Imagine if people thought you were crazy for saying sugar is bad for you.
British scientist John Yudkin knew the feeling: He died a pariah in the 1970s because he held the unpopular idea that sugar was the number-one health threat, The Guardian reports. Yudkin’s findings from more than a decade of research—published in 1972’s Pure, White, and Deadly: How Sugar is Killing Us and What We Can Do to Stop It—had unfortunate timing, according to the Guardian. At the time, the idea that saturated fat was the number-one health threat was so widespread that Yudkin’s findings were ridiculed and his reputation was ruined.
Today, however, he’s being celebrated by a new breed of “sugar is the devil” nutritional experts. His ahead-of-his-time claims (last year the US issued guidelines on curbing sugar for the first time) are being championed by people like journalist Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise, and science writer Gary Taubes, who wrote Why We Get Fat, according to the Guardian.
How did Yudkin get overlooked to begin with? He began floating a theory that sugar was a public health hazard in the late 1950s, around the same time that President Dwight Eisenhower suffered a heart attack in office. His doctor treated him with a low-cholesterol regimen (which US health authorities have since backed off from)—an approach that Yudkin was very publicly critical of, the Guardian reports. A bit of a scientific pissing match resulted, and Yudkin lost.
“They took him down so severely—so severely—that nobody wanted to attempt it on their own,” Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California who specializes in the treatment of childhood obesity, told the Guardian.
But posthumously, Yudkin’s findings are back in the scientific mainstream—guiding a new generation of scientists (not to mention documentarians and dessert lovers!). Sweet irony. But a bitter pill for those of us who were careful about cholesterol and saturated fat—ignoring sugar grams—for years.