Is sugar toxic ? For forty years, Big Sugar has been able to counter all threats to its multi-billion dollar empire. As obesity, diabetes, and heart disease rates continue to skyrocket, doctors are now treating the first generation of children suffering from fatty liver disease. We are sitting on a dietary time bomb.
The sugar industry is under siege again but today the critics have gotten smarter, bolder, and madder and science is catching up. SUGAR COATED is an urgent film about where we are now with sugar and how we got here.
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There is a moment in this film that is decidedly unscientific. But it’s just so true. If you’re a parent, as I am, you’ll get it immediately. Gary Taubes, a very measured, methodical science writer who becomes our unofficial ‘tour guide,’ uncharacteristically veers off script to make a personal observation.
“When you have children, it seems like the world would be a much simpler place without sugar in it. Then I wonder if they would be much more…stable, if their mood swings would be much less volatile if they weren’t consuming sugar.”
I can relate. I would come home from work and see my son stretched out on the couch, groaning about how bad he felt. I’d ask him what he’d eaten. “A huge bowl of cereal and don’t ask me which kind!! Please Mom,” he’d say, “Can you make me some broccoli?”
I was born across from a chocolate factory in Belgium. I was too young to remember this myself, but my mom tells me you could smell the aroma of chocolate from morning to night on the street. Talk about a kid’s paradise! I was addicted to those famous chocolates with the elephant stamps on them that even today, are a classic icon of the Belgian diet. But as we all know, too much of a good thing comes at a price. Today, obesity and diabetes rates are at unprecedented levels around the world. Something’s going on. Can it really be sugar? As a filmmaker, I knew this was a story worth following.
I’ve been a career dieter all my life. I think most women are. I’m also a jogger. I count calories. But who knew that all calories are not created equal? I didn’t. Not until I actually dug into the research for Sugar Coated.
It was only when our team uncovered two vintage documentaries that I had a personal epiphany. We’ve been through this whole debate before. Scientists knew, over forty years ago, that sugar contributed to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. People were actually fighting to put tobacco-like warning labels on sugary foods. And then, somehow, the debate just faded away. Why? What happened? Do we all have collective amnesia? Then, the discovery by Dr. Cristin Kearns of the sugar industry documents from a defunct sugar factory convinced me: there is a much larger story to be told.
Almost everything we eat these days contains sugar, in one form or another. It’s disguised with many, many different names. We are talking about an international, multi-billion dollar industry that has refined a lot more than sugar. It’s refined its messaging and its ‘pitch’ to the public, one spoonful at a time. In the end, I hope this film is an antidote.
Will there be change? I think back to a You Tube video I came across in which a tobacco executive states that some pregnant smokers would prefer to have smaller babies anyway. We laugh about that now. It’s so outrageous. But that was only a few decades ago. Right now, we may be witnessing the beginning of real transformative change in the way we see sugar and the processed food industry. If that’s so, you can thank the cast of characters in Sugar Coated.
If nothing else, through all this, somehow I’ve been the Mother Confessor for all my sugar-addicted friends. We all have guilty pleasures. I still long for those Belgian chocolate bites. But I’ve trained myself to walk away from the glass counter. I’m happy just to savour the aroma, just like I did on the streets of Brussels.