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Both Saturated Fat and Sugar Promote Heart Disease, Despite Industry Lobbying

Statement of CSPI Nutrition Director Bonnie Liebman

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It is disturbing to learn that the sugar industry had hidden connections to Harvard scientists reviewing the evidence on sugar and heart disease in the 1960s.

These findings by researchers at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) provide one more reason why scientific journals should disclose all potential conflicts of interest.  In May, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, along with 62 scientists and six organizations, called for competing interests to be disclosed in abstracts on PubMed, the federal database of abstracts from medical and life science journals.

At the same time, the public should not misinterpret the UCSF findings.  They do not undermine current advice from major health authorities to replace saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats.  Those authorities—including the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology, in partnership with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, along with the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee—based their advice on strong, consistent evidence published long after the mid-1960s.

Those health authorities have also advised Americans to reduce their consumption of added sugars based on growing evidence that added sugars also promote heart disease. (Since the late 1970s, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and its predecessor, the Dietary Goals for the United States, have advised the public to consume less added sugar.  Unfortunately, that advice was drowned out by multi-million dollar ad campaigns for soda and other sugary drinks and foods).

The bottom line for consumers is that a healthy diet should limit added sugars (especially in sugary drinks) and replace foods rich in saturated fats (like meat, butter, and cheese) with foods rich in polyunsaturated fats (like fish, oils, and nuts). 

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Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at]cspinet.org) or Ariana Stone (astone[at]cspinet.org).