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Fed Up!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Rather than a new recipe or culinary lesson this week, I feel that it's important to pass on what I've picked up from watching the 2014 documentary, Fed Up.

Now I know that there are quite a few documentaries out there that point out the faults of American eating habits, but this one really stood out on top compared to others.  Like similar documentaries, it tells us that obesity is one of the leading issues that we really need to tackle today.  It touches on the common fact that for the first time ever, parents will live longer than their children will.  But what's the cause of all of this?  Why are today's children facing such critical health issues whereas just thirty years ago the majority of children were seen as healthy?  For the longest time, people have been saying that the solution is to "eat less, exercise more."  But as the diet crazes and memberships to gyms dramatically increased, so did the obesity problem.  According to Fed Up, over-consumption and a lack of exercise is not to blame; rather, sugar is the culprit.

In 1977, the McGovern Report was published which stated that the American diet had become "overly rich in fatty meats, rich in saturated fats and cholesterol, and rich in sugar."  In fear of a drop in sales of their products from this new report, the egg, sugar, dairy, and beef associations teamed up and rejected the report.  Because of this, the report was actually revised to state now that Americans should buy more foods with less fat.  Several years later, food manufacturers responded by taking the fat out of their products.  During the eighties, we saw an abundance of fat-free yogurts, fat-free salad dressings, fat-free cookies, fat-free crackers, and so on.  But what happens when you take fat out of food?  You need something to replace this fat with or else people won't buy your product due to the lack of flavor.  As you might have guessed, this "something" became excess sugar.

Fructose (sugar) is only processed in the liver.  When your liver is pushed too far, the pancreas produces excess amounts of insulin.  Insulin in turn turns sugar into fat for storage.  Combining the fact that your judgement is blurred as far as being able to tell when you're full after eating sugary foods with the fact that sugar is 8 times more addictive than cocaine, you can see the immediate seriousness of this issue.  And the problem is not processed sugars versus granulated sugar.  Your body reacts to fructose the same way, whether it's high-fructose corn syrup, Splenda, granulated sugar, etc.  Sugar is sugar...and sugar is everywhere.  In fact, 80 percent of items found in today's supermarkets contain added sugar!

Pull out any product from your pantry (cereals, crackers, cookies, sauces, dressings, etc.) and look at the nutrition facts.  You'll see the amount of fat, cholesterol sodium, potassium, carbohydrates, among other values, and you'll be able to see their %DV (daily value).  But look at sugar now, and you'll notice that there is only a weight rather than a weight and a %DV.  The reason for this is that the %DV would most likely be in the hundreds if not thousands for most processed foods.  In fear that these foods would no longer be purchased by consumers, they get away with not listing it.

So how much sugar is recommended?  Today many people are saying that we should keep our daily allowance of added sugar between 6 and 9 teaspoons (or 24 and 36 grams as 1 teaspoon of sugar equals 4 grams of sugar).  Just to give you a grasp on these numbers, a pack of fruit gushers and a standard container of Yoplait original French vanilla yogurt both have 6.5 teaspoons of sugar.  A pack of M&Ms has 7 teaspoons of sugar while a standard sized container of Prego traditional tomato sauce has 12.5 teaspoons.  A can of Coca Cola has 9.75 teaspoons of sugar while an equal volume of Welch's grape juice has 13.5 teaspoons.  Thus, even when we think we're making healthy decisions, we're often doing just the opposite.

During the documentary, sugary foods were often compared to cigarettes.  Decades ago, celebrities (and even cartoon characters) made smoking look cool, and we fell for it.  Top executives in the smoking industry originally denied any claims that smoking was bad for you, but as time went on, we finally learned the truth and significantly changed our views on the topic.  Advertisements and cigarette packs now had to carry warning labels informing consumers of their negative effects.  Indoor smoking was eventually banned in most facilities.  And most importantly, today's children grow up knowing that smoking is bad rather than learning it too late in life.

Similarly, children of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s grew up with an overload of advertisements getting kids hooked on their over-processed and over-sweetened food products.  Whether it's fruit gushers, McDonalds' burgers, Tony Tiger's frosted flakes, or Trix's yogurt and cereals, children were lured in and are now paying the consequences.  As was done with cigarettes, should there be a law that for each "pro-junk food commercial", there should be one that explains the health risks to eating this type of food?  Should there be large stickers on fast food items and processed foods that warn you about the dangers involved by consuming their product?  Personally I feel that it will take decades to overcome this issue, but I hope that some day homemade, nutritious snacks and meals are the norm.  I hope that future generations will look back at today's advertisements and ask us in all seriousness how we fell for it.

While the documentary leaves us with many important questions, it brings a lot of alarming facts to the table and does a great job stressing the urgency of this issue.  Although it's not as feasible for some as it is for others, the film repeatedly talks about the importance of cooking from scratch so that you can control exactly what goes into your food.  Gradually eliminating processed foods from our diets is key to changing what is offered to us in supermarkets and fast food restaurants.  If you're as Fed Up as I am with the control that large food companies have on the government (and thus, us), I highly recommend getting a hold of a this documentary, spreading the information with others, and making a difference.

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  1. I just watched this the other night, thanks to your recommendation. Rereading the post now, it's a really great summary of the film's meat.

    I really can't believe I'd never noticed that sugar didn't have a %!

    I also liked how they compared it to cigarettes, because I remember Saturday morning cartoons as a kid were filled with processed food commercials. So it was something familiar and kid-friendly. I feel like it would take a miracle to stop processed foods from advertising on TV, but the benefits would be huge. Let's demonize processed foods!

  2. Nice article, especially I agree the statement "food manufacturers responded by taking the fat out of their products".