A few years ago, sugar was a hot topic in the news, but the reports were conflicting. Some articles used words like “toxic” and “poisonous” while others cried “essential for energy.”
With all the news hype about sugar, I wasn't sure how dangerous it really was.
And so, in 2011, I decided that the only way to find out the truth about sugar was to do an experiment on my own body, eating a ton of sugar, and to document the results.
I assembled a team of doctors, scientists and nutritionists, and went about consuming 40 teaspoons of sugar a day — which sadly is what most of my fellow Australians are eating. (This includes fruit juices, concentrates and other sweeteners like honey and maple syrup.)
The final idea for my experiment came to me in my local supermarket, when I decided to properly read some labels. I discovered that everyday condiments like BBQ sauce, hoisin sauce and sweet chili sauce all had more sugar in them per serving than chocolate sauce.
What if I could eat my 40 teaspoons of sugar a day by only consuming “healthy” foods?
The rules were set. For 60 days I'd maintain the same level of exercise that I already did and I'd eat no chocolate, ice cream, soft drinks or candy, and I'd get all my sugar from "healthy" foods.
The 40 teaspoons a day would be hidden sugars found in foods like low-fat yogurt, cereals, muesli bars, juices, sports drinks and assorted condiments.
Just 12 days into this, I put on five pounds. But the real alarm sounded when I showed signs of fatty liver disease after just 18 days.
By the end of the experiment I'd gained 19 pounds, developed pre-type 2 diabetes and heart disease risks, had an extra four inches of dangerous visceral fat around my belly and noticed an enormous impact on my moods and cognitive functions. My experiment with sugar provided me with a sneak peak under the veil of the food and sugar industry matrix. And it led to my resulting documentary and book, That Sugar Film.
I think affluent folks around the world are already aware of the dangers of hidden sugar. The goal of That Sugar Film was to penetrate what I like to call the “quinoa curtain” and get the message to the people that actually need it the most.
It's not about quitting sugar, it is about empowering people to see where sugar is hidden so they can truly have it in moderation. You can still enjoy ice cream at the end of the day, but perhaps don't have the apple juice, granola bar or low fat yoghurt on the same day because that's what's getting your sugar count so high.
The film is made for the whole family and includes cameos from Hugh Jackman, Stephen Fry, Isabel Lucas and Brenton Thwaites. Children need to see this movie the most, so we can give them the best chance of a wonderful, healthy future.
Here are the key things I learned over the 3 years of making the film:
1. Added sugar is now found in nearly 80% of the foods we eat.
Not many people really understand what "grams" of sugar means on a label. It helped me to know that 1 teaspoon of sugar equals 4 grams. So if you see a juice bottle or soda with 32 grams then you divide it by 4 to get 8 teaspoons.
The World Health Organization recently recommended that for optimal health, just 5% of energy should come from added sugars.
This means just 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day for a 2000 calorie a day diet. People in the U.S. are currently having around 30 teaspoons.
2. Read the ingredient list.
Companies are now using over 100 different names for sugar on their packets to avoid the word sugar. My favorites are "evaporated cane juice" and "grape mist".
3. Sugar is addictive.
A recent study by Nicole Avena showed that in some cases sugar is 8 times more addictive than cocaine.
4. Much of the damage excess sugar can do occurs inside the body.
Sugar does more than just make you gain weight. I discovered this with fatty liver disease and pre-type 2 diabetes.
One half of sugar is fructose, which is unique in that it metabolizes by turning to fat in our liver. About 25% of people in the U.S. now have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which didn't exist 35 years ago.
5. You have the power to change.
All my symptoms COMPLETELY reversed in just 60 days once I removed the sugar and ate real foods again. No more fatty liver, type 2 diabetes or heart disease risks. I also lost 90% of the weight while being quite sedentary writing the book and editing the film.
Nutrition is the key. You can't outrun a bad diet.
There's a terrific group of scientists out of the University of California called Sugar Science. They provide wonderful, balanced information for those wanting to know more.
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