Gluten and dairy have had their moment in the cross-hairs (and will likely have more). But this year’s bad guy is sugar. And it seems incredibly justified. Particularly if you talk to executive producer Laurie David.
Her incredibly eye-opening documentary, Fed Up, which premiered at Sundance and hits theaters nationwide today, brings attention to the not-so-sweet truths about sugar and the food industry. The film showcases—through physicians, nutrition policy experts, medical professors, and even a former president—what a pervasive ingredient and health-disrupting nightmare sugar has become. It’s in a majority of grocery store products and has played a key role in the obesity epidemic—and the food industry isn’t doing anything to stop it, she says.
So David, who’s also known for her work on the Academy-Award winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, is taking on the food industry with the help of uber-journalist Katie Couric, who’s the movie’s co-executive producer and narrator.
Yes, the two want you to toss your sugar bowl, but first they really want to blow the lid off it. “Everyone thinks they’re healthy eaters, but when you go see a movie like Fed Up—you’re going to reevaluate the way you eat,” she says, while chopping veggies with her family on Martha’s Vineyard. There are a lot of OMG moments that are hard to, well, swallow.
But the message of the film doesn’t have to be a downer; just a wake up call. “Take five girlfriends with you to see it, go back to someone’s apartment, cook a meal, open a bottle of wine, and sit around and talk about the movie.” (That doesn’t sound so bad!)
Here are eight things David wants you know about sugar that apply to your plate—and your health:
1. Eighty percent of the 600,000 items sold in this country have added sugar. “I don’t think people know that when they buy salad dressing and spaghetti sauce, or ‘healthy granola bars,’ that they’re eating added sugars,” David says, “Supermarkets are booby trapped. That to me was one of the most eye-opening things.”
2. Between 1980 and 2000, the obesity rate doubled in the United States. During that same time, fitness club memberships more than doubled, too. “It’s all about conventional wisdom being wrong. You hear it from everyone: it’s all about energy balance and about people not exercising enough. It’s not true,” says David. She believes it’s about the sugar.
3. The government knew we were getting fat. “Before the soft drink and energy drink explosion, and even before fruit yogurt 6.5 teaspoons of sugar in a serving—they [the government] knew we were eating and consuming too much sugar,” David says. Of course, she wishes they’d done something about it instead of covering it up and misleading people over the past 30 years.
4. Trendy low-fat foods of the 1980s really effed with our sugar intake. In 1977, Senator George McGovern was warned that obesity would soon be the number one form of malnutrition in the U.S. He tried to issue a set of dietary goals advising Americans to reduce their fat and sugar intakes, but the food industry fought back. Instead, consumers were encouraged to buy foods low in fat. “When you take the fat out of the food, it tastes nasty. The food industry knew that, so they had to do something to make the food palatable. What did they do? Dumped in the sugar,” says Dr. Robert Lustig, an American pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco, in the film.
5. By our current rate, 1 in 3 Americans will have diabetes by 2015. Currently, nearly 32 percent of the nation is obese, and in two decades 95 percent of Americans will be overweight or obese.
6. The food industry is acting just like the tobacco industry. “Junk food companies are acting very much like tobacco companies did 30 years ago,” says Mark Bittman, a food journalist and New York Times columnist, featured in the film. David finds this shocking contrast to hold true: “The marketing tactics are the same and sugar is more addictive than tobacco,” David says.
7. Sugar is more addictive than cocaine?! In a 2007 study, 43 cocaine-addicted laboratory rats were given the choice of cocaine or sugar water over a 15-day period: 93 percent chose sugar. “You can stay away from drugs, but everyone has to eat,” David says.
8. This is the first generation of kids expected to lead shorter lives than their parents. “We’re in a food fog and it’s time to snap out of it. We haven’t noticed how brazen these companies have gotten,” David says. “I’m fed up. Hopefully everyone else will be, too.” —Molly Gallagher