1954 Fake Sugar Smack-Down
America’s love affair with artificial sweeteners started in the 1950s when cyclamate became widely available. Reports linking the sweet chemical to cancer in lab rats were decades away. Artificial sweeteners promised the triumph of chemistry over the messy stuff of appetite and fatness.
This all put actual sugar in a tricky spot. The marketing of artificial sweeteners didn’t mince words: sugar is fattening, fake sugar is not. Real sugar needed to find an angle.
The sugar trade group, Sugar Information Inc., came up with an ingenious solution. They embraced the idea of reducing, but turned sugar’s calories from a deficit into an advantage in the battle against the bulge.
In a massive advertising campaign launched in early 1954, Sugar Inc. told this story: Why do people get fat? They eat too much. Why do they eat too much? They are hungry. Why are they hungry? Their blood sugar has dropped. How to ward off that hunger that leads to overeating? Have a little sugar.
The idea of blood sugar and appetite regulation was cutting edge nutritional science in 1954. When Sugar Inc. started running these ads, the idea of appetite regulation and the relation to blood sugar was quite new, while the menace of caloric excess was widely recognized.
These sugar ads which ran as a series through 1954 in national publications such as LIFE, Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, and New Yorker evoked “research scientists at a leading university” to explain the idea that “if you are overweight, a moderate use of sugar in your diet may actually be more effective in helping you reduce than no-calorie artificial sweeteners.”
In a statement to retailers and manufacturers, Sugar Information Inc. called this advertising a “nutritional bombshell”: “a mighty effective answer to the confused calorie claims that seek to undermine confidence in quality foods and beverages that you have helped to build up over the years.”
Ta da: sugar is transformed from waistline menace to the ultimate diet aid. Who needed “diet candy” when candy was the perfect diet pill? As madame exclaims in this ad for Refined Syrups and Sugars, Inc., “What! Eat candy and reduce? — Yes, here’s why…”