An interview with Australian actor, Damon Gameau, who went on a journey to discover the bitter truth about sugar. In his excellent new movie, That Sugar Film, he documents the effects of a high sugar diet on a healthy body, consuming only foods that are commonly perceived as ‘healthy’. I highly recommend it!!!
Dr L: Tell us, what was your ‘game changing’ moment that inspired you to create a documentary about sugar?
Damon: I remember discussing the idea with friends and we were really struggling to come up with an idea for the narrative of the film. How would we tell the story? I was in a supermarket and picked up a can of tomato soup and saw that it had 8 teaspoons of sugar in it. I thought ‘I wonder what would happen if Idid an experiment eating only the ‘hidden’ sugar in foods that most people wouldn’t be unaware of?’ It just rolled on from there..
Dr L: You subjected yourself to 40 teaspoons of sugar for 60 days, was this hard to do?
Damon: Surprisingly not, which is sad to say. I kept a food diary of my entire 60 days of sugar eating madness which is up on our website so people can see how simple it was. Considering my cereal, low fat yoghurt and apple juice had me at 20 teaspoons just for breakfast, it wasn’t difficult to find another 20 teaspoons for the rest of the day.
Dr L: The sugar you ate was from perceived ‘healthy foods’ at the supermarket – is that right?
Damon: That’s right, so the rules were that I had to eat 40 teaspoons a day, which is what the average Australian is eating between the age of 19 and 30, of sucrose or fructose but it had to be found in perceived ‘healthy foods’. So, no chocolate, ice cream, lollies or soft drink. The sugar was mainly coming from low fat yoghurt, granola bars, cereals, sports drinks, vitamin waters and condiments.
Dr L: What did a typical day of eating look like whilst on the sugary experiment?
Damon: Well I would start the day with the above mentioned cereal/ yoghurt/juice combo (20 teaspoons) or sometimes an Up and Go liquid breakfast drink (4.5 teaspoons per serve), I would have some yoghurt sesame snaps (4 teaspoons), a couple of drinks like Lemon Iced tea (8 teaspoons) plus some chicken with a packet sauce or pasta sauce (5 teaspoons). I also had the odd low fat frozen yoghurt, which had about 10 teaspoons of sugar in it. You can see how easy it is to rapidly increase your sugar intake and why the bowl of ice cream or chocolate you may think is a ‘treat’ at the end of the day is actually your 35th to 40th teaspoon of sugar. And this is the point of the whole film, we are not out to demonize sugar but to raise people’s awareness as to how much they are actually having so they can aim for the recent World Health Organization’s recommendation of just 6 teaspoons or 24 grams a day for optimal health (these 6 teaspoons include all added sugar like table sugar, honey, agave, fruit juice, high fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, etc.)
Dr L: What changes did you have to your body whilst eating these foods?
Damon: Well overall I put on 19 pounds, I developed full blown fatty liver disease, was pre-type 2 diabetic and had heart disease risks plus put on 10 cm of visceral fat around my waist (which is the most dangerous type of fat). I also experienced some very erratic mental behaviour but acknowledge that I may be sensitive to sugar (but so are lots and lots of others and may not know it). All this happened while consuming the same amount of calories as I had pre experiment, which was probably the biggest surprise for all of us involved.
Dr L: What was the toughest thing you had to overcome?
Damon: Definitely the mental aspect. It is estimated that half the population are ‘reactive hypoglycemic’ which means that when we have highly refined carbohydrates like sugar, the hormone insulin is released to remove the sugar from our blood very quickly. When this happens, the brain compensates and releases chemicals that can make us feel nervous, anxious, jittery or irritable. My poor girlfriend can testify to all of these symptoms while I was doing the experiment. This has large implications for school children who may be struggling to learn in school after a high sugar breakfast.
Dr L: Was there anything that shocked or surprised you?
Damon: Many things, it has been an eye opening 3 years of putting it all together. The fact that sugar is in nearly 80% of the foods we eat, the fact that my calorie count was the same, the effort that the food companies put in to finding our ‘bliss point’ for sugar, the effect on my moods and of course the sad story about the Aboriginal communities of Australia and the young Kentucky boy with Mountain Dew Mouth and the astronomical levels of sugar that they are consuming.
Dr L: Would you put your body through the experiment or a similar experiment again?
Damon: I think my body has done its dash of ‘human guinea piggery’. I think I took it to the very brink and I owe it some respect for a while. You never know though, its very hard to read so much conflicting science and arguments about food: in the end all we can ever do is just experiment on ourselves and see what works for us. We are all different.
Dr L: What advice would you give to other people confused about the sugar stigma?
Damon: The key message from the film and the book is that you don’t have to quit or remove sugar entirely. The World Health Organisation recommends around 6 teaspoons a day. And please don’t stop eating fruit. Fruit is your friend, the sugar in it is protected by the fibre when eaten in whole form and if treated like ‘nature’s dessert’, then you can’t go wrong.
Dr L: What imprint would you like to leave on the wellness industry?
Damon: There are so many things going on in the world that seem out of our control at the moment, it can be very overwhelming. But food is one area where you can take your power back. Learn to read labels and calculate sugar, look out for misleading ‘health slogans’ on packets. Start wherever you are at, if you still need to take the family to a fast food restaurant because its cheaper for you at the moment, then at least order water with the meal and avoid juices, sodas and even diet sodas.
Ultimately, you get to decide what goes into your mouth and most importantly, what goes into the mouths of your children so they can enjoy a happy and healthy future.
Here’s the trailer: