Study details sugar industry attempt to shape science

Granulated sugar is poured in Philadelphia, Monday, Sept. 12, 2016. A new study released Monday details how the sugar industry worked to downplay emerging science linking sugar and heart disease. It's the latest installment of an ongoing project by a former dentist to reveal the industry's decades-long attempt to influence science. The Sugar Association said it questions the author's attempt to play into current anti-sugar sentiment. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

This last weekend, my dad had a heart attack.

To say that it was a surprise was the understatement of the century. He’s older, yes, but he has lived a relatively healthy, albeit stressful life.

He spent the weekend in the hospital and ended up with a quintuple bypass on Monday. So, needless to say, I spent the weekend going down the rabbit hole of research into heart disease. Let me tell you, while it’s the most common disease, the research on what contributes to heart disease has changed over the years. Lets look at a few of the changes.

Margarine is better for you than butter

Myth. For starters, margarine isn’t even a real food. It’s a science experiment that you can eat. Margarine is a solid trans-fat. Trans fats lead to heart disease. Butter on the other hand, is way better for you. A recent study looked at more than 650,000 people and found that butter was found to have a small or neutral association with heart disease. This is not to say that you can throw all caution to the wind and eat butter by the stick, of course. It is just to say that you should eat real foods. Not science experiments.

Salt can cause heart problems

True. While I’m always hesitant to say that correlation equals causation, there are numerous studies that link high amounts of sodium to high blood pressure and heart disease. With that being said, there are studies that also link too low of sodium intake to heart disease. Bottom line, if you have high blood pressure, you should put down your salt shaker once in a while and eat some non-processed foods. Side story, my grandfather loved salt so much that he used nails to make the holes in his salt shaker bigger.

Eating low-fat, high-carb is good for you

Myth. In the late ’70s, all of the ’80s and some of the ’90s, leading health authorities told people to eat this way. If you look at the obesity trend, you will notice that it started to climb around this timeframe. However, science over the last decade has debunked this idea.

The Womens Health Initiative study, which studied more than 48,000 women over seven and a half years, found that the low-fat eaters weighed only half a pound less after all that time, but their numbers of heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and obesity skyrocketed. One big issue is that when you take the fat out of foods to make them low-fat, it gets replaced with sugar. Lets look at sugar more closely.

Sugar has nothing to do with heart disease

Myth. When fats are replaced like in low-fat foods with refined carbohydrates and added sugars, the end result is not good for your heart. This replacement leads to changes in bad cholesterol, which may increase the risk of heart disease. A diet high in sugar can cause a threefold increase in the risk of death from heart disease. Other scary things that diets high in sugar may do include elevating your levels of glucose, insulin and uric acid — which leads to gout — impairs your glucose tolerance; gives you insulin and leptin resistance; gives you non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and it can alter your platelet function.

Researchers now know that sugar plays a bigger role in heart disease than saturated fats do. If you are trying to lower your sugars, it is really recommended that you stay away from ultra-processed sweetened food and beverages. Yes, I said beverages. There’s also more than one study about diet drinks, but I’ll save that rant for another article.

Bottom line

While the research into heart disease has changed over the years, the idea to eat better and healthier has not. Use the old phrase “only eat foods you can hunt, gather, pick or grow” as a jumping off point to better health. Evaluate your current eating habits and see which foods or food groups you are eating in excess, and which you aren’t eating at all. Switch back to butter, eat real fat, limit your sugar and salt intake, and for the love of all things holy, slow down on the soda.

Dr. Merilee Larsen is a professor of public and community health at Utah Valley University.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!