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Did the Sugar Industry Downplay Research on Coronary Heart Disease Study?

Did the Sugar Industry Downplay Research on Coronary Heart Disease Study?



I know we have all experienced the frustrations about what foods to eat and what to avoid. It seems the recommendations constantly change.  We are not only exposed to this type of bias in research, but experience confusion when it comes to food growth (GMO, organic), preparation (microwave, grilling), and food labeling for example. Not to mention whether to follow a vegan, vegetarian, paleo, or mediterranean diet, just to name a few.

In the case of CHD prevention, the science tells us the closer we stick to unprocessed, wholesome foods, the better our chances.  For instance, sugar in fruits is healthy, refined sugar is not.  Fat from sources like avocado and nuts are healthy, trans fats and hydrogenated oils are unhealthy.

We have enough strong evidence to know refined sugar increases triglycerides, causes insulin resistance and causes inflammation.  The same applies to processed fats.

If you want to prevent CHD, avoid refined sugar, trans fats and hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup and make the bulk of your diet consist of wholesome fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.  I am confident if you follow this approach you will not have to be overly concerned about what the next study says.

Wishing you good health!

Mike Woodley, R.Ph, FAARM, FMNM


A JAMA article released this week indicates that a research project sponsored in 1965 by the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF) downplayed the role of sugar in Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) and singled out fat and cholesterol as the dietary causes of CHD.  The article states the study downplayed evidence that sucrose consumption was also a risk factor.  Additionally, the SRF set the review’s objective, contributed articles for inclusion, and received drafts.  According to the review, “Together with other recent analyses of sugar industry documents, our findings suggest the industry sponsored a research program in the 1960s and 1970s that successfully cast doubt about the hazards of sucrose while promoting fat as the dietary culprit in CHD.” 1 According to the report, The SRF asked researchers at Harvard University to perform a review of dietary determinants of heart disease.  In the review, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1967, the SRF’s funding and role in the review were not disclosed. 2,3

“In the review, the Harvard authors really downplayed the evidence linking sugar and triglycerides and heart disease and emphasized the evidence linking fat intake with heart disease,” Dr. Glantz said, “Now, having a high-fat diet is bad for you in terms of heart disease, but the thing that was quite striking in the review these people from Harvard wrote was that all of the evidence linking sugar and triglycerides and heart disease was really discounted and downplayed no matter how good it was, and the evidence linking fat with heart disease was extolled no matter how bad it was.”

Industry-sponsored nutrition research, like that of research sponsored by the tobacco, chemical, and pharmaceutical industries, almost invariably produces results that confirm the benefits or lack of harm of the sponsor’s products, even when independently sponsored research comes to opposite conclusions.4  Although considerable evidence demonstrates that those industries deliberately influenced the design, results, and interpretation of the studies they paid for, much less is known about the influence of food-company sponsorship on nutrition research. Typically, the disclosure statements of sponsored nutrition studies state that the funder had no role in their design, conduct, interpretation, writing, or publication. Without a “smoking gun” it is difficult to prove otherwise.


1 Kearns C, Schmidt LA, Glantz SA. Sugar industry and coronary heart disease research: A historical analysis of internal industry documents. JAMA Intern Med. 2016. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.5394.
2 McGandy RB, Hegsted DM, Stare FJ. Dietary fats, carbohydrates and atherosclerotic vascular disease. N Engl J Med. 1967;277(4):186-192. doi:10.1056/NEJM196707272770405.
3 McGandy RB, Hegsted DM, Stare FJ. Dietary fats, carbohydrates and atherosclerotic vascular disease. N Engl J Med. 1967;277(5):242-247. doi:10.1056/NEJM196708032770505.
4 Nestle M. Corporate funding of food and nutrition research: science or marketing? JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(1):13-14.
5 White J, Bero LA. Corporate manipulation of research: strategies are similar across five industries. Stanford Law Pol Rev. 2010;21(1):105-134.

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