I recently watched That Sugar Film – a documentary about the damaging effects of sugar consumption on people in the Western world. Now this wasn’t your typical anti-soda propaganda, this movie was about the hidden sugar in our food and drinks. Not the obvious offenders like ketchup, iced teas or cakes, but the more sinister products that are advertised as ‘all natural’ or ‘no added sugar’ yet are packed with highly processed carbohydrates and/or high fructose corn syrup.
The documentary was too brilliant for me to keep just to myself. So in this article I’ll go over some snapshots and key takeaways that I found interesting.

The premise of That Sugar Film

Filmmaker Damon Gameau forgoes his relatively healthy lifestyle to consume the average daily intake of sugar every day for 60 days.
Before the start of the experiment, Damon eats paleo. His calories split out as coming from: 50% of good fat (avocadoes, nuts etc.), 24% protein, 26% of carbohydrates (not the processed sugar kind). He weighs 76kg and works out 3 times a week doing cardio and bodyweight training – nothing fancy but a good start. Finally, blood tests and other markers show that Damon is above average in terms of health.
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The film maker and guinea pig – Damon. Image credit: The sugar film

So what is the experiment really about?

The rules are simple:
  • Damon is to consume 40 teaspoons of sugar a day – the amount that the average human in the Western society consumes daily. Sounds crazy? Not if you know that just one cup of smoothie can pack up to 43 teaspoons of (hidden) sugar alone.
  • That’s another thing to keep in mind: Damon will only consume hidden sugar. Not the sweets and soda everyone knows are bad, but the everyday items you’d pick up from the shop thinking they’re good for your health.
  • Calories were kept at 2300kcal before and during the experiment. It’s only the spread of calories that changed.

 

Enter the world of hidden sugar…

Snapshot #1.  Fun fact: If you’d take all processed products with hidden sugars off supermarket shelves, you’d be left with only 20% of products. Here’s what your supermarket would look like:
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80% of products in your local supermarket are based on processed and hidden sugar. Image credit: That Sugar Movie

Does everything contain processed and hidden sugars? Of course not. However, 80% of products in a supermarket do. What’s left is vegetables, unprocessed products, meat, cheese, nuts, full fat products etc.
The movie goes on to show the effects of sucrose – table sugar and a mix of glucose and fructose. The former is the biggest offender to your health and well-being.
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Shocking amounts of sugar in drinks that are usually labelled as having ‘no added sugar’. If the sodas would be mentioned in this list the amount of sugar shown would need to be multiplied by 10. Image credit: That Sugar Movie

You see even the stuff labelled with ‘no added sugar’ still contains carbohydrates which are simple-form sugars. I already explained that your body doesn’t really care if you eat a Snickers or a banana – they are both equally carbohydrate-rich items that will have almost identical effects on your body!
Snapshot #2. A simple breakfast of a glass of apple juice (all natural), granola and fat-free yogurt. Most experts would call this meal nutritious and a healthy start to the day yet it packs 20 teaspoons of sugar. The verdict: it’s surprisingly easy to derail your diet and pile up sugar intake with just one meal!
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Damon’s first breakfast – half of his daily sugar intake norm. All the products he used are labelled as healthy by most dietary ‘experts’. Image credit: That Sugar Movie

Snapshot #3. Halfway through the experiment: the effects of Damon’s daily consumption of sugar. In just 30 days he gained 5kg! He became what can be considered a skinny-fat or TOFI (thin on the outside, fat on the inside).
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An example showing growth of visceral fat. This is the type of fat we are hardwired to store when we consume processed sugar. Image credit: That Sugar Movie

Worse than the weight-gain is that most of the gain was visceral fat. This is a dangerous type of fat, stored mostly on your belly.
Interestingly, sucrose (table sugar) has a very specific effect making people gain weight specifically in the stomach area, especially around their organs. This side effect being present (and within just 30 days of the experiment!) is a clear indication that he’s on the way to developing chronic diseases, such as insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, heart disease etc.
Other side effects included:
  • Fatty liver disease development. Damon’s liver cells were getting damaged.
  • Lethargy, a lack of energy and motivation to exercise.
  • Mood swings and manic behaviour.

 

Snapshot #4. What happens to carbohydrates after you put them in your body?
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A superb way to get the message across and explain how food we eat impacts insulin levels, which then kickstarts a chain reaction of fat metabolism being shut down. Image credit: That Sugar Movie

That Sugar Film uses some wicked special effects to explain how sugar and fat metabolism work. In short, the moment you ingest processed sugar, insulin is released. This release of insulin shuts down the fat metabolism. Glucose gets used for energy, meanwhile fructose, due to excess sugar intake at this time, gets converted into triglycerides. These triglycerides are then pushed into your bloodstream. Why is this bad? Because a high level of triglycerides, together with LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol),  cause plaque to build up thereby clogging your arteries and increasing your risk of heart disease.
To find out in more detail what happens to your body when you consume sugar, read this article.
Snapshot #5. Mood swings and poor cognitive performance. For a high performer, this point is as important as the physical effects of sugar consumption. The fact is that consuming sugar causes insulin spikes, which then cause instant energy rushes and crashes.
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Thomas Campbell, a retired NASA physicist, is one of the experts in the doc. He describes how glucose affects our brains: the brain is dependant on glucose, but too much of it results in poor cognitive performance and brain fog. Image credit: That Sugar Movie

