The recent revelation that Harvard scientists were paid off to downplay sugar’s harms in the 1960s shows how the food industry shockingly manipulated nutrition science for decades. Yet the news media has given the sugar industry too much credit. The real story about how sugar got a pass — while dietary fat and cholesterol were blamed for heart disease — reveals that other industries played a role, as did, surprisingly, many of the country’s leading scientists.
All the “carbohydrate industries” profited from the demonization of fat, exactly as anticipated. Consumption of flour and cereal products increased by 41%, including a 183% increase in products from corn. Overall, as Americans cut their consumption of fat by 25% from 1965 to 2011, they increased carbohydrate intake by more than 30%.
Americans were told to eat and cook with products made from unsaturated vegetable oils, including Crisco and margarine. Consumption of vegetable oils, which were invented in the early 1900s, exploded during the 20th century. During the same decades that sweeteners increased by 19%, vegetable oil consumption rocketed up 91%.
The vegetable oil industry also used a variety of “Big Tobacco”-style tactics to influence the science. Wesson oil invested in scientists via its Wesson Fund for Medical Research, including donations to Chicago cardiologist Jeremiah Stamler, who authored that first AHA guideline condemning saturated fats. Stamler also benefited from the largesse of the Corn Products Co., which published a version of Stamler’s pro-vegetable-oils diet book bound in red leather (and including pages of advertisements for corn oil at the back) handed out by the thousands to doctors. The Corn Products Co., along with vegetable oil giant Anderson, Clayton & Co., also donated their products to researchers at the National Institutes of Health to be studied for potential health benefits.
There has been a lot of bad science in the field of nutrition — and many “Big Tobaccos.”