Category Archives: Science

For Protein, Give Peas A Chance

 

Yellow-peas-from-Ukraine

Food Dive reported last week that while alternative proteins from algae and insects continue to make headlines, until they become cheaper and more appetizing, an increasing number of manufacturers will ask us to give peas a chance.

Extracted from dried and ground yellow split peas, pea protein is showing up in everything from sports supplements, smoothies and protein bars, to meat alternatives and yogurt. General Mills uses it in its Lärabar and Cascadian Farms brands, UK bakery giant Warburton’s recently added pea protein to sliced bread, and it is even possible to buy ‘pea milk’.

Beyond Meat produces a vegetarian burger based on pea protein that looks, sizzles and even ‘bleeds’ like a beef burger, thanks to beetroot juice. Even meat firms are paying attention, as Tyson Foods — the nation’s biggest meat producer — has bought a 5% stake in the company. In meat products themselves, companies are adding pea protein to cut fat content and improve texture.

The appeal for consumers is that pea protein is a non-allergenic, non-GMO and environmentally friendly ingredient — especially when compared to other commonly used protein sources like soy and whey. While whey protein is the most popular fortification product on the market, more consumers are considering plant-based protein sources for their health and environmental benefits.

The list of health benefits for pea protein is long. It is cholesterol-free, helps with satiety and blood pressure, and lowers triglycerides and cholesterol. For elderly or ill consumers, it is more easily digested than animal-derived proteins. Major pea protein supplier Roquette has also done research that suggests it is just as effective as whey for enhancing muscle mass gain during weight training.

All of this adds up to a booming market. According to Mintel, the number of new products containing pea protein grew by 195% from 2013 to 2016.

Roquette is banking on rising demand for pea protein in a big way, and recently announced a CA$400 million ($321 million) investment to build the world’s largest pea protein factory in Manitoba, Canada, as well as an additional €40 million ($47 million) for its French pea processing site. By 2019, the company expects the two facilities to have a combined capacity of 250,000 tons a year, placing it at the heart of two of the world’s biggest regions for pea protein ingredients — North America and Europe — as well as the world’s biggest pea supply. Canada provides 30% of the global pea protein total.

Roquette has seen growing demand for protein-fortified products. Meat substitute products grow rapidly as more consumers become interested in vegetarian options.

Part of peas’ appeal is the claims food companies can make on-pack — including gluten-free, non-GMO, kosher and vegan. Unlike soy, whey or casein, pea protein is not considered to be a major allergen, meaning foods and drinks containing the ingredient can make low/no/reduced allergen claims.

Pea protein does have potential downsides, particularly when it comes to protein quality.

Soy and animal-derived proteins are considered “complete” because they contain all nine essential amino acids — those not made by the body. Protein from peas is “incomplete,” meaning it is low in certain amino acids.

While this may give some athletes pause, it is unlikely to be a problem, according to Melissa Majumdar, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

As long as someone is not relying on pea protein for their only source of protein, they will likely meet their amino acid and therefore protein needs,” she told Food Dive.

If all essential amino acids are not available or are only available in limited amounts, the body must get them from another source to perform functions in the body needing protein. In other words, amino acids are the protein puzzle pieces and the puzzle is not complete with a missing piece.”

She explained that pea protein bioavailability is at 69%. Whey is 99% and soy is 95% to 98%. Apart from its limiting amino acids, bioavailability also is affected by chemicals that inhibit nutritional availability, including tannins and lectin.

On the other hand, pea protein can be a less expensive form of protein than animal protein,” Majumdar said. “Pea protein is not as common of an allergy as whey and soy and as long as the limiting acids are replaced or complemented, pea protein can be a quality protein source.”

 

Banana Delivery in NYC: It’s Seriously Complicated

Bananas

The New York Times had a fascinating feature last Friday (August 4) detailing the complications in getting bananas from their US point of entry into stores and fruit stands around New York City. Some 20 million bananas – and that doesn’t count the growing number being processed by supermarket companies – weekly.

