sugar’s role as an addictive drug. I had no idea the tobacco industry began adding sugar to their cigarettes in 1954 to make them more addictive. I also like the point he makes about sugar, along with rum, chocolate and tobacco, being important New World discoveries to cheaply dull the pain of oppressed workers under industrial capitalism.

The Care and Feeding of Gut Bacteria

diet myth

The Diet Myth: The Real Science Behind What We Eat

by Tim Spector

Weidenfeld and Nicholson (2015)

Book Review

The Diet Myth is all about looking after our intestinal bacteria – which are ultimately responsible for the proper functioning of our digestive, immune, endocrine and nervous system. As Professor Tim Spector explains, all mammals co-evolved over millions of years with the bacteria that inhabit their intestines. Because these bacteria produce a number of vital biochemicals that our bodies are genetically incapable of producing, without them the species homo sapiens would not exist. This relatively recent discovery has led many scientists to classify the microbiome (the collective name given to gut bacteria) as a vital organ like the brain, liver or kidneys.

Civilization hasn’t been kind to our intestinal bacteria. For various reasons (overuse of antibiotics, processed foods and pesticides like Roundup), urban life has caused us to lose half of the septillions of gut bacteria we started out with. Nearly all the chronic illnesses that plague modern society (obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, autoimmune disease, depression, autism, schizophrenia and possibly drug addiction and alcoholism) can be traced to loss or malfunction of intestinal bacteria.

For this book, Spector has chosen to focus on dietary research into foods that improve the health and diversity of our remaining gut bacteria. He blames the myriad of contradictory diet fads on the reality that each human being has their own distinct collection of bacteria. This means the foods that keep them healthy depend on the preferences of their particular bacteria.

Fortunately he’s able to make a few general recommendations that seem to apply to most people.

According to Spector, people with the most diverse profile of gut bacteria are the healthiest. The best way to promote this diversity is through a diverse fiber-rich diet that includes:

  • At least 20 different food types per week
  • A daily serving of 5 vegetables and 2 fruits
  • Daily servings of probiotic foods (fermented foods, such as yogurt, sauerkraut and miso, raw milk and unpasteurized cheeses) that contain beneficial bacteria.*
  • Daily servings of prebiotic foods rich in polyphenols that gut bacteria love**
  • A strict limitation on red meat,*** sugar, refined carbohydrates, transfats (hydrogenated fats found in vegetable oils, margarine and Crisco) and processed foods

Research also indicates that lifestyle factors such as exercise (athletes have the most diverse microbiomes) also promote bacterial diversity (and good health). As does episodic fasting.****


*These mainly provide different strains of lactobacillus and bifidobacteria that crowd out harmful inflammatory gut bacteria.

**Foods rich in polyphenols include dark chocolate, coffee, green tea, turmeric, red wine, onions, garlic, (uncooked) extra-virgin olive oil, roasted nuts, Jerusalem artichokes, chicory root, leeks, asparagus, broccoli, bananas, wheat bran and fermented fruits and vegetables.

***Citing numerous studies, Spector totally debunks the claim that red meat is harmful due to its fat content. He maintains the risk associated with red meat is the conversion (by gut microbes) of L-carnitine to trimethylamine oxide, which causes plaque build-up in arteries (in Europeans – this effect appears to be absent in other ethnic groups). He recommends that Europeans limit their intake of red meat to ½ serving or less per day. Those who eat more than this have a 10% increase in mortality. Those who eat one daily serving or more of processed meat (sausages, ham, salami, etc) have a 40% increase in mortality.

****When people fast, a gut organism caused Akkermansia cleans up gut inflammation by feeding off the intestinal lining. Research reveals specific benefit from the 5/2 diet in which people fast two days a week and eat normally the other five.

Big Sugar, Inc

Big Sugar: Sweet, White and Deadly

Brian McKenna (2005)

Film Review

Big Sugar is about the sugar lobby and how they use their wealth and power to prevent the World Health Organization (WHO) and other regulatory agencies from dispensing accurate information about the link between high sugar intake and obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

This Canadian documentary is divided into two parts. Part I deals with the links between sugar and slavery and the modern sugar barons have replaced the slaveholders who effectively controlled British foreign and domestic policy for 200 years. Part II is about the global obesity epidemic and efforts by WHO in 2005 to issue guidelines limiting daily sugar intake to 10% of total calories. The powerful sugar lobby defeated this initiative by employing many of the same techniques as the tobacco industry (and the climate denial industry). After attacking the science linking high sugar intake and obesity, they attacked the scientists themselves as biased fanatics. They then got them fired, demoted, and/or transferred. Under pressure from Big Sugar, both Bush administrations threatened to withhold the funding they owed WHO, and the pesky nutritionists who sought to warn people about the dangers of sugar magically vanished.

The documentary focuses on two of the most prominent slave holding families, as well a Canadian woman of African descent whose ancestors were owned by the Church of England and worked on a plantation in Barbados. The filmmakers liken these historical paragons to a modern day Cuban exile family in Florida called the Fanjuls. The latter donate generously to both major parties to make sure the US government continues to subsidize sugar production. The Fanjuls and other Florida sugar barons reap $1.5 billion in subsidies for $3.1 million in campaign contributions.

In addition to exposing the ecological devastation sugar cultivation has caused in the Florida Everglades, the filmmakers also visit the Fanjuls’ sugar plantations in the Dominican Republic. Despite the official abolition of slavery, working conditions on Dominican sugar plantations remain virtually unchanged. The Fanjuls lure Haitian immigrants across the border with a promise of paying work. Once their passports are confiscated, they become virtual slaves. Workers, who are paid $2 for a twelve hour day, experience chronic hunger and malnutrition. Forbidden to grow their own vegetables, they’re forced to rely on a company store that charges them three times the normal price for food. They have no access to medical care, and child labor is rife.

Food Inc

Food Inc

Directed by Robert Kenner (2008)

Film Review

Food Inc is a 2008 classic only recently available for free on-line screening. Featuring investigative journalist Eric Schlosser and food activist Michael Pollan, it’s the first and (in my view) the best expose of factory farming.

This film mainly focuses on the deplorable disease-inducing conditions of battery chicken houses and industrial feedlots and slaughterhouses. However it also draws attention to the current epidemic of food borne illness, diabetes and heart disease; the corporate capture of regulatory agencies meant to protect us; the federal subsidies that make junk food cheaper than fresh fruits and vegetables; Monsanto’s vicious treatment of farmers who choose not to grow GMO crops and the food disparagement and anti-labeling laws meant to keep consumer sin the dark about where their food comes from.

Most importantly this documentary questions whether the “cheap” food produced by industrial farming is really so cheap when you add in the health costs (especially of chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease)

The cinematography captures horrific scenes of factory chicken houses where chickens live on top of each other in total darkness and feed lots in which cows spend their whole life knee-deep in manure. The latter cakes their hides and inevitably contaminates carcasses at the slaughterhouse.

The films draws interesting parallels between the abysmal treatment of animals and workers in the industrial food chain. Food executives argue that animal suffering is inconsequential because they’ll all be dead soon. They also regard immigrant workers as expendable because there are so many of them.

The filmmakers catch meat processors deliberately recruiting illegal laborers in Mexican villages devastated by the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA). Employers are never prosecuted for these activities. Only immigrant workers are targeted.

https://vimeo.com/29575879

The Role of Western Medicine in the Epidemic of Obesity, Diabetes and Heart Disease

Carb Loaded: A Culture Dying to Eat

Directed by Lathe Poland (2014)

Film Review

Carb Loaded follows the personal journey of a 40 something male (one of the filmmakers) who suddenly develops type II diabetes, despite being physically fit and follow a “heart healthy” diet. What he discovers is that the low fat, high carbohydrate promoted for fifty years by Food Inc, the USDA, and the American Dietetic Association is responsible for a global epidemic of diabetes, obesity, heart disease and most likely Alzheimer’s Disease.

The Food Pyramid was an Experiment and Americans the Guinea Pigs

The documentary begins by tracing the history of the “food pyramid,” which the FDA and corporate cronies foisted on the unsuspecting American public in 1977 – without a single clinical trial supporting its safety and effectiveness. With the adoption of the “food pyramid,” doctors and dietitians induced hundreds of millions of patients to drastically reduce their intake of protein and fat and to increase foods previously associated with weight gain (bread, pasta, potatoes, high carb snacks, etc). in other words it was a vast experiment and Americans – and citizens of other industrialized nations – were the guinea pigs.

