Monday, 24 August 2015

Damon Gameau, sugar crusader or complete loon? You decide!


Damon has set himself the rather dubious goal of eating 40 teaspoons of sugar a day for sixty days. All his doctors think he is a complete loon. He discovers that keeping to forty might be the problem. After getting a cup measure to accurately gauge the suggested serving size, he realises that one cup will not be enough to prove an  adequate  breakfast, so two and a half cups of cereal and maybe 1/4 cup of low fat fruit yoghurt and a glass of apple juice takes him up to...

Hmmm this is going to be interesting!



Stephen Fry, darling of the well spoken intelligentsia and best friend to Hugh Laurie of " House" fame recites us a lovely little poem about the sugar family so we can know our enemy. His plummy vowels give a quick breakdown and for those who are unsure, a précis of which follows.

Glucose is the sugar that fuels our brain, it is stored for energy and without it we could not live. It is found in fruits and is produced when we eat grains, bread and pasta or other carbs. A balance in glucose levels will maintain optimal brain and body efficiency.

Lactose is the first sugar any mammal comes across as we are passed it in our mother's milk and we find it in varying amounts in milks cheese and yogurt.  Again perfectly safe and healthy unless you have a tolerance issue. It is this lactose intolerance which causes dairy allergies.

Then there is the stuff which causes all the potential havoc, naughty old Sucrose which is the granulated sugar that we use in beverages, in baking and is the stuff "hidden" in foods that it seems we just cannot avoid in 80% of the food and drink found on our supermarket shelves. The problem is the body breaks it down into two components, lovely friendly glucose and infiltrator fructose that is it seems the real villain of the piece. It is found naturally in fruits, vegetables and honey, maple syrup and new kid on the block, agave nectar.


You see back in our formative years as hunter gatherers, it was a primal instinct to eat sweet things wherever we might find them, so berries, hips and fruits were precious but relatively rare commodities. That see and take mentality has travelled through time with us , hard wired into our brains but now where ancient humanity was able to deal with the small amounts of fructose in their diet, the free access to food with little or no effort to obtain it has skewed our ability to process the fructose elements of our diets.


massive problem in modern nutrition is the prevalence of beverages, from fruit juice, to smoothies, pop and fortified waters, we are consuming massive amounts of sugar, both naturally occurring and artificially added. Many of these beverages are marketed as healthy options, particularly the juices and smoothies.

The doctors were right to be concerned! In twelve days Damon's weight increased to 79.3 kilos a rise of 3.3 kilos ( 1 kilogram is 2.204 pounds) and this it seems is mainly due to variety of different beverages he drinks. Remember  though that he is allowed no fizzy drinks such as cola or the other nasties on which all obesity is blamed.  To remain in compliance with the protocol, his diet has to comprise only the perceived healthy and low fat options available.  

What is more alarming to the doctors lookin after his general well being is the marked way this additional weight has accumulated on the stomach. This visceral fat is what is thought to help cause all the health issues associated with weight, obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Damon decides to show his consumption in a more tangible way. 

The sight of him ingesting plain weetabix with no milk and spoon after spoon of granulated sugar and a tub of Greek yoghurt liberally sprinkled in sugar for his frozen yoghurt snack cup was bad enough, but to watch him simulating the sugar content in half a package of teriyaki sauce by sprinkling it on his chicken breast and sprinkling teaspoon after teaspoon into his water for the sports drink he was replacing was just plain revolting.. Watching a man sandwich sugar lumps between two water biscuits, literally took the biscuit.

"I’ve got to say, the chicken  was surprisingly delicious, but the water cracker sandwich was just...you know, those crackers are made for delicate French cheeses; they’re not made for dry sugar cubes. That was probably the most disgusting. I had a moment there [where I thought], What am I doing? Funnily enough, that’s one of the most powerful things to people, especially, because they can really see it. That’s what we’re doing! We’d never [eat this much sugar on a cracker] for real, but we’re quite happy to do it once it’s dressed up and cleverly marketed in a package to us. But it’s no different."

If the film had stopped here I would have been utterly convinced of the error of allowing sugars from cane or beet into my diet at all. Damon however soldiers on.

At eighteen days, his blood results show something very alarming, the level of an enzyme called ALT was found to be present. It should not have been there , the fact that it was was evidence that his liver was damaged and has already become fatty. In eighteen days!

So here Damon showed us just how sugars are dealt with by the body. The food we eat is merrily turned into glucose and fructose. The glucose is needed for energy in the cells and brain do insulin is released, acting like a sabre it slices open the cells to allow the glucose to be absorbed. However the body has no method to deal with fructose as, as we have established ;evolution had no need to process fructose at the rate we ingest it. It is thus straight away turned into fat. And the fat and the glucose travels on towards the liver where fats are digested by bile, but the problem is if there is too much sugar in the bloodstream the insulin in the system prevents proper metabolism of the fats and they are turned into triglycerides which cause fatty deposits and plaque. The more insulin pumped out to deal with excess sugars, the less fats are removed and the more clogged we become internally , resulting in the issues that result in strokes and heart attack and the fatty deposits around vital organs. It is also thought to contribute to  cancer, the rise in the  disease made famous by the Tudor age of excess, Gout  which  often results in painful crystallisation in the extremities and even  is thought to contribute to Alzheimer's rates.

The effect on Damon is also more mental too, he is suffering massive mood swings, sudden clarity on eating something sweet, a manic stage and then forty five minutes or so later a drop in energy acuity and emotional state. Doctors liken this to the similar symptoms of Bi Polar Disorder.

Damon decides to widen the scope of the experiment and examine the effect of high sugar consumption on the indigenous people of the northern territories. Coca Cola estimated that their biggest consumer per capita of Coke was in this area of Australia, two or three generations ago the people of  the aboriginal tribes here would have been hunter gatherers, much akin to our own ancestors. It was estimated that two pieces of candy would equal the full exposure the average person had to sweet things in a year. They lived on a high protein diet supplemented by roots and other plants

This is brilliantly demonstrated by the community of Amata, a dry community  with no alcohol allowed and with a high mortality rate in the Middle Ages within the last forty years. 

Where before they were reliant on bush tucker for their nutrition,with little or no need for " the White Fella's " food, now people live almost entirely on food from the store. The extraordinary rate of liver disease  and diabetes here meant that dialysis is often the only treatment of chronic conditions .Life expectancy for adult men is about 20 years less than for the non-Indigenous population, and between 15 and 17 years for women, which is largely blamed on high rates of chronic illness.


In 2008, the Amata Community Council ordered the local store to stop selling soft drinks and energy drinks with high sugar levels.  Amata population 422, is located on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands in the far north-west of South Australia.It's estimated the annual consumption of high-sugar drinks was about $193,000 in sales, or 43,000 litres. That equates to around 4.3 tonnes of sugar.



The move was part of the Mai Wiru (Good Food) Regional Stores Policy, which was designed to help adults achieve a balanced diet, with flow-on effects for foetal and child health development.
It seems they were very successful in halting the advance of sicknesses borne of poor diet, but then in 2013 the Government withdrew a large portion of the funding and people are beginning to slide backwards as there is no nutritionist to advise them.

Join me tomorrow for the resolution to the crazy experiment

If you missed the first instalment discussing the findings in the movie, " That Sugar film" it was posted yesterday.


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1 comment:

  1. This is really well done. I'm learning a lot! I look forward to part 3!

    ReplyDelete