For decades, we considered saturated fat and cholesterol to be the demons in our diets when it came to heart disease. It was the message consistently presented by the American Heart Association (they still recommend limiting saturated fat). And it’s what the science pointed us to believe: cut down on saturated fat because it’s linked to an increased risk of heart disease. So what did we do? Replaced bacon with muffins, chose sugary cereals over buttered toast and eggs, and almost always went for the low-fat option—which usually meant more sugar in our diets.

But according to a new report published this week in JAMA Internal Medicine the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF) may have helped cover up links between sugar and heart disease in the 1960s. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) found letters between the SRF and prominent nutrition researchers. In 1965, the SRF paid research scientists Mark Hegsted and Robert McGandy the equivalent of $48,900 in today’s dollars to write a review of papers that found sugar to be detrimental, letting the researchers know their objectives and interests were to make sure that sugar looked more favorable than fat in the diet. This took place in an era before scientists had to disclose conflicts of interest or affiliations at the time of publication, like they must do now. The review they published in the New England Journal of Medicine, in 1967, recommended decreasing dietary cholesterol and saturated fat to help prevent heart disease. Despite reviewing research on sugar and increased risk of heart disease, they did not recommend cutting down on sugar for a healthier heart.

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Photo by Kevin Doncaster

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