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That Sugar Film...What's the point?

1 Apr 2015 2:43 PM - How "healthy" can make you sick...
Is added sugar making you sick?

Is sugar really that bad for you?

I recently saw That Sugar Film, an Australian documentary by Damon Gameau taking an easy-to-digest (pardon the pun) look at how easy it is to consume large amounts of added sugar in your diet even though you might think you are making “healthy” food choices.

Last year I saw Fed UP, an American documentary with a similar premise but it is good to see an Australian documentary with a focus on Australian products that you would recognise, and talking in metric measures, something we are more used to doing.

Damon is someone who, prior to conducting this experiment on himself, ate a pretty healthy wholefood diet with minimal processed or packaged foods and hence his sugar intake was relatively low. So in order to experience the effects of a diet high in sugar, he opted to consume the equivalent of 40 teaspoons of sugar a day for 60 days by eating everyday packaged foods like breakfast cereals, muesli bars, yoghurts, fruit juices, bottled sauces, dressings and the like.

In other words the sorts of foods many Australians happily consume on a regular basis.

Many of them had “ticks of approval”, again suggesting that they are healthy choices to make. Furthermore, Damon avoided all fizzy softdrinks, chocolate bars and lollies (which most of us know are not healthy choices) and stuck to the same daily calorie intake as his pre-experiment diet.

Setting the daily limit of 40 teaspoons is subjective, possibly exaggerated but not as much as you might think.

According to various government sources in Australia the average Australian consumes anywhere between 20 to 40 teaspoons of added sugar per day.   

In fact, the World Health Organisation released new guidelines in March 2015 recommending 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day (and no more than 12 teaspoons).

On day one, Damon started with a popular breakfast cereal frequently marketed as nutritious and so it must be good for you, right? Of course, being a strapping Aussie bloke he didn’t just have the recommended serving size of 2/3rds of a metric cup. That wouldn’t be enough to keep him going so he had what he thought was an appropriate serving for him (like most of us would do). He topped it with some low fat yoghurt and washed it down with a glass of juice. By many people’s standards, that would be considered a pretty healthy meal, but in that one meal he consumed a huge 19 teaspoons of sugar. You can read more about his daily food intake on his blog.

Over the course of 60 days, in spite of consuming the same calories as his pre-documentary diet, the effects on Damon were:

  • more than 10% increase in weight

  • cholesterol levels increased,

  • liver enzymes were elevated and

  • moodiness, lethargy and no energy for exercise. 

Interestingly, he made the point of saying he felt like he was still “functioning” on a day-to-day basis (albeit with a struggle) but not in the way he knew he was capable of in his pre-experiment state.

I see this with many of my naturopathic clients when they first come to see me…..it’s just “normal” for them to feel tired or to struggle through the day. They don’t know any different.

In spite of eating around the same number of calories every day he felt he wanted to eat all the time and never really felt full, largely because he was eating a lot less fat (no avocadoes, nuts etc) and fibre.

Is there a link between what we eat and how we feel?

The point of the movie, in my book, is to highlight the extent to which sugar is hidden in everyday packaged foods which are often marketed to us in a way that implies they are “healthy” choices.

So, did I like the movie? Yes, I did. In spite of the fact that the “study” Damon conducted wasn’t scientifically rigorous, it did clearly highlight much of what I talk about with my naturopathic clients regarding healthy eating.

It’s so easy to be fooled into thinking you are making “healthy” choices if you believe the marketing hype on most of the packaged products you see in the supermarket. And when people see the effects that these products have on Damon’s health in a relatively short timeframe hopefully it will raise awareness of the inevitable link between what we eat and how we feel, both emotionally and physically.

Four simple tips for eating healthier:

I'm not saying that we all consume 40 teaspoons of added sugar in our food on a daily basis but it would be fair to say that most of us could pay a bit more attention and be on the lookout for the hidden sugar (in all its various forms) added to our food.

  1. Learn to read nutrition panels and ingredient lists on your packaged food

  2. Choose whole foods in preference to packaged foods whenever possible

  3. Remember, the sugars that naturally occur in food are generally fine. It's when something else has been removed (e.g. the flesh from fruit to make juice) or when extra sugar has been added (e.g. in many low fat products) that you can come unstuck.

  4. Tune in to how your body feels after a meal...learn to notice what makes you feel good and what doesn't (and for how long)


If you want more reading, have a look at:


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Want some help to make healthier food choices? Call me for a naturopathic consultation on 03 9620 9503 or contact me now.

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In good health,


Kaye Wright
Naturopath
Melbourne CBD

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