The facts, figures and curious asides in this article include the fact that bananas are slightly radioactive. There’s also an explanation of how the ‘slip on a banana peel’ story got started, and another about the day it rained bananas in Pittsburgh.

Then there was the lady who repeatedly slipped on banana peels in a 17-long string of slip-and-fall accidents between 1906 and 1910. Eventually, she was charged with grand larceny, growing out of an investigation of her unapeeling (sic) accidents.

The Times on November 27, 1910, reported Mrs. Anna H. Sturla was due the next day in court, but the result of her hearing there wasn’t included in last week’s banana story. (And a search of the NYT archives found no later mention of her.)

The story did note that, at some point in the probably-near future, New Yorkers – like people elsewhere – are going to have to get used to a new type of banana. The Cavendish, the most commonly variety exported from Ecuador and other banana-growing countries (few of them, in fact, ‘banana republics’), is subject to being attacked and eventually defeated by a new strain of the Panama Disease, a type of Fusarium Wilt, a fungal disease that kills the plants it invades.

Scientists are trying to find or clone – as the Cavendish is a clone – that can resist that disease. But as banana historian Dan Koeppel told The Times, the Cavendish, like the Gros Michel (Big Mike) before it, have commercial advantages because around the world they are genetically identical, but “when one gets sick, they all get sick.”

In Asia, they’re trying to breed a Panama disease-resistant Cavendish. But, Mr. Koppel said, “You can’t just breed in resistance. You might be breeding out other stuff, like flavor.”

Collectively, The Times article of last week and the links we’ve provided will pretty much guarantee you’ll never again look at bananas quite the same way!

Please check out Doug Harris’s other blog, YouSayWHAT.info.

Consumers Want ‘Clean’ Food Labels; Now Professionals’ Tool Helps Them Define What Is, Isn’t, ‘Clean’

 

Every so often (every fifteen minutes or so, it sometimes seems!), a new food-related ‘buzz word’ catches the ear of consumers – sometimes almost at the same time it attracts the attention of food industry professionals. Not long ago, the ‘new’ word, or phrase, was ‘clean labels‘ – meaning, among other things, labels free of multi-syllable, unpronounceable words naming ingredients no one without a science degree can understand.

Consumers want ‘clean’ labels – and the products behind them to be healthier, less likely to initiate or compound health issues, than too many existing products are, or appear to be.

Complex additives are put into food products for an assortment of reasons, including flavor enhancement (salt and other spices being good examples), an ability to hold various ingredients in a liquid, semi-liquid or solid formula (emulsifiers and stabilizers), and shelf life-extending (salt again, as well as other things). Some of these reasons have seemed to make sense to product producers, but increasingly, they make less if any sense to consumers. That, and the fact that consumers are increasingly demanding healthier, ‘greener’ foods, are leading causes of the clean label movement.

The tool at https://gocleanlabel.com/about/ was created by a professional for professionals, but consumers, too, can use it to learn more about the clean label movement and, more specifically, to answer questions they have about specific ingredients. Questions such as ‘what is this’ and ‘what is it meant to do’. You also can use it to identify still-being-used materials that are, or aren’t, ‘clean’.

Both food processors and retailers are making strong steps to ensure fewer potentially harmful (or simply unnecessary) chemicals are added to foodstuffs. Undoubtedly, there are people who feel the industry isn’t moving fast enough – people who would, in effect, throw the baby out with the bathwater: Good chems out with not-so-good (or absolutely bad!) ones.

Ultimately, members of the consuming public need to take a greater interest in educating themselves about food additives, and learn how to make reasoned decisions about what they’re OK with putting in their bodies, and what they’re not.

I am working on a feature (for fooddive.com) about the new nutrition label that has been developed by the FDA. It is tentatively scheduled to become mandatory on a majority of food products (all except those produced in relatively small volumes) in 2018. But there’s already some push-back from at least one organization, and you can expect more push-back as a result of what we can only imagine will be dramatic, drastic changes of direction by the incoming presidential administration.

