Damon Gameau has placed himself in the line of fire after 66 screenings in Australia and now here in New Zealand. These are the top 10 questions that were asked and the answers from Damon that you really want to know: 1. What is your top tip for cutting down on sugar?
Read labels. Check the ingredient list for sugar. Understand that 1 teaspoon of sugar is 4 grams. So, if you see a product which has 20 grams of sugar, you divide that by 4 and you then know there is about 5 teaspoons in that serving. Know that the companies are now using a vast amount of different names for sugar as they are catching onto this message, there are something like 60 different names for sugar. These include evaporated cane juice and my new favourite ‘grape mist’.
2. Best tip for dealing with withdrawals?
We know from great research done at the Oregon research Centre that fats also activate reward centres in the brain, not quite as strong as sugar but in similar ways. I had some avocado or a teaspoon of coconut oil to help cravings. A nutritionist in America told me to also use reverse psychology. If I had a craving have something really disgusting, like apple cider vinegar, so your brain says, well if you are going to give me that when I have a craving I’m not going to have a craving anymore, it’s a really good technique.
3. Cold turkey or doing it gradually?
It depends on how much sugar you are having in your diet. For me I would say gradual, we have to be kind to ourselves. What worked for me was to have some fruit in that transition period, it has a lot of sweetness to it but the fibre is protecting us from the influx of sugar. Zoe would make a great banana/avocado smoothie or a banana smoothie with coconut cream. Your palate does adjust, for me it probably took about a week, but everyone is different. Everything tasted bland and like cardboard initially but then I started noticing the subtle flavours again, it’s quite an amazing moment. Even to me now, who drank two cokes a day, I find a banana almost too sweet. I never would have thought I would say that and thats why people can’t really understand it until they have done it themselves.
4. Sugar in alcoholic drinks?
We know that a lot of the fructose is burned off in the fermentation process of making alcohol. White wine, red wine is quite low in sugar. Dessert wine and champagne is higher in sugar and beer has a different type of sugar called maltose. It obviously still affects the liver but you have to have a lot of alcohol to cause damage. 6000 Australians have fatty liver disease from alcohol while nearly 6 million have non alcoholic fatty liver disease (the same disease I developed during the sugar eating experiment).
5. Sugar in honey?
Honey is high in fructose but if you are eating healthy, not having much sugar in your lives, a little honey certainly isn’t going to hurt. I think we can easily get a bit too extreme about all this sometimes. These sugar addictions have developed over 100s of years, it’s important to be kind to ourselves. Some people, like myself, are very sensitive to sugar and fructose so its best to avoid it altogether . The sugar sensitive ones usually know who they are… Remember the WHO says around 6 teaspoons a day for optimal health (although the science now points to less if you are insulin sensitive).
6. Should we avoid dried fruit and certain high fructose fruits (as well as added sugar)?
I think that fruit is very important, we know from studies that fructose is metabolized differently in the body when ‘protected’ by the fibre. Dried fruit is an interesting one. We had a scene in the film that we took out where we took a child’s lunch box and counted out that there were 91 sultanas in a typical snack type box. I then took 91 grapes and I tried to eat them all but I only got through about 30 of them. Because of the fibre and water I couldn’t eat any more..my body told me I was full. But you can have all that condensed sugar in one tiny box and get that fructose hit. Of course its probably better for you than a Mars bar but be careful with the dried fruit.
7. My kids are so headstrong – how do I convince them to eat less sugary things?
Avoid ‘cutting out’ or ‘removing something’ from the kids. We had some great nutritionists and experts on the Q&A panels around Australia and they often advised parents to crowd the pantry with other things that are healthier, provide good options instead of taking something away. We have got a lot of recipes on our page that are very useful as a transition from a high sugar diet. EG you can make the banana and avocado smoothies that are still quite sweet but it’s not a soft drink. There are ways of making things sweet but they are still healthy , this is key in any transition phase. Children won’t react too well to a sudden and extreme change..again be gentle and subtle about it. There is a a free ebook you can download to help on our site plus many families out there are going through similar experiences and they often comment on our Facebook page, you are not alone.
8. How do you see the continuing effect of the movie and your own personal commitment beyond the film?
We are carrying on the tour, South Africa, Europe and America. And by pitching to 300 philanthropists via Good Pitch Australia, we were able to raise some money to develop a school study guide from grade 5 to 11 so they can do a whole term on just the topic. They get the book and there’s a free app where you scan the bar-code, the sugar cubes drop out and it tells you how much sugar is in that item. It’s great fun, great for Coca Cola too, the screen just fills up. And something very dear to me is that we have been able to raise money for the Mai Wiru (Good Food) Foundation, that’s the aboriginal community in the film, we have been able to re-employ John Tregenza that’s the man in the film, he started going up there again. We are planning to send some nutritionists up there to train some of the aboriginal people and we are going to employ those Aboriginal people to work full time in the store and they will show and teach the other people how to shop and how to buy lower sugar foods.
9. We followed your ups and downs in the movie, not only the physical ones but also psychologically, those outbursts just seemed to become the norm?
This is the conversation I would most like to have – we need to acknowledge the link between food and mental behaviour is just as important as the link between food and physical behaviour. This point was made in a terrific recent article in the Lancet. There was a study done with 800 public schools in New York in the 80s where they lowered their sugar intake and other additives and noticed enormous changes in their grades and behaviours. And there are schools in England and one here in New Zealand where sugar and energy drinks are being removed and there are less detentions. It’s very real, it’s just going to take a long time and more rigid scientific studies to be accepted. We accept the physical aspect of foods but the mental ones are going to take a bit longer.
10. What do we do to get this message about sugar though to the government?
We have to remember that 40 years ago we were having the same chat about tobacco. That conversation had to start somewhere and that’s what the film has been doing. I think that scene with the Flintstones and the cigarettes always gets a laugh but I reckon that in 40 years from now we will feel the same way about an athlete endorsing sports drinks to kids or the Australian cricket captain eating a bucket of KFC while childhood obesity levels were on the march. I hope we get to a point where we think ‘gee that was pretty irresponsible knowing what we know now’. It is coming from a grass-root level though, it’s people like you who go out and spread the message and share on social media etc. We can wait for the government if we like but it will take a really long time, we might as well get moving ourselves, get active, and that’s what is happening. In Australia we see screenings now for medical groups and even some education departments, nurses etc. Next week we are screening for a private hospital, they are showing 250 nurses, chefs and staff because they want to change the whole food in the hospital. In a large prison, inmates are going to watch the movie because the nutritionists there wants to lower soft drink consumption because she has read how it affects their behaviour. It’s happening, and it’s happening without the government, it’s though the people. That’s what we can do for now and then, if there are votes in it, the governments will come on board.