There’s a new movie hitting theatres nationwide and it has declared war on sugar, and the food manufacturers that persist in adding sugars to foods. You’d have to be living in a galaxy far, far away to have not already heard about sugar and its pervasive presence in our food lives. But whose fault is that? Laurie David places the blame directly on food manufacturers in her movie, Fed Up. And she is taking on the food industry full throttle with this documentary. I’m fine with that – I just think there’s way more at play here.
Did you know that over 600,000 food products sold in the U.S. today have sugar? According to a recent interview, David thinks that the average person doesn’t know this. She maintains that most people don’t know that granola, salad dressing, and spaghetti sauce have sugar. I say that if you don’t, you’re not reading labels and you simply don’t care to know. You’re clearly not watching TV, reading a newspaper, or going to the doctor. The information that we are eating a diet high in sugar, unhealthy fat, and sodium has been out there since the year 2000. Do I agree that food manufacturers put these three ingredients in food to entice your palate and lure you into gorging on these foods? Absolutely. But to say that we are “unaware?” I’m not buying it. We are aware and if we take the “healthy foods cost more or are not easily accessible” out of the discussion, it leaves us with the reality that we mostly choose not to deal with the bigger issue, which is why we overeat or overfeed our kids. No judgment on the denial – just want to call it what it truly is – an unwillingness to do some hard work and reduce consumption of processed foods and move more. We know what’s in processed and fast food. We just want them. And we teach out kids to want them from a very young age. You aren’t born over-eating or with a donut in your hand – you learn to behave this way and you learn to crave these foods. And at the ripe old age of one, the food manufacturers are not babysitting you, or sitting at the kitchen table introducing these foods, along with sugar and juice bottles.
David also says that conventional wisdom is wrong. Based on the stats of the obesity rate doubling between 1980 and 2000, while there was also a fitness club boon, she believes that our lack of “not exercising” is not a serious or significant contributor to the obesity crisis. I don’t know about you, but most people still can’t afford gyms. So the presence of more gyms never equaled losing weight. Before 1980, we were moving more throughout the day; we were playing outside as kids, we had more physical education in schools, we were active on the weekends. We were not addicted to our smartphones, and our computers and video-gaming – these technologies were just barely starting to hit mainstream slowly. What she fails to address is the age of the internet and its impact on us sitting a lot and eating while we sit. Yes, I do agree that it’s our food consumption driving the weight gain formula, but lack of movement is also driving an imbalance in the energy equation. And those among us, who do engage in an hour of exercise a day, often sit the rest of the day. We are eating too much, but we are also not moving enough. Family meals, as she asserts, is a good habit to aim for with regularity. It does not replace movement throughout the day or a willingness (or even interest) to embrace better nutrition guidelines…..from birth. That is in the hands of parents.
I do agree with Laurie David that the shift in processed food manufacturing from fat-driven to sugar-driven carbohydrates several decades ago sealed the deal, in terms of guaranteeing that we would gain weight. Again, anyone who was buying cartons of low carb cookies ( I saw women filling shopping carts with fat free cookies) in the name of “no need to control portions,” was the same person eating emotionally and overeating creamy, high fat foods before the low carb trend hit. The dietary pyramid did not encourage eating “unhealthy grains.” It encouraged “eating grains.” Oatmeal, ancient grains, brown rice, potatoes, peas and corn have always been available. We just choose not choose them. If we can’t manage to portion control grain choices (healthy or not) then sure, we should limit their presence in our diet (as many experts recommend). Just please don’t insult my intelligence (or yours), Laurie, by suggesting that “even healthy foods don’t need portion control.”
Overconsumption of foods happens whether fat or sugar is trending. Americans will over-eat even healthy foods because we use food as a drug. We overeat for a multitude of emotional reasons, not just because food tastes good. I have clients that eat too much healthy oatmeal, quinoa, dried peas, or they double up on healthy nutrition bars, and they gain weight. Just look at what's going on with gluten free foods. You don't need to buy all these processed gluten free foods to be healthy and avoid gluten. Most of the basic food groups are gluten free. and they don't have to come from a box. Fruits, vegetables, Greek yogurt, corn, peas, potatoes, healthy nuts, seeds and legumes, fish and chicken and lean meats are all shockingly gluten free. So is water. But shelves are filled with processed gluten free foods. We are the ones choosing to buy it, again, in the name of healthier eating.
I recently heard a trend report that said that people don’t want information, they want easy. To the average consumer, easy means buying highly processed, readily available, cheap foods. Yes, they are abundantly available thanks to modern manufacturing. Yes many are loaded with sugars. But plenty of people are also over-eating agave and honey-containing organic foods, calling them healthier. They are still processed and we buy to many of them. We are a fat nation because we over eat and we also then want easy, magical diet solutions. Yet most diets we choose are unsustainable.
Laurie David would say we are addicted to high sugar foods, and some research supports that theory. We'll say it's cheaper and easy to access. We also all know that given the choice between a Big Mac and an equally affordable, accessible yogurt with fruit, the hamburger will win. We want what we want, when we want it. We do'nt want to stop and think and make the better choice because we are stressed, tired or simply feel entitled to these treat foods on a regular basis. We don't want to differentiate between true hunger and emotional hunger. That takes work, and it also requires some self-control.
If sugar is banned, and you look at current trends, the next one up is protein. Despite its satiating nature, we will overeat yet again. We need to work on “the why” of over-eating, and sugar availability is not the end-all simple answer.
Amy Hendel is a Physician Assistant and Health Coach with over 20 years of experience. Noted author, journalist and lifestyle expert, she brings extensive expertise to her monthly shareposts. Her most recent book, The 4 Habits of Healthy Families is available for purchase online, and you can watch her in action on her shows Food Rescue and What's for Lunch? Sign up for her daily health tweets or catch her daily news report at www.healthgal.com.
Published On: May 12, 2014