Maybe the biggest recent revolution in the nutrition world has been the shift from thinking of fat as public enemy number one, to recognizing that sugar is the real culprit—implicated in everything from chronic inflammation to high cholesterol.
But knowing that intellectually and really, truly understanding how sugar sabotages the body are two very different things.
That’s why Aussie filmmaker Damon Gameau—who’s been on a no-added-sugar diet for years—got back on the sugar bandwagon for his new Super Size Me-style documentary, That Sugar Film. “The only real way to get answers is for me to start eating sugar again, and see what it does to my body,” he explains in the film. And his (terrifying!) results might just have you forgoing it for good.
The sugar-eating plan: For two months, Gameau ate as much sugar as the average Australian does daily, which is 40 teaspoons or approximately 160 grams. (For reference: The World Health Organization recently released new recommendations that say roughly six teaspoons a day is ideal.)
What foods he ate: If you’re not already sitting down, you might want to. Gameau got his sugar intake from foods many people mistake as healthy, like low-fat yogurts, dried fruit, and cereal. Not once did he eat candy, ice cream, or other blatantly sugary items. (Not. Once.) That’s because the real problem, he set out to show, is that people eat foods that are secretly loaded with sugar—and it adds up fast.
More reading: Are you addicted to sugar without knowing it?
The results: Before his experiment, Gameau consumed around 2,300 calories daily. He weighed 165 pounds, and his waist circumference was 25 inches. He had a healthy liver, low triglycerides, and no sign of insulin resistance or diabetes—making him a slightly-healthier-than-average Western male.
In just 60 days, he gained almost 19 pounds, added four inches to his waist, and entered the high-risk ranges for fatty liver disease and insulin resistance. Overall, he felt lethargic and had mood swings.
The craziest part? Gameau’s calorie intake was virtually unchanged. Some days, he actually ate fewer calories than before.
More reading: 6 tips for cutting back on sugar
The takeaway: Gameau’s experiment is a vivid reminder that all calories are not created equal, and that ditching healthy fats and complex carbohydrates for processed, low-fat foods is a surefire way to get unhealthy…fast.
Of course, quitting sugar is rough. Gameau says that cutting it out of his diet again after the 60-day experiment was over sent him into several weeks of painful withdrawal, “not very different from quitting cigarettes.” This is one movie you might want to watch with a super healthy snack? —Amy Marturana
(Photo: That Sugar Film)
More reading: 5 sources of sugar you wouldn’t expect