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Time Machine

He revealed bitter truths about sugar

  • from Shaastra :: vol 01 issue 01 :: Jan - Feb 2022

In his time, nutritionist John Yudkin's views on the hazards of sugar were derided; they have since secured new life.

Fifty years ago, the sheltered world of nutritional science was wracked by a sharp-edged battle - of ideas and of words. At the centre of it all was an unlikely character: John Yudkin, a mild-mannered man of science who had established a renowned Department of Nutrition Science at Queen Elizabeth College in London in the 1950s. The outbreak of the academic war can be traced to his book, Pure, White and Deadly, published in 1972, which challenged the nutritional orthodoxy of the times.

In his book, Yudkin flagged the adverse health effects of sugar, which had until then largely escaped the clinical scrutiny of modern-era scientists - even though ancient physicians from India (Sushruta) to Greece (Aretaeus of Cappadocia) had accounted for the medical condition now known as diabetes mellitus. In the 1960s, when Yudkin had begun his research into the ill-effects of sugar, the consensus among established nutritionists centred around the 'diet-heart hypothesis'. Framed by physiologist Ancel Keys against the backdrop of rising incidence of heart disease in the U.S. and the U.K., it held that dietary cholesterol and saturated fat were solely to blame. The underlying research - the Seven Countries analysis, an epidemiological longitudinal study - may not measure up to modern standards of rigour or validation, but it shaped public health policy.

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