Film Review: That Sugar Film

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Monday, 02 March 2015.
Tagged: guides, nutrition, sugar

Film Review: That Sugar Film

ABC Radio asked me to review That Sugar Film and comment on how realistic or factual it was with regards to the average adult diet in Australia. Actor Damon Gameau, the film’s hero, goes on a 60-day journey where he eats ‘supposedly healthy’ foods to equal 40 teaspoons of sugar each day from 'hidden' sugars in processed foods. Like Morgan Spurlock in Super Size Me, Gameau documents the impact of such foods on his health and state of mind. There are many pieces to camera where he shares his feelings with the audience. Here are my thoughts.

First things first.

I enjoyed the film’s production and found myself really liking its hero Damon. I found him engaging, human and realistic. I really related to him! The film’s climax has Damon performing a huge song and dance number, similar to the final scenes of the Mama Mia movie, where he plays Mr Sugar dressed in a pale pink glitter suit. His talented partner, Zoe, dances in the chorus with their new baby strapped on. So much fun – you come out having laughed and in a good mood.

Whatever happened to moderation?

On a more serious note, I believe the film goes overboard on the need to quit sugar. Are we not capable of moderation? Does it have to be total exclusion? Here are my four points of criticism:

1. Liquid overload

Damon consumes lots of liquids which have been shown to be easier to overconsume than whole foods e.g. apples vs apple juice. I’m guessing his intake DID exceed what he was eating before and these sweetened liquids were responsible for the fat gain in the abdominal region as well as the decline in liver function.

Dietitians have been warning people for the past five years or more not to “drink in the calories” and that juice is fruit in concentrated form. Read my post on why juice is not fruit for example.

Who ever said flavoured milk or iced tea drinks are ‘healthy’? They may be healthier choices than sweetened soft drinks but they are not on any 'Must Eat Lists' or Pyramids.

The film shows the sugar content of the following drinks (but note portion sizes vary which accounts for most of the variation from 5 to 15):

Vitamin water = 5 tsp
Arizona green tea drink = 8.5 tsp
Up n Go Banana Flavour = 4-5tsp
Big M flavoured milk = 13 tsp
Lipton Sparkling Iced Tea = 5 tsp
Pom juice = 15 tsp
Dare Iced Coffee = 9.5 tsp
Lipton Ice Tea = 7.5 tsp
Tiger Ginger Beer = 9.5 tsp
Goulbourn Valley Fruity Drink= 5.5 tsp
Nudie Juice = 7.2 tsp

Damon does not drink any fizzy drink (despite talking about it a lot), nor lollies nor chocolate. He says he’s only eating ‘healthy food’ – but they aren’t truly healthy foods by any definition – he’s consuming a lot of processed snacks.

2. Damon is not eating a healthy balanced diet

Damon eats an extreme diet, choosing processed foods with a ‘health halo’. This is not typical and it’s definitely NOT healthy. As far as I can see, in the film, he eats no veges, whole fruits, nuts, legumes or whole grains.

Little wonder then that he complains that he is now snacking a lot more without feeling full. I saw lots of pouches, bars, milk drinks, purees and fruit juice drinks being slurped down. There’s little fibre or protein in his diet.

These are some of the items he eats:

Up n Go liquid breakfast tetrapak
McDonalds soft serve (Really? Did anyone EVER claim this was healthy!)
Nutri-grain breakfast drink tetrapak
Pop-top juice
Box of sultanas
White bread sandwich (filling not identified)
Bottle of apple juice
Bag of fruit salad bites
K-time twist bar
Pouch of SPC fruit puree

3. Sugar is singled out as the villain but what about refined carbs and processed foods?

At the end Damon acknowledges that sugar is “not the only thing to blame, the real cause is refined carbs and fructose”. This is my sentiment exactly and I’ve written about the real causes of the obesity epidemic and why sugar loves fat and refined starch.

4. 40 teaspoons a day is NOT an average adult intake

At 40 teaspoons a day, Damon’s intake is more suited to a 15 year old boy’s intake which is pretty high due to the growth stage and high levels of physical activity.

From the 2011-12 Health Survey*, the average adult now consumes some 26 teaspoons of sugar with the highest group being young adult males 19 to 30 years who take in some 33 teaspoons. So 40 teaspoons is not representative of the average intake, and certainly way too high for a man in his late 30s with his activity level.

Damon’s pre-film diet

Damon’s diet makes a huge shift from what he was eating before (high fat, low carb, no grains, no legumes, no dairy, very little sugar e.g. ‘no sugar for 3 years’). There’s a chart at the beginning with 50% fat, 25% protein and 24% carbs as fruit and vegetables. I presume the final 1% is alcohol which is never discussed.

2 eggs, bacon, ½ avocado, baby spinach

Main meals
Fish or meat (with fat left on), green vegetables

Raw nuts

What Damon eats on his trial

(Note: He divides sugar in grams by 4 to get the number of teaspoons sugar. However, these are level teaspoons, not heaped. He also doesn’t measure things very accurately and consumes more than the suggested serving sizes.)

Just Right 12g sugar/serve; 2.5 serves = 7.5tsp
Ski D’Lite Yoghurt 27g sugar/serve (minuses some for lactose and estimates 18g sugar/serve) = 4tsp
Golden Circle Apple Juice 400mL = 9tsp 
TOTAL = 20.5tsp

Morning Tea
Large frozen yoghurt (takeaway) = 11tsp
TOTAL = 11tsp

Takeaway BBQ chicken with ½ packet bought teriyaki sauce = 4tsp
Powerade = 8tsp
TOTAL = 12tsp

Afternoon Tea
Go Natural Apple, Strawberry, Cranberry yoghurt ripple bar = 7tsp
TOTAL = 7tsp

Unidentified chicken dish (‘pretty sweet’)

TOTAL FOR DAY= 50 tsp plus more from the mysterious dinner

Bottom line

If That Sugar Film helps people reduce the amount of processed foods they eat in favour of home-cooked, whole foods using basic ingredients then that’s great. I do hope that it doesn’t contribute to people missing the point - that the obesity crisis is not purely about sugar but about processed food and our total diet as a whole.

This film had an opportunity to shine a light on the hidden sugars in our diets, I just hope the obvious ‘over-loading’ doesn’t make people either discount it altogether as being a set-up or tip them the other way into removing sugar entirely. As usual the message is, MODERATION is what works!

Listen to my interview on ABC online.

Film details


Catherine Saxelby

About the Author

Catherine Saxelby has the answers! She is an accredited nutritionist, blogger and award-winning author. Her latest book Nutrition for Life 2020 Edition is a fresh new update on all the things you've read about or heard in the last year. Think insects, collagen, vegan eating, Keto dieting, vitamin B12, fast food and cafe culture.  It has plenty of colour pictures and is easy to dip in and out of. Grab your copy NOW!