The thrust of my piece concerns the fact that changes to the nutrition label, while very much a separate issue from the overall additives one, reflect the fact that both industry, which had a hand in shaping the proposed label, and government are struggling – and that is not too strong a word – to deal with increasing scientific knowledge about foods and with changing consumer expectations.

As a courtesy to the readers of this blog, I will post a short note when my fooddive.com feature on that topic is published. (FYI, I write regularly on ingredients for fooddive.com. And as I’ve done for most of the past 40 years, I also regularly scan food trade publications – and now, web sites, too – around the world for both industry trends and consumer attitude shifts for this blog, which originated in the mid 1970’s as a column for trade publications in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.)

(By the way, between them, this blog and my other one, YouSayWHAT.info, have been read in no fewer than 80 countries in the last year!)

Hot Pepper Causes 2.5cm Rip In Man’s Esophagus

hot-peppers
Louisiana pepper breeder/grower Tony Primeaux handles some hot ones. (Photo: Lee Celano/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

A 47-year-old man recently attempted a rather silly, super-spicy feat – eating a hamburger covered with a ghost pepper puree. The ghost pepper measures a scary 1 million units on the Scoville heat unit (SHU) scale, a per-mass measure of capsaicin, the chemical compound that makes some peppers spicy-hot.

By way of comparison, a bell pepper measures 0 on that scale. A jalapeno comes in at between 3,500-10,000 units; a Serrano and a Peperoncino score in the range of 10,000-30,000 units, and both Cayenne and Tabasco peppers range from 30,000-50,000 units – about as high as most people care to experience.

(Police pepper spray, by the way, comes it at around 5 million SHU.)

(I thought my mouth was on fire once when I took a bite out of an Habanero, AKA Scotch Bonnet chili – 100,000 -350,000 heat units – I’d found on sale at a London street market. I’d been told, simply, “It’s a hot pepper.” I said, “Oh, I love hot peppers.” This one was not to love!

(As quickly as I could, I went into a pub and ordered a pint of beer, as beer is rumored to cut the effect of heat in food, or peppers. Alternatively, the beer may just make you forget about the pepper’s burning sensation!)

An article in The Washington Post said that peppers that pass the 1 million SHU mark are called superhot. “As a rule they are reddish and puckered, as though one of Satan’s internal organs had prolapsed. To daredevil eaters of a certain stripe, the superhot peppers exist only to challenge.

“When consumed, ghost peppers and other superhots provoke extreme reactions,” The Post article said.

“Your body thinks it’s going to die,” as Louisiana pepper grower Ronald (Tony) Primeaux told the AP in October. “You’re not going to die.”

The Washington Post’s Tim Carman described eating a pea-sized chunk of the pepper, sans seeds, in 2012. “It was as if my head had become a wood-burning oven, lighting up my tongue and the interior of my skull,” he wrote. “Milk provided little relief, until the burn began to subside on its own about 10 minutes later.”

Primeaux, who hopes to claim the world’s hottest pepper title through cultivating his Louisiana Creeper variety, said, “When you put one of these in your mouth, it’s a whole ‘nother ballgame,” in his interview with the AP. “A bear is chasing you. You’ve just been in a car wreck. You just got caught speeding, and a cop is giving you a ticket.”

pepper-grower-with-plants

Pepper breeder/grower Tony Primeaux with some of his plants. (Photo: Lee Celano/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

That truly seemed to be the sensation experienced by the unnamed 47-year-old reported on in The Journal of Emergency Medicine. For him, “ingesting the pepper burger was less a bear chase and closer to an attack,” The Post article said.

As physicians at the University of California at San Francisco reported in the case study reported on in The Journal of Emergency Medicine article, he consumed the burger and attempted to quench the heat in his mouth with six glasses of water. When that failed the man began to vomit, which gave way to abdominal pain. He dialed emergency help.

At the emergency department, he received Maalox and painkillers. After his condition worsened, doctors moved him to the operating room, where they discovered a “2.5-cm tear in the distal esophagus,” about one inch, as the case report authors noted. The force of the vomiting and retching led to a rare diagnosis of Boerhaave’s syndrome; these spontaneous tears in the esophagus can be fatal if they are not diagnosed and treated.

