Sweet and deadly
Now this is a film which is right up my street, as I am enormously interested in the politics of the food industry and how it deliberately dupes us and deceives us – and even more interested in matters related to health and wellbeing.
Damon Gameau, an Australian actor and film-maker did not really tell me anything I didn’t already know (because I read a lot of books about the subject) but, my did he tell it entertainingly!
It is because this film is not just talking heads stuff by the prophets of doom that I rate it so highly. Neither does it fall into the other side trap of being all pizazz and flashy dumbed down soundbites without any reference and substance.
Instead, there is a very assured tightrope walked between giving lots of facts, having various experts talk through the science of how the body metabolises sugar, in its different forms, all accompanied by `turns’ by various luminaries, including Stephen Fry, giving us some of the scientific information in a more engaging and witty way.
There is even, I kid you not, a star turn rock star number with Gameau as a kind of Presley/Alvin Stardust/Rocky Horror combo sugar devil in an outrageous pink jumpsuit leering seductively at a group of babes dunking themselves in chocolate mousse! This by the way is Gameau at the end of his 60 day 40 teaspoons of the stuff ‘normal Australian sugar consumption’.
Behind all the fun `sweeteners’ though, is a shocking story (one we DO know, though, it seems, ignore) Gameau engages in a particularly shocking experiment to show the devastating effects of sugar.
Gameau’s diet had been completely sugar free for three years, and he had not drunk alcohol for about ten years. He ate a particularly healthy, wholefood diet. At the start of the film he is clearly someone glowing with vitality and energy, and when tested by nutritionists and medics, was pronounced extremely healthy, with no markers for fatty liver, heart problems, or raised blood lipid levels and the like.
The `experiment’ was that for 60 days he would keep to the same calorific intake, – normally most of his calories came from healthy fats, protein and complex carbohydrates – but would consume the amount of sugar and hidden sugar (processed foods) eaten and drunk by the average Australian – 40 teaspoons a day. But he would not do this by consuming junk food, instead, it would be by the consumption of food wrongly supposed to be `healthy’ – for example, fruit juice, smoothies, `high energy’ muesli bars and the like.
Part of the lie we have been fed is that ‘calorie control’ is where it’s at – but calories from different food sources do not metabolise the same way – the calories in sugar behave differently in the body than the calories in fat and protein
By 18 days in, this vibrant trim man was looking more than a little pasty and jaded, puffy around the eyes, which had lost their sparkle. His skin and hair looked dull, he was visibly developing a paunch. He was also suffering mood swings. Part of the brief for the experiment was that he would keep up his normal good exercise patterns. The `normal sugar consumption of the average Australian’ diet was eating into his energy, creating those sugar rush manic surges followed quickly by listless slumps and the inevitable (cocaine like) cravings for more of that white death stuff. He was finding it hard to exercise, as he lacked the energy.
Even more alarmingly his liver was showing signs of damage after 18 days – liver cells dying, releasing their contents, becoming cirrhotic, the signs of fatty liver disease. Fortunately, at the end of the 60 days, and the resumption of his old, healthy diet, all the bad effects had gone after a couple of months, though Gameau did say that the first week of cutting out the addictive sugar (it affects brain chemistry and hits the `reward’ centre of the brain and its neurochemistry exactly like cocaine) was pretty tough, and he certainly had `cold turkey’ symptoms
If Gameau and the visible evidence of the shocking changes sugar produced on him are not enough to make spoon on its way to sugar dish pause, there is the heartbreaking 26 tooth extraction on a Kentucky boy, just shy of his 18th birthday, caused primarily by a variant of Pepsi called Mountain Dew, which he had imbibed since he was 3.
Also explored tellingly in this film are the obvious parallels between big tobacco and the sugar industry. Just as the tobacco companies leaned muscle and spurious science funding scientists to do research to deliver skewed results to disprove links between smoking and disease, so the sugar industry does exactly the same.
This is a wonderful, hard hitting film, delivering its punches of fact wrapped nicely in a ….lethal candy coating. `Sweet,’ being so much linked to pleasure and reward, is hard wired in our brains BECAUSE in nature readily available fructose , is RARE, so we are programmed to want it, and respond to it, as a useful source of energy which can be stored as a long term energy resource, as fat. The problem for us of course being that now, fructose is readily available and what was an evolutionary advantage is now the sweet kiss of death.
I have one disappointment – little mention is made about artificial sweeteners, which carry as many, and in some cases, MORE problems associated with their use. Sweeteners, and the perfidious ubiquitousness of THEIR presence, as food manufacturers respond to and create new possibilities for our desire for that sweet taste, are every bit as dangerous. Many, for reasons of weight control, have got as far as checking the labels and avoiding sugar in their processed food and drink, but are surrendering to the hugely profitable diet industry and ‘going diet food’. There have been plenty of studies about the artificials, but, again, these are not hugely funded because the funders are those big, powerful, vested interest concerns who of course are not going to be giving money to researchers to prove that their products are dangerous! A little mention is made of sweeteners in the Extras section of the DVD, but the lack of much information is likely to just see the sugarholics switch to sacchaholic behaviour, in the belief they might be sparing themselves from the dangers of fructose consumption. Not so
Bravo to Gameau, making such a brilliant documentary
I received the DVD as a review copy, from the Amazon Vine programme, UK. It will be released for sale on 27th July in the UK. A visit to Amazon USA site shows it is unavailable to view/buy. It probably just means that video rights have not yet been negotiated, but I smelt a conspiracy around the evil empire of sugar. Well, they suppressed studies showing the perfidious nature of the stuff, so surely, an indie film is small fry to them.