A few months ago, a close friend of mine told me to watch That Sugar Film. She discovered it after learning that she was pre-diabetic and needed to curb her sugar intake.
In early 2015, I dramatically cut sugar from my own diet, after receiving scary blood-test results showing that my triglycerides were sky-high. High triglycerides run in my family and they have plagued me since childhood. For most of my life, I've been on a teeter-totter, going up and down between carefully monitoring my diet and eating crap. The longest that I've stuck to a "clean" diet of no sweets/fried food/alcohol, has been about two years. I always feel amazing when I stick to it and my triglyceride level quickly drops to reflect my efforts.
Going off of my clean eating regime is a slippery-slope. It usually starts with a few bites of dessert or a drink on a special occasion and soon, I find those special occasions happening more frequently. I make excuses for the slips. Before I know it, "It's a day ending in Y", becomes a reason to celebrate! I've never been quick to gain weight, so when the clothes still fit, it makes it easier to ignore the slips. The yearly blood test tends to reaffirm my resolve.
Like many things, diet is easy to ignore when the negative effects of high triglycerides seem to be a problem for the distant future. The terrible consequences ( heart attacks/strokes) are not happening now, so surely I can have some chocolate and work on the problem later? Last year's resolve lasted from January until the end of June, when we went on our summer vacation to Europe. Soon, I was eating dessert and having cocktails on most days. We returned to the states in late July and the celebrating continued with other mini-trips, birthdays, and anniversaries. Soon, I was eating chocolate every day and back to square one.
Fast forward to January 2016, with a fresh resolve and That Sugar Film. Although she raved about it, I didn't watch That Sugar Film when my friend originally recommended it. I wasn't ready to commit to change. I wish I had though, because That Sugar Film was a revelation.
I feel that I can state with confidence, that most people realize that candy, sweet baked goods, and soda are unhealthy food choices. We love them and maybe we don't think that they are too harmful in moderation. That Sugar Film isn't really about this type of sugar usage. In That Sugar Film, Australian documentarian Damon Gameau, explores hidden sugars in common foods.
In a move similar to Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me experiment, Gameau spends sixty days eating forty teaspoons of sugar a day, which is the average amount of sugar that an Australian adult consumes in a day. The catch of the experiment is the sugar has to come from "healthy" sources, like low-fat dairy and packaged snacks that are labeled as healthy, like granola bars. A big part of the documentary explores the "low-fat" diet craze and how in low-fat foods, the taste of fat is replaced by sugar or sugar substitutes to make it appealing.
It is quickly apparent that Gameau will have no problem meeting his forty teaspoon goal through "healthy foods" and he will not need to consume more calories than he was consuming pre-experiment. Pre-experiment, he generally ate a Paleo diet ( not that he endorsed a specific diet, other than cutting sugar) which included plenty of vegetables, nuts, and lean meats. It was easy to find enough added sugar in breakfast items, like yogurt and cereal, to nearly meet his daily goal. This was without eating sugar-laden "Kid's cereal". Just to drive this point home- all of the sugar that he ate was from "healthy" foods. Scary, scary, scary!!!
As with Spurlock, Gameau had a team of doctors monitoring his health over the sixty days. He gained weight ( especially around the middle), function in multiple organs started to decline, his triglycerides and cholesterol levels rose, he was sluggish and moody...and he craved more sugar!
That Sugar Film had us reading every food label in our house. The amount of sugar in foods with shock you. The current American guidelines for daily sugar consumption ( not counting fruit or full-fat dairy), are six teaspoons for women and nine for men. To convert this into grams, you multiple by four. This means twenty-four grams for women and thirty-six for men. To further put this in perspective, a cup of Tillamook Strawberry Yogurt has twelve grams. This would seem to be a relatively healthy snack, but it means 1/2 my sugar allowance is gone. This said, there is no actual need to have any sugar in our diets. The less, clearly the better.
Although soda was not part of his experiment, Gameau did explore the impact of soft drinks. Soda sales are at an all-time low due to the recent healthy studies outing it as an unhealthy drink. To drive sales, soda companies are now employing many of the same tricks that tobacco companies used when their sales began to decline. They are targeting poor regions and children. For example in Australia, soda is finding its way into aboriginal communities, where it didn't exist previously.
The most horrifying part of That Sugar Film was when Gameau visited a community in Appalachia, where dentists have coined the term, "Mountain Dew Mouth" to describe rotted teeth and gum erosion that seems to be coming from the over-consumption of Mountain Dew. The drink is consumed in large quantities and so frequently throughout the day, that the mouth is bathed in soda, not allowing for the natural process of saliva to clean out the mouth. There was a nineteen year old featured in the film, who had teeth so broken and rotten, that he was having them all pulled and getting dentures. He had no plans to give up Mountain Dew.
Gameau demonstrated why fruit juice isn't a healthy option. Take oranges for example; when you juice them, you use several oranges to fill a glass and you are getting the sugary juice minus most of the fiber. It's far healthier to consume one orange, than to have a glass of juice.
Not only was the information in That Sugar Film indispensable, but Gameau educates in a humorous and entertaining manner. He brings in celebrities Hugh Jackman and Stephen Fry to help explain physiological aspects of nutrition. It never hurts to have a few famous friends help out!
That Sugar Film was a huge eye-opener for me. I've really been reading labels and making different food choices based on the sugar content. I'm proud to say that I've kept my sugar consumption well below the six teaspoon/24 gram maximum and I feel better for it. The great thing about cutting back on sugar, is after a few weeks, you don't miss it. Your brain and taste-buds adjust to their new reality. Apples taste sweeter and broccoli is more appealing.
Interested in more? We found That Sugar Film on Amazon Prime and here is a link to Gameau's website. He has a bunch of sugar-free recipes to get you started. For Dan and myself, this was a life changing documentary and I hope that more people take the time to watch it and evaluate their sugar consumption.