Sugar industry blames saturated fat for heart disease

For decades we’ve been warned that saturated fat is the major culprit behind heart disease, leading to the food industry producing low-fat and fat free versions of many of our favorite foods. But an article published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the sugar industry attempted to downplay sugar’s role in heart disease and promote saturated fat intake as the problem instead.

The article is based on internal documents that show an industry group called the Sugar Research Foundation wanted to disprove concerns about sugar’s role in heart disease. The group paid researchers at Harvard to review a variety of studies and experiments, and the result was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1967. The Harvard researchers suggested there were major problems with all the studies that found concerns with sugar, and concluded that cutting fat out of American diets was the best way to prevent heart disease. For decades, Americans have been encouraged to reduce their fat intake, which led many people to consume low-fat, high-sugar foods.

The not-so-sweet truth about consuming too much sugar is that it can increase triglycerides in the blood, which may also help harden the arteries and thicken artery walls. This can drive up the risk of stroke and heart disease. Eating too much sugar can also put you at risk for developing insulin resistance and diabetes, and can contribute to weight gain. 

How much is too much? The American Heart Association recommends no more than six teaspoons, or about 25 grams, of added sugars per day for women, and nine teaspoons, or about 36 grams, for men. That’s less than the amount of sugar in one can of soda pop. On average, most Americans consume about 80 grams of sugar per day.

The findings from this article don’t necessarily give you the green light to load up on saturated fat. Both saturated fat and sugar have been linked to heart disease and other health issues. Trans fat should also be avoided. Instead, include sources of unsaturated fat in your diet such as olives, nuts, or seeds, which have been shown to decrease heart disease risk. 

The best way to prevent heart disease is to eat more whole, unprocessed foods. Remember that diet isn’t the only risk factor in heart disease. Your genes and lifestyle habits — like smoking, stress and exercise — also play a part.

About the author

Bradley Jones, MD
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Brad Jones, MD, is an internal medicine physician on the medical staff at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas.

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Sugar industry blames saturated fat for heart disease