The food and beverage industry hid truths about the ill-effects of consuming sugar for more than 60 years, according to a research paper by PLOS Biology.
This “manipulation of data” by Sugar Research Foundation (SRF), now known as International Sugar Research Foundation (ISRF), a trade association in the United States, delayed the research in the treatment of negative health impacts of sucrose.
“In 1970, SRF withheld information from the public that the microbiome may be an important contributing factor to sucrose-induced hypertriglyceridemia and that sucrose consumption, compared to starch, might be associated with bladder cancer,” says the paper.
Sugar lobbyists have consistently denied that sucrose has any metabolic effects related to chronic disease beyond its caloric effects.
In 2016, the Sugar Association, a United States sucrose industry trade association, which has tied with ISRF, criticised findings from a study published in Cancer Research which suggested that dietary sugar induces increased tumour growth and metastasis when compared to a non-sugar starch diet. The Sugar Association stated that “no credible link between ingested sugars and cancer has been established.”
The paper says ISRF was aware of peer-reviewed published animal evidence suggesting a role of intestinal microbiota in the differential effects of sucrose and starch on blood lipids (fatty acids and cholesterol).
However, the study termed as “Project 259” had its funds terminated by ISRF before it could be completed.
This incidental finding of Project 259 demonstrated to SRF that sucrose versus starch consumption caused different metabolic effects and suggested that sucrose, by stimulating urinary beta-glucuronidase, may have a role in the pathogenesis of bladder cancer, the report says.
Based on ISRF’s interpretation of preliminary results, extending Project 259’s funding would have been unfavourable to the sugar industry’s commercial interests.
“The study in question ended for three reasons, none of which involved potential research findings,” said Sugar Association, a trade group based in Washington, D.C. that has organizational ties to the Sugar Research Foundation, in a statement.
In addition, publication of results suggesting an association between sucrose consumption and bladder cancer would likely have had further adverse regulatory implications to the sugar industry, the paper says. As of 1958, the US Food Additives Amendment stated that any food found to cause cancer when ingested by animals was grounds for removal from the Food and Drug Administration’s list of foods generally recognized as safe (GRAS), it continued.
The paper informs that the negative health effects of sugar – cancer, coronary heart disease, addiction akin to drug addiction – could have been studied and solutions found had the sugar industry not veiled facts.
Last year, The Logical Indian reported here that the sugar industry paid scientists in the 1960s to downplay the link between sugar and heart disease and promoted saturated fat as the culprit instead.
The Sugar Association paid three Harvard scientists the equivalent of US$50,000 (< Rs 30 lakh) in today’s dollars to publish a 1967 review of sugar, fat and heart research though the researchers never publicly disclosed that funding source, per a research by Dr. Cristin Kearns at the University of California.
That was an era when researchers were battling over which dietary culprit — sugar or fat — was contributing to the deaths of many Americans, especially men, from coronary heart disease, the buildup of plaque in arteries of the heart, a condition called atherosclerosis. Kearns said the papers, which the trade group later cited in pamphlets provided to policymakers, aided the industry’s plan to increase sugar’s market share by convincing Americans to eat a low-fat high-sugar diet.
“Science is not supposed to work this way,” she wrote in an accompanying commentary.
“Is it really true that food companies deliberately set out to manipulate research in their favour? Yes, it is, and the practice continues,” Nestle added, noting that Coca-Cola and candy makers have both tried recently to influence nutrition research.
Same as this year, Sugar Association maintained that it is being unfairly criticized.
The Logical Indian community urges consumers to practise strictness when it comes to consuming any food with sugar. Apart from heart diseases and cancer, excessive sugar intake also leads to obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Our health comes first and it is our responsibility to be more concerned about what we are consuming, all the while spreading awareness about the same.
Read the full PLOS Biology research paper here.