Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) added a guideline for sugar intake in adults and children. The guideline recommends we reduce our daily intake of free sugars to no more than 10% of our total energy intake. WHO have also noted that a further reduction to below 5% each day would provide us with additional health benefits.
Free sugars are basically referred to as any sugars that are added to food products. So the sugar we find in our fresh fruit is exempt from this guideline. However, the sugar added to a bottle of orange juice is considered a free sugar.
5% of our total daily energy intake would equate to approximately 25 grams which is about 6 teaspoons of sugar. Eating less than 6 teaspoons of sugar seems pretty do-able, doesn’t it?
It does. But we also need to be very aware of all of the sugars that secretly sneak their way into the food products we eat each day.
Which leads me to That Sugar Film.
Last night I attended a viewing of That Sugar Film. Before watching the movie I made sure not to have an opinion on the film.
(It seems that I am quite critical of those who demonize sugar, or any particular food group or nutrient for that matter. With many people religiously following fad diets or going through programs that see specific nutrients as the bad guy, I feel that it’s just not a positive approach to take towards food).
So walking in to the movie with a punnet of fresh strawberries (natural sugar) in one hand and a salted caramel choc top (containing free sugars) in my other hand, I decided to enjoy both forms of sugar and watch the movie in it’s entirety before forming an opinion.
What information did I get from watching the movie?
Well other than being very cautious to listen to the medical and nutrition advice provided from the lawyer and the “Wellness Leader”, which are careers that are not medically driven, I did learn some things based on the clear evidence brought up in the documentary…
Many low fat food options are replaced with sugars
Yes many food products that claim to be low in fat can be supplemented with sugar instead. I’m sure many of us are aware of this. Unfortunately manufacturers still want their products to taste good, so they replace the extracted fat with sugar. However this is not the case for all low fat food products.
Take yoghurt for example. In the film, Damon chose a yoghurt that was low in fat yet high in sugar, however there are products out there that can be low in both.
Jalna Natural Greek full fat yoghurt contains 10g of fat per 100g serve and 4.8g of sugar. Whereas a fat free alternative such as Chobani Fat Free Plain contains 0g of fat and still only 3.8g of sugar. Also, the Jalna Fat Free option contains quite low amounts of sugar too!
So low fat does not mean high sugar in all instances. Read the ingredients list and Nutrition Information Panel when choosing food products in the supermarket.
Sugar is sugar is sugar
In the documentary, Damon and others discuss the different ways sugar is classified in the ingredients section of common food products.
Sugar, raw sugar, agave, cane juice, honey, coconut sugar, molasses, fruit juice concentrate, etc. It is all sugar at the end of the day.
The bigger thing we need to look at when consuming sugar is whether it is a processed form added to foods (ie. free sugars) or whether it is naturally found in the food (e.g. fresh fruit). As shown in the movie, it is very easy to drink the juice of 4 apples in one sitting. That is because the juice is basically just the water, the sugar and some vitamins from the fresh juice that don’t really fill you up. But when it comes to eating an actual fresh apple, we would probably have to stop after one or two due to being full. This is because of the high fibre content that we consume in fresh fruit that we do not experience when fruit is juiced.
Sugar is bad for our teeth
If you have seen the movie then you know what I am referring to.
Unfortunately tooth decay/dental caries is a major issue in Australia for children (and adults) who have high intakes of sugary foods and drinks.
So parents: please watch the amount of sticky or sweet foods provided to kids in their lunchboxes.
Basically we should eat as per the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating
A diet low in discretionary foods. Low in sugary drinks and food products. Low in processed foods. Low in saturated fats and high in good, unsaturated fats. Full of whole, fresh, high fibre, low sugar options. With water as a main drink and physical activity a regular occurrence in our lifestyles.
All of these recommendations are what makes up the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. A resource that is free to all Australians. It recommends the types of foods we should be eating more of and makes mention of the food we should be keeping to an absolute minimum; the discretionary foods. Go to the Eat For Health website for more.
Evidence Evidence Evidence
That Sugar Film is what researchers refer to as a “case study” – that is the results of one specific case is analysed. The film follows the life and dietary intake of one individual and then conclusions based on health outcomes are made depending on the results of the case study.
The highest quality evidence out there, however, is not a case study. The highest quality evidence is what we call a “randomized control trial” (RCT). That is when a randomly selected group of research participants (representative of the wider population) are randomly assigned to one of two groups (an experimental or a control group). A good quality RCT is highly controlled and an even better RCT is one with a high number of participants, rather than just one participant that is found in a case study.
Therefore, That Sugar Film is a great way to analyse the effect of a high sugar diet on one specific person. But a study that looks at this in multiple people and compared the results to a control group would make it a better form of evidence.
The bottom line
So the movie was a great way to open up our eyes to the issue of over-consumption of discretionary foods and the ease of purchasing such foods in the Western food supply.
But at the end of the movie, Damon concluded that while sugar contributes to the issue of obesity, it is not the sole cause.
Perhaps the sole cause is a mixture of all less-than-healthy behaviours, including but not limited to high sugar intake.
Perhaps it is as simple as eating a well-balanced diet full of natural and wholesome foods such as fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, unsaturated fats, lean protein and dairy, with very minimal amounts of energy-dense foods that are high in free/added sugars and saturated fats.
Perhaps it is as simple as that.
Want more info?
If you want to achieve that simple yet complex well-balanced diet, please see an Accredited Practising Dietitian to help you achieve your weight and health goals. Dietitians have university qualified degrees in human nutrition and dietetics with major fields of study in nutrition across the lifespan, medical nutrition therapies, anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, food science, epidemiology, public health, health psychology and research.
For some quick hits, see:
- That Sugar Films webpage “Added sugar vs. Natural sugar”
- My blog post on “Guilt-free foods” … which may no be so free of guilt.