The Big Food Conspiracy for Low Fat & Aspartame

Reading Time: 8 minutes

The Genius Life: Episode 43

In this episode, Max talks to Craig Clemens, a psychologist and marketer with an innate understanding of human behaviour. They discuss multiple areas of the evolution of food and its connection to the human psyche, recounting the incredible story of how the low fat conspiracy came about. A conspiracy which had the opposite effect of its advertised intention, which was supposedly to reduce the climbing obesity rates in western society. The result being an increase in obesity reaching epidemic proportions.

In the 1950’s the rate of heart attacks in the USA was on the rise. In 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower had a heart attack whilst in office. The combination of the rise in heart attacks, alongside such a high level public figure suffering the same, brought about a panic amongst the public which the government had to handle.

The government got their scientists together led by Ancel Keys. He was one of the most notable nutritionists at the time, designing rations for the US army during World War 2. They sent him to do a study called the seven country study, where he went to the seven countries where people lived the longest and had the lowest rates of heart attack.

He found there was less fat in their diets than in America. So upon his return he reported that the correct diet to avoid heart attacks was low-fat.

Even though Ancel himself would later change his opinion on this, at the time it was all the government had to go on. So they started passing out pamphlets to schools which said low-fat diets will help to avoid heart attacks.

The food companies then discovered if they put “low fat” on their products, the food would sell faster. Once the government had propagated and compounded the low-fat message, if the food companies did not put “low fat” on their products, people were not buying them at all.

At the time, the food companies were using fat to flavour their foods. It gave a nice mouth feel texture, and a great flavour. But food companies had to remove the fat from their products to keep up with consumer desires which were reaching hysterical levels due to the government public health warnings. These low-fat products were sent to consumer groups for testing, who unanimously reported back that the food tasted disgusting, was flavourless and felt like cardboard. 

So the food companies brought in their scientists, and told them to make their products taste as good as they did before, whilst being able to put “low-fat” on the label. What they found was they could add sugar to the foods to sweeten them up, make them taste better, and improve the mouth feel.

Then something crazy happened. The food companies found that their low-fat sugar flavoured products were selling faster than they ever had before they lowered the fat content.

So the food companies responded by adding sugar to everything. Not just in the products you would expect them to be in like cakes and biscuits. But sugar was added to hot dogs, burgers, sauces, pastas, breads and many others.

As consumers became hooked on the highly palatable flavours being cooked up in the food companies laboratories, the sugar addiction slowly took hold and trapped millions into a life of obesity and chronic illness. 

Sugar feeds some of the bad bacteria which is in our GI tract. Things like fungus, moulds and yeast. If you ever did the experiment in science class at school where you put sugar on yeast, you’ll recall it expands like The Blob. This was happening inside digestive tracts. The reason it makes you eat more is because studies have shown that this bad bacteria can hijack your hormones and gain control of your vagus nerve, which is the nerve between your brain and your stomach (the gut-brain axis), pinging your brain messages to say “Hey, I want more of this sugar!”.

This is the reason when you have a sweet dessert of chocolate in front of you, even if you’re full after your starter and main course, upon taking the first bite, it’s very difficult to stop eating. It’s literally the bacteria inside your gut sending messages via the vagus nerve to your brain, asking you to feed it more of this tasty sweet sugar.

In the 1970’s studies eventually started to show that it wasn’t the fat that was causing obesity. It was more likely attributed to the over consumption of sugar.

At first the food companies started changing the names of sugar, to things like agave nectar and high fructose corn syrup. There’s around 30 different names for sugar. At the same time food companies started to discover the value of artificial sweeteners, in particular aspartame.

When aspartame came along, it had to go through FDA approval like every other food and sweetener. Which means it is fed to animals who are monitored and checked to ensure they have no adverse reactions to the new food or drug. 

The company who was putting aspartame through these studies in the 1970’s was a company called GD Searle. GD Searle did their studies, sending their animals into the government laboratories to be checked. The government scientists found some strange incisions in the animals, which they later discovered were where tumours had been cut out. Tumors which were growing due to the aspartame. They still submitted these animals to the FDA, hoping nobody would notice.

For the first time ever, the US government pressed criminal charges against a food corporation for falsifying evidence.

Aspartame wasn’t approved. GD Searle not only lost billions in potential sales, they also had to pay heavy fines. What they decided to do next was to change their CEO to somebody who knew and understood the system. A certain Donald Rumsfeld. Yes the same man who was secretary of defense during the 2nd Gulf War.

When he was appointed as CEO (1977-1985), he swore he would get aspartame legalised within one year. At the same time, the FDA was also undergoing restructuring. Rumsfeld was able to get a couple of his friends appointed to the board, in particular Arthur Hales, who was appointed the FDA commissioner. 

GD Searle once again put aspartame in front of the FDA, who recognised they had made previous mistakes, but paid their fines, and maybe now everything is ok. With Rumsfeld having his man running the FDA, he persuades the FDA to assign a new task force of 6 scientists to investigate aspartame. When the scientists voted whether to accept aspartame as safe, three voted for, and the other three against.

