We have been warned not to take so much fat- and cholesterol-rich food since young, traumatized by the names of heart attack, clogged arteries, obesity. Curiously the same sentiment does not exist for another staple in life – sugar. Why is it so? Is sugar really less dangerous to human health?
Of course, the science of dietary is not straightforward – it’s a discipline of investigating the nutrition with a heavy dash of human judgement, heavily sprinkled with a condiment called “money”.
A study revealed today that sugar industry, headed by a council called Sugar Research Foundation (SRF, now Sugar Association), bought off scientists to skew the research results and promoted the intake of sugar in United States back in 1960s. SRF enlisted a Harvard professor, Fredrick Stare, then chair of Harvard’s Nutrition Department, to be one of the advisers. Together with his colleagues, Stare published a literature review that emphasized the risk of fat in causing chronic heart disease and downplayed the role of sugar. One of the colleagues, D. Mark Hegsted, became the head of nutrition of Department of Agriculture.
Since then, the dietary guidelines had been focusing on the health risks of fats and encouraging a low-fat, high-sugar diet, which is ironically viewed as a main driver of the obesity among the teenagers and young adults.
It also reminds us that science is a very human subject – it is subject to our perception, judgement and most importantly, conscience. Look at the cases of leaded gasoline in 1960s, and climate change skeptics and creationists nowadays, and we could see what it really takes to do good science.