What if sugar were keeping you from living your best life?
We’re not just talking about kids bouncing off the wall from Pixie Stix. It’s about the sugar that’s all around us, often added to foods we think of as healthy — over 80 percent of the products on supermarket shelves contain added sugars. Could it all have a role to play not just in our deteriorating physical wellbeing, but also our mental health?
The research into the extent of excessive sugar’s role in ourhealthis ongoing, but filmmaker Damon Gameau went looking for his own answersby giving himself the Morgan Spurlock treatment in the new documentary, “That Sugar Film.”
But he didn’t live on ice cream and soft drinks for two months — he ate the foods we commonly think of as “healthy” likeyogurt, canned vegetable soup, juice, dried fruit andcereal,but which contain hidden sugars. The goal: 40 teaspoons a day, the average among Gameau'snative Australia.
Thephysical resultswere shocking: Gameau put on almost 7 pounds in 12 days, and developed fatty liver disease, which can lead to liver failure, by Day 18. Atthe end of the experiment, Gameau had gained nearly 19 pounds, had warning signs of Type 2 diabetes and gained 4 inches around his waist.
Results like Gameau’s have been coming in from scientific studies for years, prompting a pleasantly timed “endorsement” of “That Sugar Film” last Friday when the FDA proposed separating Added Sugars on the redesigned nutrition label.
While Gameau’s physical results were alarming, he also noticed effects that are less studied but gaining attention. He didn’t just feel calmer before sugar, but also more balanced and present.
“I knew what kind of person I was when I wasn’t eating that kind of food, when I was eating real, whole food, fresh fruit and vegetables,” he recalls. “I just looked forward to getting back to that person because he was a much better person.”
In the film,Gameau’s nutritionist drew a graph to show spikes in blood sugar being countered by the release of insulin, then plummeting without fiber and healthy fats to keep it steady — which prompts the brain to panic, thinking that it’s running out of glucose. Adrenaline is released until you give it what it wants, and the cycle just keeps repeating.
“Once I started having these sugary foods, I was fine once I had the sugar for about 40 minutes, and then I really started feeling the effects — my concentration would disappear,” Gameau recalls.
His experiment even began to strain his marriage:"My wife would often comment, ‘Where have you gone, you’re gone again!’ I’d disappear from whatever conversation we were having until I had some sugar again."
Though he exercised three times a week before starting the diet, Gameaulost all his motivation to move, saying he “felt like lying down all the time.” But even if he summoned the energy, science is beginning to catch up that we can’t just burn off anything we eat, as various calories react differently within the body.
“There are millions of people out there that can relate to that, who might be living a life they’re not aware of fueled by this kind of food," Gameau says."Whereas if they started to change some of their eating patterns, they begin to see some fundamental changes to how they see the world."
If the cost of eating healthier is putting you off, Gameau says the experiment actually made him realize that it would be more expensive to keep eating his sugary diet. When he switched from eating healthy fats — whose image is now being rehabbed one study at a time — he noticed that he was eating more, and more frequently.
“What [healthy fats] do is provide high satiety — if you have some eggs and avocados for breakfast, chances are you won’t want to eat for a couple of hours because they’re slow-releasing energy," he explains.
“Whereas if you’re constantly having a very refined carbohydrate like cereal and a glass of juice without the fiber from the skin of the apple, you’re gonna be hungry an hour later, and that is certainly what I experienced throughout the experiment: I was never full, so I would actually have to eat every hour, hour and a half.
“So if you buy the right foods, then they will last you throughout the day and be a much more productive fuel source.”
“That Sugar Film” isin select theaters and available on demand July 31.