“In 1972, a British scientist (John Yudkin) sounded the alarm that sugar – and not fat – was the greatest danger to our health. But his findings were ridiculed and his reputation ruined. How did the world’s top nutrition scientists get it so wrong for so long?”
“When Yudkin was conducting his research into the effects of sugar, in the 1960s, a new nutritional orthodoxy was in the process of asserting itself. Its central tenet was that a healthy diet is a low-fat diet. Yudkin led a diminishing band of dissenters who believed that sugar, not fat, was the more likely cause of maladies such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. But by the time he wrote his book, the commanding heights of the field had been seized by proponents of the fat hypothesis. Yudkin found himself fighting a rearguard action, and he was defeated. Not just defeated, in fact, but buried.”
“In 1980, after long consultation with some of America’s most senior nutrition scientists, the US government issued its first Dietary Guidelines. The guidelines shaped the diets of hundreds of millions of people. Doctors base their advice on them, food companies develop products to comply with them. Their influence extends beyond the US. In 1983, the UK government issued advice that closely followed the American example.”
“The most prominent recommendation of both governments was to cut back on saturated fats and cholesterol (this was the first time that the public had been advised to eat less of something, rather than enough of everything). Consumers dutifully obeyed. We replaced steak and sausages with pasta and rice, butter with margarine and vegetable oils, eggs with muesli, and milk with low-fat milk or orange juice. But instead of becoming healthier, we grew fatter and sicker.”
“When Yudkin looked at the data on heart disease, he was struck by its correlation with the consumption of sugar, not fat. He carried out a series of laboratory experiments on animals and humans, and observed, as others had before him, that sugar is processed in the liver, where it turns to fat, before entering the bloodstream.”
“In a series of densely argued articles and books, including Why We Get Fat (2010), the science writer Gary Taubes has assembled a critique of contemporary nutrition science, powerful enough to compel the field to listen. One of his contributions has been to uncover a body of research conducted by German and Austrian scientists before the second world war, which had been overlooked by the Americans who reinvented the field in the 1950s. The Europeans were practising physicians and experts in the metabolic system. The Americans were more likely to be epidemiologists, labouring in relative ignorance of biochemistry and endocrinology (the study of hormones). This led to some of the foundational mistakes of modern nutrition.”
“The rise and slow fall of cholesterol’s infamy is a case in point. After it was discovered inside the arteries of men who had suffered heart attacks, public health officials, advised by scientists, put eggs, whose yolks are rich in cholesterol, on the danger list. But it is a biological error to confuse what a person puts in their mouth with what it becomes after it is swallowed. The human body, far from being a passive vessel for whatever we choose to fill it with, is a busy chemical plant, transforming and redistributing the energy it receives. Its governing principle is homeostasis, or the maintenance of energy equilibrium (when exercise heats us up, sweat cools us down). Cholesterol, present in all of our cells, is created by the liver. Biochemists had long known that the more cholesterol you eat, the less your liver produces.”
The full article is a must-read.