What Eating 40 Teaspoons of Sugar a Day Can Do to YouPosted on August 21, 2016 by ECR Louisville in Blog
Soda has been a major target in the debate over sugar and its role in the obesity crisis. But high levels of added sugars can be found in many seemingly healthful foods, from yogurts to energy bars and even whole-grain bread.
A new movie called “That Sugar Film” seeks to educate consumers about the hazards of consuming too much added sugar, which can be found in an estimated 80 percent of all supermarket foods. The new documentary stars an Australian actor-director, Damon Gameau, who modeled his movie after “Super Size Me,” the 2004 film that followed Morgan Spurlock as he consumed an all-McDonald’s diet for 30 days.
In “That Sugar Film,” which first had its debut in Australia this year, Mr. Gameau gives up his normal diet of fresh foods for two months to see what happens when he shifts to eating a diet containing 40 teaspoons of sugar daily, the amount consumed by the average Australian (and an amount not far from the 28 teaspoons consumed daily by the average American teenager). The twist is that Mr. Gameau avoids soda, ice cream, candy and other obvious sources of sugar. Instead, he consumes foods commonly perceived as “healthy” that are frequently loaded with added sugars, like low-fat yogurt, fruit juice, health bars and cereal.
Mr. Gameau finds that his health and waistline quickly spiral out of control. While the film is mostly entertainment, it tries to present the science of sugar in a consumer-friendly way, with helpful cameos from Hugh Jackman, Stephen Fry and others. It is also timely. Just last month, the federal government proposed a new rule that would require nutrition labels to carry details about added sugars, a measure that has faced resistance from the food industry.
Recently, we caught up with Mr. Gameau to talk about why he made the film (which has also been turned into a book), what he learned along the way, and why he believes that sugar – despite his criticism of it – should not be vilified.
So why did you make this film?
It came about because I was noticing how much conflicting press there was about sugar. I’d read one article one day saying it’s toxic and poisonous. Then, the next day, I’d see an article saying it’s fine and we need it for energy. I thought the only way to find out the truth was to do an experiment and assemble a team of doctors and scientists. Despite some of the doctors telling me I was crazy, I thought consuming a lot of foods like low-fat yogurt and orange juice would be just fine.
Very quickly things started to change. I put on a lot of weight very quickly. After 18 days, I developed signs of fatty liver. That was a huge turning point for the film. That’s when we started exploring a lot more of the science and then looking for people to interview and stories to tell in the film.
You were focusing on foods perceived as healthy. Can you talk about that?
Yes. These are the foods with flowers and bees and sunsets on their labels. That’s the whole point of the film. If I had been eating chocolate doughnuts and soft drinks, we know what would have happened to me. But the fact that this happened when I was following the low-fat diet that we’ve all been prescribed for 35 years – that was surprising.
Do you think people put too much faith in food labels and claims?
Yes. There was a study done in Australia that found that 55 percent of people get their nutrition advice from food labels, compared with only 25 percent who get their advice from a nutritional advocate. That’s where we need integrity. People are taking at face value what these products tell them. We’re encouraging people to turn that label around, look at the sugar content, see through the marketing hype and the slogans and actually take control of what they’re putting in their bodies.
What was your diet like before the start of the film?
I kept away from processed foods as much as I could. I’d have eggs for breakfast. I’d eat healthy fats like avocado, and I’d snack on nuts and a little cheese. I’d have lots of fruits and vegetables and protein sources like fish. I just tried to eat real foods, and I kept it really simple.
How did it change during the film?
I swapped all that for the refined carbohydrates. Cereals, low-fat yogurts and apple juice would be my breakfast instead of eggs and avocado. And lunch would be pasta with pasta sauce, or some vegetables or fish with a teriyaki sauce or some kind of dressing that had added sugars in it.
What was the most surprising change you noticed?
My calorie intake didn’t change. What I was eating before – the avocados and nuts and other foods – are high in calories. So I kept a similar calorie intake. But on the diet with all the added sugars, I was snacking a lot more. I just never felt full, and it was affecting my moods. What I learned was that I was triggering insulin and all sorts of hormones that were trapping fat in my body.
The film first launched in Australia. What was the response like?
I didn’t get a lot of the abusive letters that I thought I would get. Instead, it’s been mostly very large companies that rely on sugar, saying: “Can we do a screening of your film for our staff? We want to talk about ways to move forward.” They know this is coming. The science is irrefutable now. They know there is a movement. So they are scrambling for sugar replacements, for healthier products. It’s capitalism. They want to give the public what it wants. They want to survive, and so they’ll have to adapt. I guess we just need to be careful about what they replace the sugar with.
What have critics said?
It hasn’t been everyone’s cup of tea. Some critics have completely hated it because it’s not a typical film. But we didn’t make it for them. We made this for the general public because the people need this message.
There are some who say sugar is the latest dietary scapegoat, like fat and cholesterol before it. Your thoughts?
I think they’re right. I don’t think we should ever demonize one nutrient. But when that one single nutrient is now in 80 percent of all foods, we do need to look at it. This is not just about putting sugar in your tea or coffee. It’s pervaded our entire food supply, and people are having far too much of it. And I think most of those people don’t realize how much they’re having.
We’re not demonizing sugar, we’re just showing people where it’s hiding. There are people having their chocolate bar or ice cream at the end of the day without realizing they’ve had 30 teaspoons in other foods throughout the day. I say enjoy your chocolate and your ice cream, but just know where most of the sugar in your diet is hiding.
Do you think that message comes across in the film?
We say at the end of the film that sugar is not solely to blame for obesity. There is a host of other factors. But the science is now saying that it is a major player. So there’s no possible risk in lowering sugar intake. That’s all we’re saying. You don’t have to quit it. You don’t have to ban it. It’s just that the excessive amount we’re having is not working.
What happened after you gave up all the processed foods?
When I went back to just drinking water and eating food again, the weight dropped, and all my symptoms went away. I think we just need to simplify things. Stick to the perimeter of the supermarket where all the fresh foods are. Buy real foods as much as you can. We all know it. But we’ve been bombarded with food industry marketing for so long.
What kind of impact has the film had so far?
I have hundreds of people who write to me and say the film has changed their families or their kids’ attitudes toward food, which is very heartening.
We’ve developed a school study guide from Grade 5 through 11 that’s been rolled out to 1,000 schools in Australia. There’s a group in the United Kingdom that is looking to put it into 12,000 schools. There’s a full parliamentary screening of the film scheduled in the U.K. There have been hospitals changing their food structure. The journal BMJ just wrote a beautiful review of the film. To get that kind of support has been so inspiring.
You have a daughter who is now nearly 2 years old. Is it difficult navigating the sugar issue as the parent of a small child?
We talk about it all the time because obviously we don’t want to demonize sugar and give our daughter an eating disorder. But what we’ve learned in our very short time as parents is that children want to do what the adults are doing. And because my wife and I don’t eat a lot of sugar, our daughter doesn’t either. Blueberries are a fantastic treat for her at the moment – she gets so excited. Or my wife might make a homemade chocolate cake and use banana or coconut as the sweetener, and our baby absolutely loves it. It’s almost defining for her palate what sweet is.
Of course, we haven’t hit the kid’s party circuit yet. But I guess we’re not too extreme about it. We believe that if you’re careful at home, it’s O.K. to loosen the shackles when you’re out. The odd birthday party is not going to hurt. We’re fine with all that.About The Author: By ANAHAD O’CONNOR
The New York Times