28 November 2015

Sugar? Yes, sugar is killing you.

I just watched That Sugar Film, an Australian documentary in the tradition of "Supersize me" (McDonalds will kill you) and "Superhigh me" (marijuana will not).

[I just saw that this film is coming to theatres in Jan 2016; I saw a festival copy]

In the film, Damon eats 40 teaspoons (160g) of sugar a day, the average for an Australian. He doesn't ingest sugar via sweets, soda or ice cream, but via "healthy foods" like yogurt, granola, juice (oh the juice!), and so on.

The results after 60 days are startling: he gains 8kg (on 75 kg start), moves from a healthy liver to a "fatty" liver, and exhibits the highs and lows of a pre-diabetic.

This film captures the "new knowledge" that sugar -- not fat -- is probably responsible for the epidemic of obesity, diabetes, etc.

The conventional wisdom of "fat makes you fat" is wrong. The idea that "all calories are the same" (a favourite of the sugar industry, which uses science and lobbying in exactly the same way as tobacco companies) is wrong.

Sugar is rare in nature, so our bodies are not evolved to cope with it compared to fat and protein. Thus, when we eat sugar, we get a rush of energy. Our livers release insulin to tell cells to mop up the sugar, stop burning fat, and (this is the killer) convert excess sugar into fat that will be stored in our livers, guts (men) or rumps (women). It's those rushes that leave us depleted after the high as well as lacking energy (because it's getting stored rather than used).

By coincidence, The Economist has articles on sugar's bad influence on health this week (soda and tax it). For more information, check with government health sites: USA, Canada, UK, and Australia. (There are MANY sugar industry sites with "health" information. Don't believe them.)

Should the government tax sugar? Yes, if you think that "sin taxes" are appropriate as a means of reducing harm to citizens and public health costs. Diabetes and obesity cost Americans $245 and $150 billion, respectively, per year in direct and indirect costs (that's $1300/person!)

Bottom Line: I give this file FIVE stars for its entertaining (sometimes terrifying) glimpse of the harms we risk from sugar. Sure, have some in small doses (fruit, milk) but not in large or concentrated doses, e.g., juices, sweetened products (pasta sauce!), Vitamin Water, etc. Home cooking can avoid many of these problems. Coca cola, Pepsi and Mountain Dew (27 tsp in one bottle!)? You're better off without those.


  1. Happy to see that another good film about the impact of sugar has been released! Another one I would recommend is "Fed Up", which focuses specifically on the American food industry.
    With regards to taxing, personally I believe that it could do a lot of good! Jamie Oliver has been pretty outspoken about "Taxing sugary drinks in the UK" - his petition (https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/106651) will be discussed in the parliament tomorrow. Although based on the official response, I think very little will be achieved. Regardless though, it's good to have 'big public figures' behind things like this, as it at least raises public awareness.
    P.S. his TED talk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=go_QOzc79Uc) is definitely worth a watch, it's got some good stuff in there.

  2. From this week's Slate Star Codex links:
    This chart is a pretty damning one-image rebuttal to people who think sugar is responsible for the obesity epidemic.


    1. Yes, except that it's misleading. See this:


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