A fun and easy way to avoid the danger of ‘hidden’ sugars

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It’s been over 10 years since Morgan Spurlock existed on just McDonald’s for a month in the groundbreaking film, ‘Super Size Me’. Now, Australian TV actor and filmmaker Damon Gameau stars in ‘That Sugar Film’, in which he exists on ‘healthy’ low-fat food with a high sugar content for 60 days. The results are more shocking than anyone could have expected. Within three weeks, the previously healthy Damon was feeling terrible all the time, lethargic and snapping at the slightest thing. A visit to the doctor confirmed the worst – he had the beginnings of fatty liver disease.

Gameau didn’t splurge on food such as cheeseburgers, chips and sundaes – in other words food everybody knows is bad for you. He consumed the typical Australian’s 40 teaspoons of sugar a day (the recommended daily intake is a maximum of 9 teaspoons for men, or 6 for women), and only ate foods perceived to be healthy. This includes cereal, smoothies, fruit juice, muesli bars and low-fat yoghurt. The kind of products at the heart of advertising campaigns built on extolling their supposed virtues, using faux science and deceptive packaging.

‘If I’d gone and consumed Mars bars and Cokes the whole time I think we all would know I’d have had ill effects. We get that,’ he says. ‘Where people have been duped is around the lack of integrity and accountability in labelling. You see some of these products in the supermarket with a sunset on them. Or words like Mother Nature and a bee and a flower or something. And people believe it’. In the movie, the products associated with this sort of damage are not disguised, or their labels blurred. In supermarket aisles, Gameau shows clearly identifiable products and brands: Up & Go, Sanitarium, Heinz, Tip Top, Fruche and Kellogg’s to name only a few.

There are now nearly six million Australians with fatty liver disease and only 0.1% of those are caused by alcohol. Type-2 diabetes is killing someone every six seconds worldwide, and Damon believes we’ve reached a point where we need to do something.

Damon believes labelling is deliberately ambiguous, and that we need to be conscious that every four grams of sugar equals a teaspoon of sugar. For breakfast, he would have low-fat yoghurt, cereal and apple juice. That contained 20 teaspoons of sugar, over double the recommended daily intake for an adult male. ‘We’re not being dogmatic and saying people have to quit sugar, it’s just being aware,’ he said. ‘Added sugar is found in over 80% of the processed food we’re eating. If we can remove that, that’s the first step towards making a change.’

That Sugar Film concludes with an empowering message asking audiences to understand that they can make a difference. In this case, that food companies are at their mercy, not the other way around. ‘We’ve been led to believe these companies have all these powers and are very persuasive in their advertising,’ Gameau says. ‘But at the end of the day, you make that movement from your hand to your mouth, and you can override all the signals they are giving you.’

In the movie, Damon’s final meal was a full 40 teaspoons of sugar that could be found in an ordinary child’s school lunchbox. ‘Sadly, it was very easy to do and fitted comfortably into the small plastic container,’ he wrote on his blog documenting his experiment. ‘The last meal was for all the people out there, especially parents, who are led to believe they are doing the right and healthy thing for their children. They are making an effort yet are horribly let down by the lack of integrity in marketing and packaging strategies.’

Since making the movie, the creators have secured funding to create an educational program around the movie. This includes a website offering tips, recipes and a study guide for kids, and will later grow into a larger hub, where people can take part in challenges such as cutting out sugar for 10 days.

There is also an app available, called ‘That Sugar App’, which I urge you to download and use. The app is free, and is available for iOS and Android.
The main purpose of That Sugar App is to encourage you to make healthier food choices by helping you uncover the ‘hidden’ sugar in packaged food and beverage products you consume. It converts the total sugars in food and drink products based on your chosen serving size and graphically displays it in ‘teaspoons’ that can be added to a daily tally to track your sugar consumption. It allows you to find and add products by ‘Scanning’ the barcode or by looking up products and common café/takeaway menu items using the ‘Search’ function. You can also set a personal ‘sugar challenge’ to help you track and moderate the amount of teaspoons you are having in a day, week or month.

I found using this app a real eye opener in helping me see the amount of added sugar in products I’ve always considered to be healthy choices. If your kids are a bit older and have their own smart phone, I’d also recommend you get them to try the app. It really helps you make more informed decisions about the choices you are making.

Have you tried the app, or do you have any other tips you can share on how to manage consumption of added sugar? We’d love to hear from you. Share your comments in the ‘Leave a reply’ section below.

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