Statistically the prevalence of diabetes, obesity heart disease and Alzheimer’s began to take off in the late seventies, the widespread adoption of the low fat, high carbohydrate diet. Over the last decade the researchers have identified the mechanisms by which a high carbohydrate diet causes these conditions.

A high carb diet causes diabetes by triggering excessive insulin production, which over time leads to insulin resistance, a physiological condition in which cells fail to respond to insulin, leading to higher blood sugar levels.

It causes obesity by reducing brain sensitivity to leptin, a hormone produced by fat cells that notifies the brain when we’re full.

It causes heart disease mainly by triggering an inflammatory response in our blood vessels that increases cholesterol production. Contrary to popular belief (driven by relentless corporate marketing), most cholesterol is produced by the body in response to inflammation and is totally unrelated to diet.

Alzheimer’s: Type III Diabetes

Most ominous of all, high carbohydrate diets can cause the accumulation of “glycated”* proteins in the brain. These are linked to the development of Alzheimer’s Disease, which doctors and researchers have begun referring to as Type III diabetes.

The film goes on to explore numerous lifestyle changes which have led many residents of the industrialized world to cook less and rely more on cheap, carbohydrate-rich fast foods. It also explodes the myth that fast food is cheap, with a recent study that the average American spends $3,000 a year on fast food and $8,000 on doctors visits for medical problems caused by fast foods.

Potential Solutions

The filmmakers finish by reviewing a range of possible solutions at the government, community and individual level. High on the list of policy changes are an end to the US corn subsidy (responsible for the ubiquitous presence of damaging high fructose corn syrup in most processed foods) and a tax on sugary beverages similar to those enacted by Mexico, Denmark, Hungary and France.

On a community level, they talk about what activists can do to eradicate food deserts and increase the availability of fresh, unprocessed food.

On a personal level, they explore the importance of understanding the addictive effect of sugar and specific behavioral changes people can make to gradually wean themselves and, most importantly, their children off sugar and other refined carbohydrates.

 

Western Medicine: Still Stuck in the 20th Century

Origins

well.org (2014)

Film Review

In brief, Origins is a film about saving the planet by improving your diet and lifestyle. The filmmakers assert that a healthier diet will enable people to think more clearly about the imminent crises confronting civilization. While I totally disagree with the premise – I don’t believe real change is possible without confronting corporate corruption and growing inequality – I liked the film. It offers the clearest explanation yet of the fundamental role of the microbiome* in human health and the rhizophere** in plant health.

Western medicine, as currently practiced, has become totally obsolete owing to its inability to view the human body as a holistic integrated unit. The end result is that roughly half of us are in really poor health. While I disagree with the premise of the film, I’m willing to concede that many of us aren’t healthy or fit enough to tackle major social or political change.

A secondary premise of the film is that we need to fundamentally rethink the way we use technology – mainly because we’re systematically poisoning ourselves through air pollution and toxic endocrine disruptors that mimic estrogen in our bodies. This heavy estrogen effect is a major factor in an epidemic of breast, prostate and other cancers, as well as infertility, obesity and anxiety/depression.

My favorite part of the documentary concerns the microbiome, which turns out to be primary source of our immunity. Owing to the overuse of antibiotics in medicine and agriculture (in livestock feed), most of us have experienced a mass extinction of our intestinal bacteria. This, in turn, plays an even bigger role than toxic chemicals in diseases triggered by inflammation, such as obesity, cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and autoimmune illnesses.

Origins goes on to stress the importance of vaginal birth and breast feeding in establishing a healthy microbiome in infants and the avoidance of antibiotics, antibiotic soaps and commercial household cleaners and toxic chemicals in keeping it that way. Letting kids play in the dirt is another important source of beneficial bacteria. As are are fermented foods and fresh (unprocessed) chemical free foods.

I was also pleased to see the filmmakers brutally debunk the low fat, high sugar, high carbohydrate diet*** Food Inc and western medicine have been trying to sell us for the last fifty years. This is the number one reason half of Americans suffer from “diabesity” (aka metabolic syndrome), even though many of them may not realize it yet.

To their credit, thousands of doctors (according to filmmakers) are taking their patients off GMO foods, resulting in rapid relief of allergies, chronic illnesses and infertility.

I was also pleased to see the comparison filmmakers make between the soil rhizosphere and the gut microbiome. While we’ve been destroying our intestinal bacteria with antibiotics, Food Inc has been systematically destroying essential soil bacteria with pesticides, herbicides and GMOs.

