General Medical

‘That Sugar Film’: The Truth About Weight Control?

In 2002, The New York Times published an article by science journalist Gary Taubes that was a prelude to his exhaustive tome Good Calories, Bad Calories (2007). In the article, headlined “What if It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie,” and later in the book, he took on the weight loss establishment’s endorsement of low-fat diets and explains the history and politics behind the low-calorie/low-fat hypothesis. More important, he explains the scientific research that supports the theory that refined carbohydrates and sugars, because they disrupt insulin regulation, are responsible for the storage of excess fat. Furthermore, the consumption of these types of foods disrupt appetite regulation, leading those that consume them to eat more because they are not as satisfied as people eating proteins and fats.

Taubes was attacked from all sides, but his book (1,000-plus pages) is meticulously researched, and he went on to publish a more layman-friendly version in 2010 called Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It. Meanwhile, research, like the studies cited in Dr. Riddle’s article, continues to support the idea that the ‘calories in = calories out’ hypothesis is an oversimplification. And concerned laymen have gotten into the act as more and more people have recognized the connection between health and nutrition in general.

An example is Australian filmmaker Damon Gameau, who set out to make a film similar to Supersize Me (2004), in which Morgan Spurlock ate nothing but food from McDonald’s for 30 days to see what effect it would have on his health. In Gameau’s “naturalistic” experiment, documented in That Sugar Film, he resolved to eat 40 teaspoons of sugar a day, which is the equivalent of what most people have in their diet, apparently. The interesting twist, however, is that Gameau didn’t go straight for the Coke, candy, or ice cream. He got all 40 teaspoons from so-called “healthy” foods, like smoothies, fruit juices, and energy bars. In other words, all the sugar he consumed was derived from foods that billed themselves as “health foods” and are things that we think of as part of a “health conscious” diet.

The results were startling, to say the least. He maintained exactly the same calorie count as he did with his previous diet, which consisted of proteins, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates. After 60 days on his “healthy” sugar diet, his weight ballooned, his waist was significantly bigger, and most important, his health deteriorated: he showed signs of fatty liver, pre-diabetes and metabolic disorder.

While Gameau was on the diet, he never felt fully satisfied. He kept to his prescribed calorie count, because that was part of the deal, but he was hungrier than he had been when he had been following his higher-fat diet. This suggests that left to their “own devices” people on a “sugar” diet might weigh more not only because of the sugar they consume, but also because they are less satisfied and eat more.

Studies have indicated that consumption of simple sugars, like fructose, do indeed stimulate the appetite (Journal of the American Medical Association, 2013). Gameau also noted that his mood was more variable, less sharp, and he was more lethargic than usual when following this diet. That Sugar Film is an interesting contribution into the annals of self-experimentation, and, if it becomes widely watched, may do real some good.

Let’s hope so. Gameau has some hefty competition. Last week it was revealed that Coca-Cola is financing scientific research that supports theories claiming that energy expenditure is more important than food intake in the weight-control battle (false). In fact, research shows that while exercise is very important to our overall health, as a method of weight control it is much less effective than restricting not just calories, but what kinds of food we eat and drink. Especially sugar. And that means you Coke.


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  • hillsmom August 30, 2015 at 11:49 am

    Dear Dr. Ford, Can you tell me how much sugar is in a glass of wine? I think I read that one 6 0z. glass contains 100 calories, but how to convert that to sugar…? Also, is there a difference in the sugar content of red vs. white. I sent this article around to friends which brought up the question.
    Thanks. Hope this comment/question isn’t too late.

  • hillsmom August 22, 2015 at 12:39 pm

    Swan, I didn’t find the film, only the trailer. But I did find another documentary which shows a study done in GB. It’s over an hour long and unfortunately has commercials. There are more films on YouTube along the same lines. Here I’ve been more concerned about sodium content, now I know better.

  • Swan August 22, 2015 at 7:27 am

    Thank you for showing the SUGAR FILM on your site which I watched with great interest. I am much better at avoiding sugar as I get older and wiser but my downfall is ice-cream and chocolate chip cookies. Not at the same time I hasten to add. At least the film shows us a safe amount of sugar that can be consumed without dire effects on the body in the future. Thank you for your very informative and sensible blog site.
    Bon week-end,

  • hillsmom August 20, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    Do you have any idea how hard it is to find food without High Fructose Corn Syrup in it? (Well, that is beside produce) I finally found Wegmans Organic Ketchup, but it does have sugar.