“The rupture was as a result of the forceful vomiting and retching,” said UC San Francisco clinical fellow and study author Ann Arens, in an email to The Washington Post, “as a result of eating the hamburger with the ghost pepper puree.”

In this case, surgeons were able to repair the man’s throat. “He remained intubated until hospital day 14, began tolerating liquids on hospital day 17,” they wrote, “and was discharged home with a gastric tube in place on hospital day 23.”

The researchers concluded the case study with a warning.

“Food challenges have become common among social media, including the infamous cinnamon challenge,” they wrote, referencing the spice fad that was popular in early 2012. (When eating a heaping spoonful of cinnamon went wrong, it led to emergency calls and at least one collapsed lung.)

“When people ask me whether it is safe to try the ‘spicy food challenges’ I generally take a Nancy Reagan stance,” said Arens, “and say ‘Just Say No.’ But if you really just can’t help yourself, I would recommend just starting with a taste.”

China Aiming to Develop ‘Spaced-Out’ Varietal Wines

China is aiming to produce some really spacey wines – vin via vines nurtured to fruition, or at least into new wine varietals, in their country’s newest space lab, labeled Tiangong-2. The aim is to see which, if any, varietals of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and pinot noir might be able to produce new and plentiful generations of wine in some of the toughest-to-grow-wine-in territories on earth – including the sun-scorched Gobi desert, the high-altitude foothills of the Tibetan plateau, and the rocky slopes of Ningxia Province.

Decanter-China, a bilingual website about the local wine industry, reported recently that,

“Chinese scientists hope that growing the vines in space for a short time will trigger mutations that may make the plants more suitable for the harsh climate in some of the China’s emerging vineyard regions.

In particular, scientists want to see whether genetic mutations in space make the vines more resistant to cold, drought and some viruses.

Chinese growers in some areas, such as Ningxia, have to bury their vines in winter to protect them from freezing temperatures.

The vines came from a nursery based in Ningxia’s Helan Mountain East region, one of China’s most renowned quality wine regions, reported Ningxia local media.

The nursery is owned by the Chenggong Group, which has been importing vines from France’s Mercier Group since 2013.

In October, China will send two male astronauts to Tiangong-2 via the Shenzhou 11 spaceflight to perform research for 30 days, according to China National Space Administration.

When the vines return to earth, they will be compared to a control group in  the Ningxia nursery.

The Guardian reported that an oenologist named Li Hua visited a valley in the foothills of the Tibetan plateau. The area was better known for its panda population, but Li realized that the area’s high altitude, many hours of sunshine, sandy soil and low precipitation also offered ideal conditions for growing grapes.

Freezing temperatures and unfavourable soil are among the most serious challenges facing wine producers in places such as Ningxia, an impoverished region at the heart of China’s nascent wine industry with punishing -25C (-13F)winters.

Decanter said researchers hoped exposure to “space radiation” might trigger genetic changes in the vines that would help them “evolve new resistance to coldness, drought and viruses”.

The website said the vines were sourced from a nursery near Ningxia’s Helan mountain, a region local politicians tout as China’s Bordeaux.

After returning to earth the samples will undergo tests and be compared to other vines in order to find the most “suitable mutation”.

China’s rapid economic rise has transformed it not only intothe world’s number two economy but also one of its top wine producers.

The Asian giant now consumes more red wine than any other country and has more vineyards than France. Estates are popping up from the frosty northeastern province of Liaoning to the scorching deserts of Xinjiang.

“The best Chinese wine I’ve ever tasted in my life is produced just outside of Beijing,” Fongyee Walker, a China-based wine specialist, said in a recent interview. “Beautiful wine… Blind tasting you wouldn’t even know they were Chinese.”

Walker, the director of Beijing’s Dragon Phoenix Wine Consulting, said that for wine drinking to really take off inChina it needed to lose its aura of pomposity.

“I grew up eating Chinese food and I grew up drinking wine and I came here and was like: ‘Why does no-one just drink wine with jaozi [dumplings]?’” said Walker, who recently became mainland China’s first Master of Wine.

