In Conversation with Damon Gameau, Actor-Director of "That Sugar Film"
One day, Damon Gameau, actor and film-maker hailing from Australia, was walking down a supermarket aisle and picked up a can of tomato soup. Damon noted the soup contained 18 teaspoons of sugar, almost the same amount as a can of soda. He then spent hours reading various product labels, realizing that added sugar was in nearly every packaged product there - even in the foods that are generally considered healthy, that most Australians eat every day. Curious about the effect of these foods on the human body, he decided to embark on a 60-day experiment. Damon would switch from his usual whole foods diet to an average Australian diet, consuming 40 teaspoons of sugar per day. But instead of soda, candy, chocolate and ice cream, he would only eat "perceived healthy foods," such as low-fat yogurt, granola and fruit juices. His experiment turned into "That Sugar Film", which was just released in the US this week. Damon was gracious enough to visit NGI and we had a chance to discuss the film.
How did you decide to make this film? At the time, there was a lot of press coming out about sugar but the camps were very divided. Some people were saying it was poisonous, some were saying it was essential for energy. Being a concerned new-father-to-be, I thought the only way to find out the truth was to do an experiment on my own body. I wanted to do an experiment where I would eat the amount of sugar most Australians are eating every day, while not having any soft drinks, chocolate, ice cream or confectionary, and consuming the same amount of calories I usually consume. All the sugar would have to be found in perceived “healthy” foods. Quite often these are the products that have a bee or a sunflower, or a sunset on the package, and are designed to appear healthy. Within 12 days, I put on five pounds. After 18 days, I’d developed fatty liver disease, which was probably the biggest shock of the whole experiment. Fructose metabolizes uniquely in our bodies, by turning into fat in the liver and preventing it from functioning properly. The fact that it happened to me so quickly took the project to a whole other level. And I wasn’t drinking any soda! I was drinking sports drinks, vitamin-enhanced water and juices, which all have about eight teaspoons of sugar in them, and people aren’t aware of that.
You were monitored by a group of medical professionals during the experiment. Were they surprised by the results? I had Australia’s leading medical pathologist monitoting me and he was doing my blood tests every week. My calorie intake was the same as my pre-experiment diet, I just had more refined carbohydrates. I put on 19 pounds altogether, I had fatty liver disease, pre-type 2 diabetes, heart disease risks. No one expected this! The reason we made the experiment 60 days is because I didn’t think we would get results in 30. That’s how naive I was. The fact that my liver was turning to fat after 18 days was a complete shock to everyone.
Aside from these shocking diagnoses, how did you feel? I was surprised at how it affected my mood. I had reactive hypoglycemia, which effects half of the population today. When you eat these sugary foods, it spikes your blood sugar and the brain panics and releases these chemicals that can make you feel jittery, anxious, irritable, and I experienced all of those. Is this having an effect on kids who eat “healthy” breakfasts like low-fat yogurt and cereal, and then have a hard time in school because they’re irritable? Undoubtedly.
What has the reception of the film been like so far? It’s been quite overwhelming. This is now the highest grossing documentary film in Australia of all time. People are enjoying the movie because it’s fun and playful. There are lots of animations, because we want kids to see it. Hugh Jackman and Stephen Fry are in it. It’s entertaining, not all serious doom and gloom. We’re not demonizing sugar and saying you can never have it. However, people need to realize where it’s hiding so they understand the true definition of moderation. People have their chocolate ice cream and think it’s the only sugar they’re having that day, but sugar is now in 80% of the foods we eat. Sugar is like tobacco. We now know what tobacco does, so if you want to smoke, great - but at least you know the parameters. We’re not there with sugar yet.
This post was originally published by the Natural Gourmet Institute. Learn more about today's Natural Gourmet Center.