When you consume sugar you get an instant energy rush. You know this, you’ve experienced it before. Then insulin is released to control those blood sugar levels. So insulin brings those sugar levels down meanwhile also shutting down fat metabolism. As a result you feel sluggish.
Yet that first hit is such a rush! No wonder some people get hooked on sugary products. They become manic and extremely happy when ingesting sugar. However, this is followed by extreme lows and moodiness. There’s a couple of reasons why this happens:
  • Sugar is the most addictive substance on Earth. Yet it’s legal. Fun fact: in one study it was found that rats preferred to consume sugar over cocaine.
  • This is because sugar triggers the same reward regions in the brain as drugs do. The dopamine rush drives us to keep consuming sugar in order to achieve the state of high again. And it really does give highs. You see consuming it releases a variety of opioids that make us instantly happy. Though not for long.

 

Snapshot #6. Shows a side effect prevalent in poorer communities. It emphasizes the need for proper education on what sugar intake does to our bodies.

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The Mountain Dew Mouth – a common sight in Midwest states. People start consuming soda at an alarming early age. Pictured here is a 17-year old boy who started drinking it from a baby bottle at the age of 3. He now consumes up to 12 cans a day and needs to get all of his teeth replaced with dentures. Image credit: That Sugar Movie

Developing communities around the world are getting fatter and less healthy than they used to be. This is mainly due to increased availability of sugar-rich products, as well as due to the lies spread by the sugar and food industries.

For example, did you know that high fructose corn syrup, agave syrup, coconut palm sugar and other fancy names were all created to cover up the same processed sugar product? The only difference between them is the proportion of glucose and fructose they all contain.

 

 

Snapshot #7. The bliss point. A documented scientific term for sugar dose that’s optimal for getting people addicted to it.

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The bliss point: How to make a product that gets people addicted so they keep buying it. Image credit: That sugar film

Food industry a while back found out that people like to consume sweeter products. Adding more sugar to a product makes people crave it so they repurchase it. However there is such a thing as adding too much sugar, which would cause people to go off a product and stop buying it. The treshold between these two states is called the bliss point.

Manipulating sugar amounts in everyday items exploits people’s trust into certain brands or products. The documentary makes the point that even the rise of consumerism can directly be attributed to the introduction of sugar into our foods People get hooked on paying almost nothing for a pleasure source. This then transfers to other parts of their life so they’re always looking for a quick rush.

 

Snapshot #8. The finale, aka 60 days and 2360 teaspoons of sugar later…

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60 days later. Damon gained 8.5kg and added an extra 10cm to his waist line. As you can see, the majority of fat he gained is visceral fat surrounding his organs. He also packed a few pounds on his face, chest and arms – the typical fat gain areas for men. Image credit: That sugar film

Damon ended up with the following results:

  • Signs of insulin resistance and fatty liver disease development. Both key factors that eventually lead to metabolic diseases: type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease. It’s obvious that this diet had detrimental effects, and just within 2 months Damon went from being healthier than average to becoming part of the least healthy segment of people.
  • Damon’s triglyceride levels jumped from a healthy .8 to extremely risky 1.5!
  • On the cosmetic side he gained 8.5kg and added 10cm to his waist circumference.

 

How’s that for an experiment?!

What shocked me the most was how many products out there contain hidden sugar in simple carbohydrate form. A lot of products are packed with fructose syrups disguised under ‘healthy’ names like agave or coconut palm sugar.

It’s worth noting again that Damon stayed at the same caloric intake as before the experiment. The only thing that changed was the spread of calories he consumed. Instead of the majority being healthy fats, he now consumed mainly carbohydrates. It’s this that made him gain visceral fat which literally wraps around organs and is linked to various chronic diseases. If he would continue eating like the average person, he would certainly end up shortening his lifespan.

He would experience the rollercoaster ride of a lifetime, one too many people will be familiar with:

  • Extreme ups and downs in energy
  • Constant moodiness and cravings
  • Limited cognitive performance
  • Addiction to sugar
  • Being dependant on constant consumption in order to feel energized and yourself

If you ask me these points explain the poor lifestyle and quality of life. You can see how miserable Damon looks in the after shot – watching a movie you notice that he was truly suffering having to experience what people live with daily. One of the points he made was that people simply don’t realise how good it can feel to fuel your body on proper, high-octane food rather than sugar.

Interested in seeing the whole movie? Watch it at thatsugarfilm.com.

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