“So much of it is that myth of: ‘You have to be dressed up and you have to use a corkscrew and you have to do this and you have to do that,’” she added. “And I said, ‘Look, you can drink your wine from a beer glass and you can eat it with zhajiangmian [noodles] on the street corner.’ It’s a liquid for goodness sake! Get over it.”

On top of their wine-related research, Xinhua, Beijing’s official news wire, said astronauts would use the Tiangong space lab to “carry out key experiments related to in-orbit equipment repairs, aerospace medicine, space physics and biology, such as quantum key distribution, atomic space clocks and solar storm research”.

 

Sugar Group’s Payment For Favorable ‘Research’ Shifted Views in the ‘60’s

Dr. Cristin E. Kearns
Researcher Dr. Cristin E. Kearns in her office at the University of California San Francisco. She recently revealed that prominent nutritionists were paid by the sugar industry for favorable ‘research’ reports in the 1960’s.Photo: Elizabeth D. Herman for STAT News

One of the individuals who helped draft the 1977 U.S. Senate committee report that paved the way for the nation’s first dietary guidelines was paid in the 1960’s by the sugar industry to produce a report playing down the importance of sugar in coronary heart disease.

As nutrition debates raged in the 1960s, prominent Harvard nutritionists published two reviews in a top medical journal downplaying the role of sugar in coronary heart disease. Newly unearthed documents reveal what they didn’t say: A sugar industry trade group initiated and paid for the studies, examined drafts, and laid out a clear objective to protect sugar’s reputation in the public eye.

That revelation, published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, comes from Dr. Cristin Kearns at the University of California, San Francisco, a dentist-turned-researcher who found the sugar industry’s fingerprints while digging through boxes of letters in the basement of a Harvard library.

Dr. Cristin E. Kearns


Documents that Dr. Cristin E. Kearns calls the “sugar papers” are kept  in her office at the University of California San Francisco. Photo:Elizabeth D. Herman for STAT News

Her paper recounts how two famous Harvard nutritionists, Dr. Fredrick Stare and Mark Hegsted, both now deceased, worked closely with a trade group called the Sugar Research Foundation, which was trying to influence public understanding of sugar’s role in disease.

The trade group solicited Hegsted, a professor of nutrition at Harvard’s public health school, to write a literature review aimed at countering early research linking sucrose to coronary heart disease. The group paid the equivalent of $48,000 in 2016 dollars ($6,5000 in then-current dollars) to Hegsted and colleague Dr. Robert McGandy, though the researchers never publicly disclosed that funding source, Kearns found.

Hegsted and Stare tore apart studies that implicated sugar and concluded that there was only one dietary modification — changing fat and cholesterol intake — that could prevent coronary heart disease. Their reviews were published in 1967 in the New England Journal of Medicine, which back then did not require researchers to disclose conflicts of interest.

That was an era when researchers were battling over which dietary culprit — sugar or fat — was contributing to the deaths of many Americans, especially men, from coronary heart disease, the buildup of plaque in arteries of the heart. Kearns said the papers, which the trade group later cited in pamphlets provided to policymakers, aided the industry’s plan to increase sugar’s market share by convincing Americans to eat a low-fat diet.

Nearly 50 years later, some nutritionists consider sugar a risk factor for coronary heart disease, though there’s no consensus. Having two major reviews published in an influential journal “helped shift the emphasis of the discussion away from sugar onto fat,” said Stanton Glantz, Kearns’s coauthor and her advisor at UCSF. “By doing that, it delayed the development of a scientific consensus on sugar-heart disease for decades.”

Marion Nestle, a nutrition expert at New York University who was not involved in the paper, said she’s still not convinced by those who argue that “sugar is poison” — a person’s total calorie consumption could matter more. But she called the UCSF findings a “smoking gun” — rare, hard evidence of the food industry meddling in science.

“Science is not supposed to work this way,” she wrote in an accompanying commentary. “Is it really true that food companies deliberately set out to manipulate research in their favor? Yes, it is, and the practice continues,” Nestle added, noting that Coca-Cola and candy makers have both tried recently to influence nutrition research.