Citing a recent UN study, Origins explodes the myth that GMO technology is the only solution to world hunger. According to the UN, we could double current crop yields in ten years simply by switching to organic farming methods that restore the health and integrity of our soil.

Ignore the background music (I hate documentaries with soppy background music). It’s worth putting up with for the excellent section on diet.


* Microbiome, as defined in this film, refers to the millions of intestinal bacteria that are essential to healthy digestion and immunity.

** The rhizosphere is the narrow region of soil that is directly influenced by root secretions and associated soil microorganisms.

***For a great book summarizing the research that debunks the low fat diet, see Why the Low Fat Diet Makes You Fat and Gives You Heart Disease, Cancer and Tooth Decay

The Sugar Conspiracy

The Secrets of Sugar

By Fifth Estate (2014)

Film Review

The Secrets of Sugar is a Canadian documentary about the conspiracy by the sugar industry and processed food companies to conceal the damaging effects of sugar on human health. For decades, the medical establishment has led us to believe that our intake of animal fat is responsible for soaring rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. It turns out the real culprit all along is sugar (see The Big Fat Surprise).

Investigators have uncovered industry documents going back to the 1950s linking excess sugar intake with health problems. In 1972, researcher John Yudkin published the book Pure, White and Deadly about research linking sugar to heart disease. The response by the food industry was a vicious campaign to portray Yudkin as an incompetent quack. This, in turn, led to a thirty-year shutdown of institutional funding for research into sugar’s health effects.

For me, the film’s most shocking revelation was the immense amount of sugar hidden in so- called “healthy” processed foods, such as yoghurt, oatmeal, soup and Healthy Choice frozen dinners. In one segment, a former industry scientist nicknamed “Dr Bliss” explains the importance of the “bliss point,” the quantity of added sugar that makes you crave a particular product.

A close look at product labels suggests they are designed to confuse consumers about the actual sugar content of foods. Meanwhile like the tobacco industry, Food Inc spends billions of dollars lobbying against government (and UN) recommendations for a maximum daily sugar intake and clearer food labeling laws.

For years, doctors and dieticians have been telling us that sugar is bad because of all the “empty” calories. New research indicates sugar acts as a poison, inflicting direct damage on the liver and brain via its impact on insulin production. In addition to studies implicating high sugar intake in obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer, others point to its role in the development of Alzheimer’s Disease and polycystic ovarian disease.

Industry scientists interviewed in the film manifest the same “blame the victim” mentality as the tobacco industry. They maintain the responsibility lies with the consumer to choose whether to eat sugar – or to smoke. The filmmakers counter that healthy choices are impossible without good information.

The film follows an obese couple over three weeks, who achieve significant weight loss, as well as reductions in cholesterol and triglycerides, simply by eliminating all processed foods from their diet.

Also posted in Veterans Today

Why the Low Fat Diet Makes You Fat (and Gives You Heart Disease, Cancer and Tooth Decay)

The Big Fat Surprise

The Truth About Animal Fat: What the Research Shows

The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet lays out the scientific case why our bodies are healthiest on a diet rich in saturated fat from animal products. Analyzing study after study, Nina Teicholz leaves no doubt that the number one cause of the global epidemic of obesity, diabetes and heart disease is the low fat high carbohydrate diet doctors have been pushing for fifty years.

Blaming the Victim

My initial reaction on learning how the low fat diet became official government policy was to feel ripped off and angry. For decades, the medical establishment has been blaming fat people for being obese, portraying them as weak willed and lacking in self control. It turns out the blame lay squarely with their doctors, the American Heart Association (AHA), the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Congress and the food manufacturers who fund the AHA (Proctor and Gamble, Nabisco, General Foods, Heinz, Quaker Oats and Corn Products Refining Corporation) for foisting a diet on them that increases appetite and weight gain.

The law fat diet is based on a “theory” put forward in the 1950s that heart disease was caused by elevated cholesterol levels – and a few deeply flawed epidemiological studies. In other words, the low fat diet is a giant human experiment the medical profession conducted on the American public while attempting to prove that saturated animal fats cause heart disease. Fifty years of research would show the exact opposite: not only do low fat high carbohydrate diets increase the risk of cardiac death, but they’re also responsible for a myriad of other health problems, with obesity and diabetes being the most problematic.

