What Sugar Really Does To Your Body

Soda and candy aren’t the only foods that contain sugar. Even those with words such s “healthy,” “organic” and “vegan” can be loaded with the sweet stuff. Numerous studies have shown the negative effects too much sugar can have on one’s physical, emotional and mental health and now there’s a film that’s bringing it all to light.

The sour side of sugar


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.

Q. So why did you make this film?
A. 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.
Q. Was it?
A. 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.
Q. You were focusing on foods perceived as healthy. Can you talk about that?
A. 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.
Q. Do you think people put too much faith in food labels and claims?
A. 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.
Q. What was your diet like before the start of the film?
A. 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.

Full Story: What Eating 40 Teaspoons of Sugar a Day Can Do to You

thumbnail courtesy of nytimes.com