In a statement, the sugar trade group said industry-funded research has been unfairly criticized.

“We acknowledge that the Sugar Research Foundation should have exercised greater transparency in all of its research activities,” said the trade group that now calls itself the Sugar Association. Beyond that, “it is challenging for us to comment on events that allegedly occurred 60 years ago, and on documents we have never seen.”

“Sugar does not have a unique role in heart disease,” the group maintained. “We’re disappointed to see a journal of JAMA’s stature” using “headline-baiting articles to trump quality scientific research.”

A thin-framed, soft-spoken woman who blushes often when she speaks, Kearns is an unlikely crusader against the sugar industry. Trained as a dentist, Kearns said she was shocked to hear a keynote speaker at a 2007 dentistry conference — on diabetes, no less — tell her there is no evidence linking sugar to chronic disease. She quit her job and devoted herself full-time to uncovering documents that show the sugar industry’s influence over public policy and science.

She has now amassed 2,000 pages of internal documents. She keeps them in two banker’s boxes in her cubicle at UCSF, along with photos of decaying teeth, and show-and-tell boxes of sugary Cocoa Pebbles and Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

Her previous work has shown how the sugar industry influenced a federal dental research program to shift attention to other efforts — such as finding a vaccine for tooth decay — instead of exploring the benefits of eating less sugar.

For her latest paper, Kearns flew to Boston in 2011 and spent several days in Harvard Medical School’s Countway library, thumbing through boxes of letters that Hegsted left behind.

Hegsted was, in Nestle’s words, “a hero of nutritionists”: After helping draft “Dietary Goals for the United States,” the 1977 Senate committee report that paved the way for the nation’s first dietary guidelines, he went on to oversee the human nutrition unit at the Department of Agriculture.

Paging through the letters, Kearns was “shocked” by his level of cooperation with the sugar industry, she said.

Here’s what she found: In the 1950s, the Sugar Research Foundation identified a strategic opening to increase sugar’s market share by getting Americans to eat a low-fat diet, based on research that blamed fat and cholesterol for causing high blood pressure and heart problems, according to a 1954 speech by the trade group’s president.

John Hickson, the Sugar Research Foundation’s vice president and director of research, was closely monitoring nutrition research. In an internal memo Kearns uncovered from 1964, he proposed that the trade group “embark on a major program” to counteract “negative attitudes towards sugar,” in part by funding its own research to “refute our detractors.”

Hickson first recruited Stare, chair of the Harvard public health school’s nutrition department, to join the foundation’s scientific advisory board. In July of 1965, just after articles linking sucrose — ordinary table sugar — to coronary heart disease appeared in the Annals of Internal Medicine, he approached Hegsted for help. Hickson struck a deal to pay Hegsted and McGandy, both overseen by Stare, $6,500 ($48,000 in 2016 dollars) for “a review article of the several papers which find some special metabolic peril in sucrose …” Kearns found.

Hegsted asked Hickson to provide the articles for the review. Hickson sent at least five articles that threatened the sugar industry — which suggest he aimed for the researchers to critique them, Kearns and her coauthors argue.

Hickson set the objective for the review: “Our particular interest had to do with that part of nutrition in which there are claims that carbohydrates in the form of sucrose make an inordinate contribution to the metabolic condition, hitherto ascribed to aberrations called fat metabolism,” he wrote to Hegsted.

“I will be disappointed if this aspect is drowned out in a cascade of review and general interpretation,” Hickson wrote.

“We are well aware of your particular interest in carbohydrate and will cover this as well as we can,” Hegsted replied, according to Kearns.

Letters show the scientist communicating with his funder not just at the outset, but while writing the review, Kearns found. In April 1966, Hegsted wrote to the sugar trade group to report that his review had been delayed because researchers in Iowa had produced new evidence linking sugar to coronary heart disease. “Every time the Iowa group publishes a paper we have to rework a section in rebuttal,” Hegsted wrote.

Letters indicate Hickson reviewed drafts of the paper, though it’s not clear whether his trade group made any edits or comments.

