Posts tagged ‘cyclamate’

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…”

See more of the ads in LIFE Magazine: 18 Jan 1954; 5 April 1954; 12 July 1954

August 12, 2010 at 2:24 pm 2 comments

1954: The Plague of Overweight and the Salvation of Reduced Calorie Foods (Except Candy)

In the early 1950s, Americans were gripped by a renewed fervor for reducing.

Life insurance studies had suggested that as many as 5 million Americans were obese, and another 20 million overweight. According to these measures, weight problems afflicted nearly 1 in 5 of the total population. Public health officials began sounding the alarm in 1952, and by 1954, even mainstream publications like LIFE Magazine had joined in promoting the new view on America’s waistline: ‘The most serious health problem in the U.S. today is obesity.”  Sound familiar?

Today scientists are looking to high fructose corn syrup, estrogen disruptors, carbohydrate overload, and metabolic disorders to understand why, despite half a century of diet and exercise, despite lo-cal and lo-fat and lo-carb and hi-fiber, Americans keep getting fatter. Overeating just doesn’t explain the whole problem.

But in the 1950s, the problem was firmly located in individual behavior. Fatness was explicitly associated with weakness, venality, sin. LIFE Magazine put it plainly:  “The uncompromising truth is that obesity is caused by gluttony.”  The solution? Eat less. Less food, to be sure. But in an age dominated by the precision of science, the real measure of “less” was not volume but calories.

The food industry was quick to respond to the new market for reduced-calorie foods. Saccharine had been available since the late 1800s, prescribed by doctors for diabetic use but occasionally “abused” by dieters. Saccharine was of limited appeal, as it had a bitter and unpleasant aftertaste and was not easily adapted to cooking and canning processes. But a new synthetic sweetener, cylcamate, became available in 1950 under the trade name Sucaryl. Where saccharine had primarily been sold over the counter in pharmacies, cyclamate was quickly adopted by food processors, especially canned food and beverages. Saccharine sweetened drinks had been around since the 1920s but were not widespread or popular. But between 1950 and 1954, artificially sweetened drinks exploded. Well known brands like Lo-Cal and No-Cal were selling millions of cases, and there were something like 150 brands of cyclamate and saccharine sodas and drinks on the market. And “diet” foods including canned fruits and vegetables, skim milk, and lo-cal desserts moved out of the fringes of specialty “health” stores and into the aisles of mainstream grocery markets.

The marketing of artificial sweeteners was agressive and played directly into America’s new obsession with calorie counting. The consumer campaign for Sucaryl used lines like: “You can save a lot of calories by sweetening with Sucaryl and you can’t taste the difference.” And: “If you are not counting calories, you don’t need this new, non-fattening sweetener. If you are, you do.”

In this ad you can see how “eat less” doesn’t mean eat less food. The low calorie dessert looks and (presumably) tastes the same as its full calorie counterpart. Sucaryl makes reducing seem almost magical: you can’t see or even notice what is different about the Sucaryl dessert. Just make the right choice of sweeteners, and your weight problem is solved.

Sucaryl proclaimed itself “the new non-fattening sweetener that tastes just like sugar.” Which is to say, sugar is the fattening sweetener. Who was going to want to eat what was fattening? By implication, everyone needed to be counting calories to stave off the dread overweight, and so everyone should be using Sucaryl.

It was a shot fired over the bow, make that the bowl, of sugar. And candy was directly in the line of fire.

Saccharine and cyclamate made sweetness distinct from fattening. So America could have its sweet sodas and pies and canned peaches. But nobody knew how to make candy out of saccharine or cyclamate. Candy sweetness was sugar sweetness. What was a candy lover to do? The line seemed clear: candy — sugar — fattening — gluttony — sin.

Next time: candy redemption.

“Those  Foods for Dieters,” Kiplingers Personal Finance, Jan 1954 p. 13-15. “The Plague of Overweight,” LIFE Magazine, 8 March 1954, p. 120-124. Sucaryl ad, LIFE Magazine 5 Dec. 1955 p. 110

August 11, 2010 at 11:58 am 2 comments


Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

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