The studies Teicholz cites also debunk the myth that animal fat increases the risk of breast and colon cancer.

Heart Attacks Rare Prior to 1900

Coronary artery disease and heart attacks were virtually unknown prior to 1900. When Ancel Keys, the father of the low fat diet, began his anti-fat crusade in the 1950s he claimed that industrialization and an improved standard of living had caused Americans to switch from a plant based diet to a diet that was higher in animal fats. This was total rubbish. Prior to 1900, Americans had always eaten a meat-based diet, in part because wild game was much more plentiful in North America than in Europe. Early cookbooks and diaries reveal that even poor families had meat or fish with every meal. Even slaves had 150 pounds of red meet a year, which contrasts unfavorably with 40-70 pounds of red meat in the current American diet.

What changed in the twentieth century was the introduction of cheaper vegetable fats into the American diet, starting with margarine and Crisco in the early 1900s.

Keys was also responsible for the theory, again without research evidence, that high cholesterol levels cause heart disease. This was also rubbish. Fifty years of research negates any link between either total cholesterol or LDL* cholesterol and heart disease. In study after study the only clear predictor of heart disease (in study after study) is reduced HDL. The same studies show that diets high in animal fats increase HDL, while those high in sugar, carbohydrates and vegetable oils reduce HDL.

Teicholz also discusses the role of statins (cholesterol lowering drugs) in this context. Statins do reduce coronary deaths, but this is due to their anti-inflammatory effect – not because of their effect on cholesterol.

Researchers Silenced and Sidelined

For decades, researchers whose findings linked low fat diets with higher rates of heart disease, cancer, stroke and tooth decay were systematically silenced and sidelined. As frequently happens with doctors scientists who challenge the powerful health industry, their grants were cut off and, in some cases, their careers destroyed.

For fifty years, the medical establishment simply ignored the growing body of research linking the high sugar/carbohydrate component of the low fat diet to heart disease, as well as those linking vegetable oils to cancer. Vegetable oils oxidize when cooked, leading to the production of cancer causing compounds such as aldehyde, formaldehyde and 4-hydroxnonene (HCN). Unsurprisingly diets in which vegetable oils (other than olive oil) are the primary fat are linked with an increased incidence of cancer. Several studies overseas have found high levels of respiratory cancer in fast food workers exposed to superheated vegetable oils.

The Atkins Diet

The Big Fat Surprise includes a long section on the Atkins diet, a popular high fat/protein low carbohydrate weight reduction diet in the 70s and 80s. The use of a high fat low carbohydrate diet for weight loss dates back to 1862 and was heavily promoted by Sir William Osler in his 1892 textbook of medicine. According to Teicholz, recent controlled studies totally vindicate Dr Robert C Atkins, who was ridiculed as a dangerous quack during his lifetime. They also debunk claims that high levels of protein in the Atkins diet cause kidney damage. In addition to being perfectly safe, controlled studies show it to be extremely effective for weight loss and treating diabetes.

The USDA and AHA Quietly Reverse Themselves

As Teicholz points out in her conclusion, the nutrition researchers who blindly pursued their anti-fat campaign – and politicians and corporate funders who supported them – have done Americans an immense disservice by creating a virtual epidemic of obesity and diabetes.

A few years ago, the tide began to turn, largely due to the 29,000 subject Women’s Health Initiative launched in 1993. In 2013, the USDA and AHA quietly eliminated fat targets from the dietary recommendations. Because they made no real effort to publicize their change of heart, many doctors are still giving their patients the wrong dietary advice and hounding them about their cholesterol levels.

Dump the Skim Milk

The take home lesson from this book is that it’s virtually impossible to eat too many eggs or too much red meat, cheese, sausage and bacon. Americans (and their overseas English-speaking cousins) need to dump the skim milk and margarine down the sink because whole milk and butter are better for you. People need to go back to cooking with lard, bacon drippings and butter. Cooking with vegetable oils can give you cancer.

Anyone with a weight problem needs to totally eliminate sugar and carbohydrate (the Atkins diet recommends less than half a slice of bread a day).

And if your doctor hassles you about your cholesterol tell him or her to read this book.


*LDL (low density lipoprotein) is referred to as “bad cholesterol” due to its alleged link to heart disease. HDL (high density lipoprotein) or “good cholesterol” appears to provide some protective effect against heart disease.

Also published at Veterans Today