“Am I going to get another copy of the draft shortly?” Hickson asked Hegsted, according to Kearns.

“I expect to get it down to you within a week or two,” Hegsted replied.

Hickson got a final draft a few days before Hegsted intended to submit it for publication. The funder was happy: “Let me assure you this is quite what we had in mind and we look forward to its appearance in print,” Hickson wrote.

When the papers were published the following year, authors disclosed other industry funding, but made no mention of the Sugar Research Foundation.

Hegsted’s reviews examined a wide range of research. He downplayed and dismissed papers that argued that sugar was a cause of coronary artery disease. He found merit only in those that saw fat and cholesterol as a culprit.

Glantz, Kearns’s coauthor, said the major problem with the review is that it was not even-handed: In the cases where sugar was implicated, Hegsted and colleagues dismissed entire classes of epidemiological evidence. But they didn’t hold studies that implicate fat to the same standard, Glantz said.

He said the level of the Harvard researchers’ cooperation is clear: “The industry says, ‘Here are some papers we’re really unhappy with. Deal with them,’” Glantz said. “They then did. That, to me, was the thing that I found the most amazing.”

Glantz said the sugar industry used a similar playbook to the tobacco industry, whose internal documents he has written about extensively. The letters reveal how sophisticated the sugar executives were in swaying public opinion, he said. They closely tracked the research and were careful about which influential scientists to approach.

“By dealing with them with a light touch, they got what they wanted,” Glantz said.

Glantz, Kearns, and their coauthor, Laura Schmidt, acknowledged that their research was limited by the fact that they could not interview the protagonists because they are dead.

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Dr. Walter Willett, who knew Hegsted and now runs the nutrition department at Harvard’s public health school, defended him as a principled scientist.

“He was a very hard-nosed, data-driven person, who had a record for standing up to industry interests,” including losing a job at the USDA for standing up to the beef industry, Willett wrote in an email. “I very much doubt that he changed what he believed or would conclude based on industry funding.”

Willett said today, research has become more clear, showing that refined carbohydrates and especially sugar-sweetened beverages “are risk factors for cardiovascular disease,” while “the type of dietary fat is also very important.” But he said that at the time Hegsted and colleagues were writing, evidence for fat as a risk factor for coronary heart disease was “considerably stronger” than for sugar, and he would agree with “most of the interpretations” the researchers made.

“However, by taking industry funding for the review, and having regular communications during the review with the sugar industry,” Willett acknowledged, it “put him [Hegsted] in a position where his conclusions could be questioned.”

“It is also possible that these relationships could induce some subtle bias, even if unconscious,” he added.

Willett called the historical account a “useful warning that industry funding is a concern in research as it may bias what is published.” He said it is “doubly a concern in reviews because this inevitably involves some judgment about the interpretation of data.”

But Willett, whose professorship is named after Fredrick Stare, said Stare and his fellow researchers broke no rules. Conflict-of-interest standards have changed dramatically since the 1960s, he noted.

Since 1984, the New England Journal of Medicine has requested authors to disclose conflicts. And the journal now requires authors of reviews not to have “major research support” from relevant companies.

NEJM spokeswoman Jennifer Zeis said the journal now asks authors to report all financial conflicts during the 36 months prior to publication, and also conducts a rigorous peer review that “aids us in guarding against potential conflicts of interest.”

Glantz said the journal should attach an editorial note “describing what actually happened” with the review. “The provenance of the paper is very misleading,” he said.

Zeis said the journal plans to take no action.

Meanwhile, Kearns is continuing her campaign to reveal more internal documents from the sugar industry.

In a recent interview at a UCSF food court, she steered clear of the “gigante” chocolate chip cookies and chose a chicken sandwich and a fruit cup. She said she’s driven in part by her experience as a dentist, when she saw patients whose mouths were wrecked by tooth decay — one of whom needed dentures at age 30.

The federal government is getting on board with researchers like Kearns who have been warning of the perils of sugar — new dietary guidelines recommend less than 10 percent of a person’s daily calories come from added sugars.