What happens when you eat 40 teaspoons of sugar per day

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Damon Gameau’s human experiment That Sugar Film surprised Australian audiences when it was released earlier this year, and now he’s taking the message to the US, where the average person consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar per day.

Gameau first took notice of the hidden sugars in our diets while walking down a random aisle at his local grocery store.

“There were eight teaspoons of sugar in a can of tomato soup,”he tells Yahoo Health. “I had no idea there was that much sugar in something we wouldn’t normally think of as sweet. So I just kept walking down the rest of the aisles, reading labels like a weird ‘labels nerd,’and finding the same thing.” In other words: lots and lots of sugar.

More: All the recipes you need to go sugar-free

When he emerged from those aisles, he thought, “I should make a movie about sugar.”In the vein of Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me, Gameau consumed foods high in “hidden”sugars in “healthy”foods for two months, totalling a whopping 40 teaspoons per day.

Actor Damon Gameau's reaction to discovering Australians eat up to 40 teaspoons of sugar per day. Photo: That Sugar Film
Actor Damon Gameau's reaction to discovering Australians eat up to 40 teaspoons of sugar per day. Photo: That Sugar Film

Here, we ask Gameau about his experience — here’s a taste of what happened.

Yahoo Health: What inspired you to make this film in the first place?
Damon Gameau: It was a lot of things. First, I found there was so much conflicting information out there about sugar. Camps were divided. One was saying, “Eliminate it from your diet!”But the other was saying, “No, no! We need sugar in our diets!” We also had a baby on the way, and with the rise of conditions like Type 2 diabetes, which is now killing someone every six seconds, I wanted to get to the bottom of this.

YH: How did you adjust your dietary approach when you started this experiment?
DG: It was a big change. When I started dating my girlfriend around five years ago, she was a very healthy eater. So before this, I’d eaten quite healthfully, had very little refined sugar, ate healthy fats.

YH: Did you have parameters for your sugary diet? What exactly were they?
DG: I did have parameters! There were rules. I ate the same amount of calories per day that I’d been eating [about 2,300] beforehand. I’d consume 40 teaspoons of sugar per day, which is equivalent to the amount in the average Australian’s diet. And they had to be hidden sugars found in “healthy”foods, so no soft drinks, chocolate, confectionary sugar, or ice cream. If there was a low-fat option, I’d always choose that one, and I kept to the same amount of exercise I had been doing.

YH: Can you describe how you felt physically, switching up your diet to consume that much refined sugar?
DG: [Laughs] I felt exhausted. There was a huge change in my moods. I developed reactive hypoglycemia, which is not a word you hear often in the media, but it’s when insulin floods the bloodstream in response to a high-sugar meal, and your brain sort of panics. It can make you feel shaky, weak, and lightheaded. The sugar was affecting my ability to concentrate, to sit still — I really think we’re going to start seeing the link between food and mental behaviours in the next five years.

YH: Ah! That’s intense. What are some of the health conditions that sprang up over the course of your sugar diet?
DG: Physically, I gained five pounds within the first 12 days. After 18 days, I had developed the signs of fatty liver. And after that, the scope of the film really escalated and people began to take this seriously. After 60 days of filming, I’d gained 19 pounds and four inches of fat around the waistline.

More: What happens when you give up soda?

YH: What was the most shocking part of the whole experience?
DG: The fact that all this happened in such a short amount of time was a huge surprise — and I had matched my calorie intake from before I started. It was all about how those calories behaved in the body. The doctors were just as shocked as I was — especially the clinical pathologist. He’d always thought that this much sugar could impact the body profoundly, but he’d never seen it happen this fast. My liver was literally hardening.

More: How to finally quit sugar

YH: What has been the general response to the film so far?
DG: Overall, we’ve been overwhelmed. People have been so receptive. It’s been viewed in schools, in hospitals and in prisons. It’s been screened in the UK parliament. It’s become the highest-grossing documentary of all time in Australia. Since most people really have no idea what we’re consuming, the message is really one of empowerment. You get to decide what you put in your mouth and what you feed your kids.

YH: Now that you’re a father, what sort of advice about sugar would you give from a parental perspective?
DG: I think education is a big one. It’s important to know that one teaspoon equals four grams. Read the labels; it’s more visceral knowing what’s actually in foods rather than believing the market’s alluring tricks.

YH: Considering all you learned and everything you went through, what lesson has made the most impact on you during filming?
DG: The simplest message, really: As much as you can, just stick to real foods. The body knows how to deal with these foods already, so shop the perimeter of the grocery store, avoid the refined sugar, and you should be in good shape.

This article originally appeared on Yahoo Health

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