food

Think 'low fat' options are healthy? This will make you think twice.

Image: Thinkstock

For years now, we’ve been told a low-fat diet is the best way to keep our bodies and minds healthy.

Supermarket shelves around the country practically groaning under the weight of reduced-fat versions of popular foods and beverages – yoghurt, museli bars, cereal, fruit juice, packaged snacks, sports drinks… the list goes on.

We’ve been conditioned to believe these products are better for us than their full fat iterations, and so happily toss them in our grocery trolleys and lunchboxes.

Speaking of snacks, this is what 200 calories of your favourite foods looks like. Warning: it’s heartbreaking…

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But get this.

If you look closely at their labels, these foods often contain high levels of sugar, added to compensate for taste or texture. So even if you’re consciously avoiding sugar-filled sweets like chocolate, ice cream and soft drinks, you might be getting just as much of it in your so-called ‘healthy’ snacks.

Now, a soon-to-be-released Australian documentary has investigated just how much damage this hidden sugar is doing to our physical and mental wellbeing.

Damon Gameau
Damon Gameau and his wife Zoe (via Wikimedia)
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In a similar style to Morgan Spurlock's McDonalds experiment Super Size Me, That Sugar Film follows local actor/filmmaker Damon Gameau over a 60-day period as he undertakes a strict diet of 'healthy' low fat items with high sugar levels.

After just three weeks on the regimen, which saw him taking in 40 teaspoons of sugar every day, Damon - who had cut sugar completely out of his diet three years before filming commenced - noticed some frankly terrifying effects on his health.

Something you thought was healthy contains 9 teaspoons of sugar

Physically, the father-to-be gained 10cm of visceral fat around his waist. Damon's doctor observed the beginnings of fatty liver disease - the fastest onset he'd ever seen - and a high risk of impending obesity.

40 teaspoons of sugar
Damon wants consumers to be aware of "hidden sugar".

His mental side-effects were equally startling. "My moods were pretty bad - I was lethargic most of the time and felt pretty terrible," Damon said during an appearance on Sunrise.

Scarily, doctors described the Balibo star's mental functioning as "unstable".

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Ooph. It might be time to retire the low-fat yoghurt and return to the thick, unsweetened Greek stuff.

Furthermore, although his calorie intake hadn't changed, Damon found he could never feel full, which indicates how easy it is for us to mindlessly over-consume these food items.

Damon Gameau in That Sugar Film
Damon gained 10cm of visceral fat.

Damon says he is concerned consumers - parents in particular - are being misled by the way nutritional information is presented on these 'healthy' items.

"I would say it's deliberately ambiguous," he told Sunrise, adding that people may not realise that just four grams of sugar equates to one teaspoon. "I was having breakfast cereal, low fat yoghurt and apple juice for breakfast, and that was 20 teaspoons of sugar."

This is what 200 calories of your favourite food looks like.

When you consider that 80% of the processed foods in our diet contain sugar, that teaspoon count can escalate very quickly without you even realising.

While the makers of That Sugar Movie, scheduled for release early next year, aren't trying to make people quit sugar, they do want the public to be aware of how present it is - and what it can do over time.

You can watch the trailer here:

Do you buy low fat snacks? 

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