On the other hand, I will definitely be more conscious about how much sugar I eat and will hopefully avoid a huge sugar hangover—that slightly sick, tired, yucky feeling I get after eating too many sweet foods.
Related story from Time: Sugar is definitely toxic, a new study says
Along the lines of Super Size Me, in which the filmmaker ate nothing but McDonald’s fast food for a month, this guy ate a moderately-high sugar diet for 2 months to see what would happen to his body.
It wasn’t pretty.
Under the watchful eyes of a physician, a dietitian and a pathologist, Damon Gameau (an Aussie, by the way) increased his sugar intake to match that of the average American child/teenager—a whopping 32 teaspoons! (Which is 40 teaspoons in the Australian measurement system.)
A sugar cube is about 3/4 of a teaspoon, so think about eating 42 sugar cubes every day.
It wasn’t a surprise to me that Mr. Gameau gained weight (although he ate the same number of calories and tried to keep up his exercise regime) and felt increasingly sluggish as the weeks went by.
His concentration and memory suffered, and much of the weight he gained went into belly fat, the most metabolically active and least healthy kind of fat.
His blood tests showed that after just 2 months he was already tipping into type 2 diabetes.
Again, none of this is a surprise, but what really startled me is that Mr. Gameau wasn’t bingeing on candy or Coke; he was getting all his sugar from common foods that are heavily marketed as “healthy”, such as granola bars, sports drinks, low-fat yogurt, smoothies, breakfast cereals, fruit juice, etc.
I stopped eating Raisin Bran several years ago when I realized how much sugar was in one serving. 18 grams, which is just over 4 teaspoons (that’s more than 5 sugar cubes!!). The problem is those sugar-bomb raisins. Plus, they’re bad for your teeth (unless you brush right away).
Speaking of teeth, one of the most gruesome scenes in That Sugar Film is when Gameau comes to America to learn more about our eating habits (not pretty) and interviews a 17-year-old boy who had been drinking a dozen cans of Mountain Dew (46 grams of sugar/11.5 teaspoons/15 sugar cubes) every day since he was an infant (his mother put it in his bottle). All his teeth were so rotten he was having them all pulled, but there was so much infection that the anesthetic wasn’t working. I had to leave the room because I could not bear to watch this kid’s suffering. 🙁
Other than that tense moment, That Sugar Film is very watchable and entertaining, and it’s an excellent reminder that when we shop for food we need to look past the clever packaging and marketing, and read the labels. All processed food labels list the amount of sugar, in grams or teaspoons, that is in the product.
Related post: The FDA wants new sugar rules
If you look, you might be surprised, like I was when I looked more closely at my daily bowl of Raisin Bran.
Gameau does weigh in (haha) on the calories in-calories out debate, which argues whether fructose, specifically high fructose corn syrup, is worse for you than other forms of sugar and leads to greater weight gain. He says it definitely is, but I’m still inclined to stick to basic physics until I know more.
I won’t argue that too much sugar of any kind is not good nutrition.
There are several guidelines for sugar intake, but they all recommend fewer than 10 teaspoons of sugar per day.
The American Heart Association has the strictest set of guidelines:
- Men—9 teaspoons
- Women—6 teaspoons
- Children over age 8—5 to 8 teaspoons
- Children under age 8—3 to 4 teaspoons
I don’t like to get all hung up on weighing and measuring everything I eat. It takes all the fun out of eating and adds a huge amount of unnecessary stress to the day.
However, I do make a habit of being aware of what I eat. I know the ballpark amount of fat, sugar and salt, and I don’t eat a lot of fast food or processed food.
I will definitely be eating some holiday cookies this week, and some pie, chocolates and a few glasses of eggnog. But probably not as much.