In Australia, the average intake of sugar is 40 teaspoons a day. We’re a little better in the US – we average 23 teaspoons daily – mainly from soft drinks and almost all processed food. Food manufacturers add sugar – to a breakfast cereal, ketchup, cola, teriyaki frozen dinners et al – until they reach the ‘bliss point’. Any less wouldn’t be as good tasting, any more would be too much. Think about that – ‘the bliss point’. Is it any wonder that we are hooked on sweet tasting food?
That Sugar Film was made by an Australian journalist, Damon Gameau, who decided to ingest 40 teaspoons of sugar a day, although he had not been eating sugar for 5 years. He consulted doctors and nutritionists before starting. He did not eat candy bars and ice cream, but selected supposedly healthy foods such as breakfast cereals, sports drinks, baked beans, and smoothies. He continued to exercise vigorously, and ate the same number of calories as he had before - 2,300 daily. However, he gained 15 pounds, mainly around his waist. Blood tests indicated that he was developing fat in his liver and a prediabetic state. He also noted a decreased attention span and moodiness.
While making his film, Gameau traveled to an aboriginal community in northern Australia where the population consumed huge amounts of soft drinks and processed food, thanks to easy access to Coca-Cola and lack of fresh produce at the local food store. The health effects were devastating. Aboriginal communities are now trying to return to their old ways., with governmental support and wise local elders.
Gameau also visited a Kentucky town where there had been an epidemic outbreak of ‘Mountain Dew Mouth’ - the result of drinking five or more daily cans of this cola that is loaded with sugar and caffeine. The film focuses on a teenager whose teeth are rotten and infected. He wants dentures, but his dentist has trouble with the tooth-extraction since his gums are so infected that local anesthetic works poorly. After the viewer watches his agony in shocking detail, the teenager says he will continue to drink Mountain Dew after he gets his false teeth. Obviously, there’s a malicious ‘bliss point’ here – the addictive nature of sugar and soft drinks – when combined with poverty – is underlined.
The dramatic increase in obesity and diabetes in our country, and in many societies worldwide, is related to our consumption of processed foods and their added sugar. New labeling requirements by the FDA mandate that ‘Added Sugars’ in grams and as percent of Daily Values be added. While the FDA and the WHO say that added sugars should not exceed 10% of daily calories, many experts think that 5% is a better goal. This would mean 24 grams of sugar for most people, or 6 teaspoons. Compare this to the 23 teaspoons we are now consuming in the U.S.
Until the new labels arrive, remember that there are 4 grams of sugar in one level teaspoon. You can figure it out by reading labels; don’t exceed 24 grams. Include the sugar or honey you may put in your coffee or tea. Here’s one final point – when Damon Gameau finished his 60 day sugar diet, he easily returned to his regular weight, his belly size decreased, and his abnormal test results turned around completely. That Sugar Film is easily available on Netflix and other streaming sources.
Sadja Greenwood, MD, MPH back issues on this blog