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Review: That Sugar Film

Our Tick dietitian Sarah Goonan went along to watch That Sugar Film. Here's her take on it.   

Sugar – some of us love it and some of us hate it. This controversial little nutrient has been dominating headlines and sparking debate for some time now. That Sugar Film follows one man’s journey to discover the effects of a high-sugar diet on health and wellbeing. 

Australian director and actor Damon Gameau embarked on an experiment where he ate 40 teaspoons worth of added sugar per day for two months. There was just one catch - all the sugar had to come from perceived ‘healthy’ foods such as fruit juice, breakfast cereals and yoghurt (rather than the obvious lollies, cakes and soft drinks). Forty teaspoons is roughly the amount of sugar consumed in a typical Western diet each day.

Here’s what they found:

Even though Damon consumed the same total number of calories per day as he had beforehand, and made no changes to his fitness regime, he reportedly gained 8.5kg. He also developed fatty liver disease (a build-up of fat in the liver cells) and signs of pre-diabetes. On top of this, he reported mood swings, plummeting energy levels and a lack of motivation to exercise.

So, what does the Heart Foundation say?

The Heart Foundation has always recommended limiting intake of foods that are high in added sugar as part of a healthy dietary pattern.

We recommend people focus on eating plenty of vegetables and fruit, choosing whole grains instead of refined grains, eating fish and legumes, opting for lean meats and plain dairy, and including healthy oils and nuts. Remember that there are naturally-occurring sugars in nutritious foods such as fruit and plain milk, which do not have the same effect as added sugar, and should be included as part of a healthy way of eating.

Take-home messages:

Although That Sugar Film is based on the experience of just one person (and therefore, not considered high-quality evidence in the world of science), it was informative and artfully pieced together. Using humour, animation, poetic performances and song and dance, it opened our eyes to the danger of hidden sugars in many common foods items. Here are five ideas from the film which we believe deserve an encore:

1. Do whatever you can to turn fruit and vegetables into the highlight of your meal

Fill half of your plate with colourful veges. They are packed with vitamins and minerals, and help fill you up with very few calories. Fruit makes an easy on-the-go snack or sweet treat after a meal.

2. Water is a good drink

Sugary drinks have been linked with poor health, including obesity and rotten teeth. Water is the best choice for both adults and kids.

3. While sugar contributes to the issue of obesity, it is not the sole cause

Nutrition research and popular food trends often focus on single foods or nutrients. Don’t forget, it’s important that we look at the bigger picture and improve the quality of our diets as a whole.  

4. Lowering your sugar intake is a good place to start

Do we need to follow a ‘sugar-free diet’ and eliminate sugar completely? Not necessarily. Opt for nutritious foods that contain naturally-occurring sugars rather than those that are high in added sugar. Be aware of the many different names used to describe sugar - agave, honey, molasses, cane sugar, raw sugar. Even though they may sound more upmarket, it’s all sugar at the end of the day.

5. We need to educate our children

Over one third of Kiwi kids are overweight or obese. Children learn from what we say and do. Lead by example to help your children develop healthy eating habits - eat the way you want your children to eat.