Arthur Hayes as commissioner concluded that he would have the deciding vote, which was unprecedented in FDA history.  With that decision, aspartame was legalised for use in dry goods in 1981, and drinks in 1983.

Deals were then made with Coca Cola and Pepsi to be their artificial sweetener of choice, which was quickly added to the new line of diet sodas. 

Six months after aspartame was approved, Hayes stepped down as FDA commissioner.

In 1985 GD Searle was acquired by Monsanto, paying Rumsfeld a US$12m bonus as thanks for his work.

These artificial sweeteners are shown to disrupt the gut by feeding the bad bacteria to expand and breed more, whilst also disrupting taste buds in children. Sucralose as an example is 600 times sweeter than sugar, so when kids eat these artificial sweeteners it trains their taste buds to expect a different level of sweet. Whereas 100 years ago a strawberry, banana or apple was the pinnacle of sweetness, our children are now looking for extra sweetness through these artificial sweeteners.

This is a truly fascinating story and one which is well worth a listen, as Craig explains in detail the conspiracy behind the doctrine we were sold in the 2nd half of the 20th century. We are programmed to believe everything government officials tell us. But this story is one of many which goes to show we must use critical thinking to question the information we are being fed through these channels.

Sugar feeds some of the bad bacteria which is in our GI tract. Things like fungus, moulds and yeast. If you ever did the experiment in science class at school where you put sugar on yeast, you’ll recall it expands like the Blob. This was happening inside digestive tracts. The reason it makes you eat more is because studies have shown that this bad bacteria can hijack your hormones and gain control of your vagus nerve, which is the nerve between your brain and your stomach (the gut-brain axis), pinging your brain messages to say “Hey, I want more of this sugar!”.

This is the reason when you have a sweet dessert of chocolate in front of you, even if you’re full after your starter and main course, upon taking the first bite, it’s very difficult to stop eating. It’s literally the bacteria inside your gut sending messages via the vagus nerve to your brain, asking you to feed it more of this tasty sweet sugar.

In the 1970’s studies eventually started to show that it wasn’t the fat that was causing obesity, but was in fact the sugar. 

At first the food companies started changing the names of sugar, to things like agave nectar and high fructose corn syrup. There’s around 30 different names for sugar. At the same time food companies started to discover the value of artificial sweeteners, in particular aspartame.

When aspartame came along, it had to go through FDA approval like every other food and sweetener. Which means it is fed to animals who are monitored and checked to ensure they have no adverse reactions to the new food or drug. 

The company who was putting aspartame through these studies in the 1970’s was a company called GD Searle. GD Searle did their studies, sending their animals into the government laboratories to be checked. The government scientists found some strange incisions in the animals, which they later discovered were where tumours had been cut out. Tumors which were growing due to the aspartame. They still submitted these animals to the FDA, hoping nobody would notice.

For the first time ever, the US government pressed criminal charges against a food corporation for falsifying evidence.

Aspartame wasn’t approved. GD Searle not only lost billions in potential sales, they also had to pay heavy fines. What they decided to do next was to change their CEO to somebody who knew and understood the system. A certain Donald Rumsfeld. Yes the same man who was secretary of defense during the 2nd Gulf War.

When he was appointed as CEO (1977-1985), he swore he would get aspartame legalised within 1 year. At the same time, the FDA was also undergoing restructuring. Rumsfeld was able to get a couple of his friends appointed to the board, in particular Arthur Hales, who was appointed the FDA commissioner. 

GD Searle once again put aspartame in front of the FDA, who recognised they had made previous mistakes, but paid their fines, and maybe now everything is ok. With Rumsfeld having his man running the FDA, he persuades the FDA to assign a new task force of 6 scientists to investigate aspartame. When the scientists voted whether to accept aspartame as safe, 3 voted for, and the other 3 against.

Arthur Hayes as commissioner concluded that he would have the deciding vote, which was unprecedented in FDA history.  With that, aspartame was legalised for use in dry goods in 1981, and drinks in 1983.

Deals were then made with Coca Cola and Pepsi to be their artificial sweetener of choice, which was quickly added to the new line of diet sodas. 

Six months after aspartame was approved, Hayes stepped down as FDA commissioner.

In 1985 GD Searle was acquired by Monsanto, paying Rumsfeld a US$12m bonus as thanks for his work.

These artificial sweeteners are shown to disrupt the gut by feeding the bad bacteria to expand and breed more, whilst also disrupting taste buds in children. Sucralose as an example is 600 times sweeter than sugar, so when kids eat these artificial sweeteners it trains their taste buds to expect a different level of sweet. Whereas 100 years ago a strawberry, banana or apple was the pinnacle of sweetness, our children are now looking for extra sweetness through these artificial sweeteners.

This is a truly fascinating story and one which is well worth a listen, as Craig explains in detail the conspiracy behind the doctrine we were sold in the 2nd half of the 20th century. We are programmed to believe everything government officials tell us, but this story is one of many which goes to show we must use critical thinking to question the information we are being fed through these channels.

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