Light the Cigarette for the Boss

Is the Sugar Conspiracy Our Favorite Conspiracy Theory?

It’s the stuff of legend. Big sugar orchestrated a vast sugar conspiracy half a century ago. The industry foisted decades of flawed low-fat dietary guidance upon our nation – indeed all around the world. The theory holds that big sugar was out to blame fat for all our health woes. That was so that no one would notice how bad sugar is.

Stanton Glantz, a controversial public health professor, is churning out email analyses to advance this theory. Now in Science, David Johns and Gerald Oppenheimer are questioning the validity of that sugar conspiracy theory.

Distorting the Past to Serve a Cause

Johns and Oppenheimer say that in the case of the sugar conspiracy theory, the theorists are stretching an analogy to the tobacco industry way too thin. In the process, the theory distorts the past to serve a current cause. They warn us:

There is a serious danger in interpreting the inevitable twists and turns of research and policy as the product of malevolent playbooks and historical derailments. Like scientists, historians must focus on the evidence and follow the data where they lead.

Abundant Food Conspiracies

They Eat LardEvery council for every food commodity is conspiring to have us over consume their foodstuff. The Walnut Commision is telling us that its nuts are good for health. The dairy industry wants us to milk life. Pomegranate juice will give us invincible health. The American Egg Board is always conspiring to sell us the health benefits of the incredible edible egg. (Note that the Lard Board ads are spoofs.)

We are surrounded by food conspiracies. So it’s hardly news that the sugar industry might be promoting its own cause.

However, three decades of low-fat dietary advice did not happen in a vacuum. The egg board fought it. The dastardly meat industry fought it. But public health nutrition experts pushed it hard, based on epidemiology. In the 1980s, that science carried the day, even though the science was imperfect. Ideas compete for public support and sometimes flawed ideas win.

Right now, the idea that sugar is toxic and highly addictive is an over-hyped idea that’s winning public support. Fortunately, such faddish nutrition theories eventually fade.

Click here for the paper by Johns and Oppenheimer. Click here and here for a sampling of sugar conspiracy papers.

Light the Cigarette for the Boss, photograph by Giulio Magnifico, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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February 16, 2018

3 Responses to “Is the Sugar Conspiracy Our Favorite Conspiracy Theory?”

  1. February 16, 2018 at 9:18 am, Christina Frazier said:

    How strange you are so against the idea that sugar is bad for us. I really like your blog but this prejudice about sugar is probably more about you than really about helping others. I am happy sugar has been demonized and it is not a fad, why do you care? Sugar is not good for anyone and we all eat way too much. And the meat supply is dastardly. I appreciate you have a different opinion than most on some issues about obesity but our food supply and toxins in the environment are the main cause of obesity. If you are really interested in helping people you might consider that drugs and acceptance of metabolic disease are not the only answer.

    • February 16, 2018 at 9:45 am, Ted said:

      Thanks, Christina. You’re certainly right if you think that too much sugar is a bad thing.

      But I disagree with the hyperbolic assertions made by others that sugar is toxic and highly addictive. I have no doubt that an excess of sugar is bad for us. The same can be true for just about any nutrient in excess. Right now sugar fear is being hyped a little too much. Just like fat fear was hyped, beginning in the 1980s. That’s all.

  2. February 16, 2018 at 11:02 am, David Stone said:

    Thanks for your straight thinking about sugar; your response to Ms. Frazier is right on the money. What is also interesting about the current shift in black-and-white thinking employed by marketers (and which is so appealing to the public) is that fat has now been placed on the pedestal to replace carbs, and more ominously (imo) saturated fat has been forgiven and is now pushed hard in coconut oil, which has been characterized by marketers as a “health food”. So, will embracing dietary fat increase the incidence of obesity still further? Will the fatty acids in coconut oil long thought to be the most dangerous in promoting artery disease increase the incidence of heart disease and stroke? This may take some years to play out, but stay tuned…