I say “oh, no, not again” because 30 years ago I spent some time in my practice and in the community
defending “bad” sugar against accusations that it caused hyperactivity and attention deficit syndrome.
Research, then and now, has shown that in only about 25% of hyperactive children
eliminating, not the sugar,but the dyes and other additives in sugary foods can reduce their hyperactivity.
The film “FED UP” which I just saw in advance of its general release on May 9 makes a compelling argument that the amount of “unaccompanied” sugar (the American Heart Association calls it “added” sugar) that we eat is causing our obesity epidemic. It is narrated by Katie Couric and produced by the producer of “An Inconvenient Truth”.
The film simplifies complex nutritional and biochemistry processes with an easily understood cartoon diagram showing sugar ingested without accompanying fiber or protein being absorbed quickly, traveling directly to the liver where it ignites a burst of insulin that converts the sugar directly into fat. If fiber or protein is ingested along with the sugar this absorption is slowed, less insulin is released, and less fat tissue results. Hence the campaign against super-size sodas in New York City and efforts to ban soda vending machines from our schools. The film points out how detractors try to reframe the soda discussions into terms of “individual liberty vs. an over-reaching government”, rather than that of a serious health issue.
“FED UP” explicitly demands that we demonize sugar the way we have demonized tobacco. “Both are extreme health hazards”.
The average daily consumption of sugar in the U.S. is 84 grams. The American Heart Association recommends 36 grams a day of added sugar. “Processed food” with its high sugar content gets the black mark here as compared to “real food”, which if it has sugar, also has fiber which delays its immediate conversion into fat. The film’s examples of the success, power, and money of the “sugar lobby” and big food corporations are particularly provocative. The film removes all blame from the fat individual and places it squarely on the persistently clever, seductive advertising (particularly to young children) of food processors and distributors. The film’s revelations of the ability of the food and sugar lobbies to resist truthful, transparent labeling and to continue to outmaneuver an amorphous front of three different federal regulatory agencies is compelling .
Fun facts presented by “FED UP” include:
- When President Reagan cut the school lunch federal subsidy in the 80’s many schools outsourced lunch preparation to fast food suppliers and closed their school kitchen to lower costs. Today 80% of schools in U.S. have their school lunches provided this way (pizza, french fries, cheeseburgers, and sodas – Pizza Hut, MacDonald’s, etc.) Do you know where your schools get their lunches?
- Promoting student choice of healthy alternatives is an easy, obvious answer to outsourced vendor lunches, but in a school where a healthy alternative is offered a cafeteria worker reports that “only about 25 out of 350 students actually choose it”.
- Multiple sugar products are often hidden on ingredient labels by use of unfamiliar names.
- All the fat taken out of milk and other dairy products during the 1980’s rush toward “fat-free” food has been successfully re-marketed as increased cheese products. Many food manufacturers added even more sugar to restore the taste of “reduced fat” foods.
- Sugar is the ONLY ingredient on the ingredients list that is NOT accompanied with a “percentage of daily requirement” number. This “% number” has been kept off the labels by the sugar lobby. If it were added, we could quickly see that we often exceed our “daily requirement of sugar” about half way through lunch. The film depicts a bowl of corn flakes as actually a bowl of sugar.
A couple of reservations about the film:
1. The film touches only briefly on the genetic contribution to obesity. It explains the two, clearly thin brothers running around in the background of one of the featured fat families, as TOFI (Thin Outside Fat Inside), a recent concept which depends on specialized total body MRI imaging to identify.
2. Its explanation of why the rest of the world is also getting fat is “that we are so good at exporting our ads and processed food to the rest of the world”. I think that is too weak to explain the rise of obesity in countries like Spain, Switzerland, and Korea.
- Reduce sugar intake by 50% by cooking “real” food.
- Any food with more than 12 listed ingredients is a processed food not a “real” food.
- Eat fresh, buy local
- GO SUGAR FREE FOR 10 DAYS. A difficult thing to do because of all the hidden sugar in soups, sauces, catsup, yogurt, and canned foods. A family in the film did do it for 10 days, liked it, extended it, and lost dozens of pounds.
- Ask your legislators to pass laws requiring the inclusion of “% of daily requirement” for sugar on all labels, just like all the other listed ingredients.