The particular crusade of the dentist Cristin Kearns began in 2007, when he attended the conference of a guru named Steven G. Aldana, who affirmed that the consumption of sweet tea was very healthy. For a dentist, this statement was shocking. Our grandmothers used to tell us that sugar is not good for teeth, but Kearns already suspected, when working as a director of a dental clinic that catered to families with few re-courses, that the ravages of sugary drinks went much further and linked to chronic diseases like diabetes. When he approached Aldana to explain himself, the guru limited himself to answer: “There is no research that sustains that sugar causes chronic diseases”. That gave him so much to think that Kearns left his job and dived for fifteen months in an investigation to examine more than 1,500 internal documents from various sugar companies.
He found that the sugar lobby had sponsored research favorable to his interests and, what was more worrying, that he had hidden results that could jeopardize its benefits. On the one hand, the efforts were aimed at presenting sugar as an innocent nutrient and, on the other, they sought to publicize and intensify its consumption.
It was known, for example, the relationship of this product with caries and that a bacterium, Streptococcus mutans , was responsible for demineralizing the teeth, by taking advantage of residual glucose to make acid. The scientists financed by the sugar companies tried to develop a vaccine against this microorganism. It was more profitable to inoculate them to the little ones than to urge them to eat less sweet. The immunological preparation in monkeys was even tested with some success. But the matter did not prosper.
Increase in cholesterol and triglycerides
Then, Kearns came across another document, called Project 259 and sealed as confidential, which was in the file of the chemist Roger Adams, of the University of Illinois and former member of the advisory committee of the Foundation for Research on Sugar (SFR). There, the researches of the biochemist WFR Pover, from the University of Birmingham, paid for by the foundation between 1968 and 1969, were detailed. When she read it, the researcher knew that she had found something fat.
One of Pover’s goals was to determine the influence of what is eaten in blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Some previous studies suggested that rats fed a diet rich in starch had lower cholesterol levels, compared to those that were fattened with foods heavily enriched with sugar.
Pover suspected that the microorganisms that lived in the intestines of animals had much to say. A group of rodents modified to be free of them was fed with sugar, and another group of the same class, with a conventional diet. Pover found that the blood of the former contained high levels of cholesterol and that the triglycerides had dropped significantly. However, the intake of sugar in animals with their intestinal flora intact caused an increase in cholesterol and triglycerides. If something like this happened in people, the results could be a real catastrophe for the SFR.
In addition, there was an unexpected result: ordinary rats fed a sweet diet showed very low levels of a substance that inhibits an enzyme related to the prostate tumor. That is, they increased the chances of developing this type of cancer. In view of this situation, the SRF stopped financing the project.
Kearns was aware that, beginning in the sixties, nutrition experts from around the world had begun to point to saturated fats as the main culprits of the increase in obesity, which leads to diabetes and coronary heart disease. The concern crystallized in recommendations to force the food industry to label the nutrients in food and highlight, above all, the amounts of fat. “Then, people started taking more carbohydrates, but obesity continued to grow,” says David Raubenheimer, who holds the Leonard P. Ullman chair in Ecological Nutrition at the Charles Perkins Center, at the University of Sydney (Australia).
Obese… and malnourished
Just six years ago, the pediatrician Robert Lustig, from the University of California, San Francisco (USA), raised the alarm in the journal Nature : the world population of fat people exceeded for the first time in history the number of people with malnutrition in the world. Above, “supercharged individuals, who store too much fat by consuming excess calories, are also malnourished, because they lack micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals, fiber and important fatty acids,” Raubenheimer said.
That population of obese people is hungry almost all the time. This is what happens to fans of McDonald’s or Burger King: adolescents who visit these restaurants more than twice a week can earn 4 to 5 kilos compared to those who do not, and run a double risk of becoming diabetic at thirty, according to a study by The Lancet.
JAMA magazine published a study last February on a significant experiment: over a year, six hundred people followed a diet that was low in fat or carbohydrates. And neither of the two groups stood out especially for losing more weight. However, the research found that those who avoided foods with added sugar or made with processed flours and were somewhat unconcerned about counting the calories they ate did lose weight regularly over a full year.
However, the author of the work, Christopher Gardner, director of Nutrition Research at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, suggests that we divert the focus a bit. “It’s easy to blame sugar, but we should not be obsessed with an isolated nutrient. The industry does a very good job of removing one ingredient and replacing it with another. But many times the substitute is worse, “he warns.