Conspiracy theorists love to believe that the moon landings were staged perhaps somewhere like the Universal back lot, that computer virus software is written by the anti-virus companies and that JFK was really assassinated by Kevin Rudd’s cat (or something like that). I don’t know why they bother with all the lateral thinking when real-life conspiracies abound.

Big Sugar makes many products that will cause heart disease. But unless you are wilfully ignorant, you’re unlikely to be suffering under the impression that a Coke and a Mars Bar is a healthy breakfast.

Recently, Nestle upped the ante when it started pushing Fruit Fix (a product that is 72% sugar), as a healthy alternative to fruit. It nudged it a bit further when it got the Heart Foundation to endorse it as health food. But we’re still not in conspiracy territory. That’s merely deceptive.

We cross the boundary into potential conspiracy candidate with Nestle’s Optifast shake diet. The primary ingredients of Optifast are skim milk powder and fructose.

Fructose is one half of table sugar. It is definitively associated with the causes of heart disease and this was starkly proven in some human trials conducted by the University of California earlier this year. The investigators divided 32 overweight men and women into two groups, and instructed each group to drink a sweetened beverage three times per day. One group’s drinks were sweetened with fructose and the other group were drinking glucose (the other half of sugar).

After just 10 weeks, the fructose group had experienced a major metabolic shift that  did not occur with the glucose group. They had a significant worsening of blood glucose control and insulin sensitivity. Their LDL cholesterol and oxidised LDL readings increased dramatically. Liver synthesis of fat had increased by 75%. And visceral fat had increased by 14%. In short, they had been turned into heart attacks waiting to happen.

By definition, Optifast is sold to people who are overweight. So Nestle is selling them a “cure” to their condition, which significantly increases health risks across the board, but particularly for heart disease. Brand diversification? Yep. Wildly irresponsible? Certainly. Surprising? Not really, it is Nestle we’re talking about.

No, to be a true conspiracy, we need a hidden benefit to the purveyor. Sure, Nestle makes money out of Optifast but aside from that, how does it benefit from giving fat people heart attacks? Now if a cardiologist was flogging Optifast to weight-challenged folks, then we’d be talking genuine gold-plated conspiracy theory.

Well as it happens, in little ol’ Brisbane, cardiologists do dispense Optifast to overweight people. The Wesley Weight Management Clinic (WWMC) is owned by “a group of Cardiologists who are based at The Wesley Hospital”.

WWMC proudly proclaim that it “uses a nutritionally balanced meal replacement called Optifast 800”. The Optifast 800 range of shakes contains about 18g of fructose per serve. And WWMC advises people to consume five serves a day instead of their normal meals.

If a punter were to follow the program as laid out, they would be consuming about 90g of fructose per day. Or put another way, almost half of their energy intake would be coming from fructose. To get that much fructose from sugar, they would need to consume 43 teaspoons of sugar a day. Would you like some food with your sugar diet?

The University of California study fed its subjects 25% of their calories from fructose for just 10 weeks and produced truly frightening results. WWMC tells its paying customers to consume 45% of their calories from fructose for six months. They will lose weight. If you replaced everything you ate with a small chocolate milk five times a day, you’d lose weight, too. But what kind of damage are they doing at the metabolic level?

I’m not seriously suggesting that these cardiologists are setting out to create business for their day jobs. I never ascribe to conspiracy that could be adequately explained by ignorance. I suspect it started out as a nice little earner. And it’s just unfortunate that it turns out that what they’re serving up is something the research says is the worst possible thing you could give to a heart-attack candidate.

I have, of course, pointed this out to WWMC, but it seems disinclined to change its ways. I expected a note telling me that, of course, it was  reviewing its program in the light of the latest research and fructose would soon be off the menu. I didn’t get that. Instead, it said: “we believe that Optifast 800 is the most suitable product on the market and do not believe the fructose content would constitute a ‘high fructose diet’ implicated in the research.”

One wonders how high the fructose content would have to be before WWMC became worried about it. Ah well, I guess doctor always knows best.

Help us keep up the fight

Get Crikey for just $1 a week and support our journalists’ important work of uncovering the hypocrisies that infest our corridors of power.

If you haven’t joined us yet, subscribe today and get your first 12 weeks for $12.

Cancel anytime.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
JOIN NOW