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While the reason for making "That Sugar Film" had a lot to do with wanting people to eat better, having a baby girl on the way was the real wake-up call for Australian actor Damon Gameau, who wrote and directed the documentary about the sweet (and seemingly ubiquitous) substance.
"That was the big motivation," Gameau tells mom.me about his film, which opens in theaters on July 31. "There are so many mixed messages about nutrition in general out there that I said to my wife [Zoe Tuckwell-Smith], 'I'm going to do this experiment. Let's just see what sugar does.' It was very low-budget, but the real motivation was, 'How do we know for our own daughter? What do we give her moving forward?'"
So Gameau decided to embark on a 60-day diet where he would eat 40 teaspoons of sugar a day, all while avoiding typical junk food items—candy, soda, chips, etc. Instead, he would only eat food labeled as "healthy."
The results were surprising, and the father of now 20-month-old Velvet talked to mom.me about what surprised him most—the sugar content of basic condiments, for one—and what he'll pack in his daughter's lunch.
Barbecue sauce, sweet chili sauce and hoisin sauce all had more sugar in them per serving than chocolate sauce.
This was a really surprising look at how much sugar is infiltrating our everyday lives. What was the most surprising high-sugar product you found?
I remember being in a supermarket and actually picking up a can of tomato soup and it had 8 teaspoons in it of sugar for a serving, and I thought, "Gee, that is a lot. That's as much as a Coke in a perceived savory food that you'd have. I wonder if people are aware of the sugar in these types of products." I spent probably the next hour in the supermarket just picking out random products and was pretty blown away that barbecue sauce, sweet chili sauce and hoisin sauce all had more sugar in them per serving than chocolate sauce. And I thought, "Wow, there's a really interesting film in here. I wonder if I could do an experiment where I eat no junk food, and just eat these types of foods and see what happens to me."
The film is framed around the birth of your daughter. How did finding out that she was coming along affect you and this movie?
[My wife] Zoe had been raised with very little sugar in her diet. She was given a lot of homemade chocolate but using fruit as a sweetener, so it's incredible. Her palate has evolved. She doesn't like sugar. If she has a doughnut or something, it's just too overbearing and too sweet for her. I think that's something we aim for with our child. We'll still give her treats but make sure we understand the sugar level and try to get her palate to adjust so that she can be acclimatized to a certain kind of sweet instead of getting the very, very processed kind of sugar.
It's hard, and we're not righteous about it. We know she's going to try sugar; we're not going to be extreme about it, but I think the environment is changing.
In the film, you document your weight gain and mood swings, and you're seen Skyping with your wife. Was there any point during filming when she was like, "You've got to stop this"?
She's an amazing human being, and I guess she trusted in the doctors, especially once it started getting a bit serious. My blood checks were going a bit more regular, so they were just making sure I wasn't crossing any lines and doing something stupid. She was always supportive because she knew that the reason we were making it—yes, it was for us, but she could see the benefits, that it could actually help a lot of people, so she was very supportive.
If I'd just been making it for my own ego, and sort of just "I want to make a film," then there's no way she would've let me do it.
What kind of lunch would you say is good to pack for a preschooler or elementary school child?
Our plan moving forward is to try have a day where you prepare some [food] for the week and you make it yourself. There are great tricks now where you can get full packs of plain yogurt and add real blueberries or strawberries in there and blend it up and put it into the squeezie. (We get these recyclable squeezies and mashy things that you can fill up. You open the bottom and put your own ingredients in there.)
And eggs are fantastic for kids. It's such a great—for those that can eat them—boiled eggs are such a power and energy food. We do lots of recipes for smoothies for when the kids get home. Whether its a banana, avocado and a little bit of coconut milk, they've got a natural sweetness from the banana. The kids love them! You don't have to put all that artificial stuff in there. Lots of carrot sticks, veggie sticks, those types of things. Wraps are fantastic—leftovers from the night before, if you've made a chicken dish or a meat dish to put that in a wrap.
Is there a banned list of foods that you're not going to let your daughter eat?
We certainly don't want to demonize sugar. We don't want to set up some kind of eating disorder. We're very careful with all that stuff. Even now, she has tried chocolate herself. Even then, because we've been giving her so much fruit—blueberries and things like that—she did actually find it a bit overbearing and spat it out. I can tell you that brought much joy to me.
What do you hope kids do after watching your movie?
There's plenty. The parents are taking their kids and they're writing beautiful letters. They love the film, and they think it's cool, which I never thought was possible—for me to make a cool film when you're nearly 40.
That was always the point. They have such a short attention span, they download so much content so quickly now that we really had to make the film kind of choppy and had lots of different styles just to keep them attentive. They get it. They're switched on. They understand. They want to be healthy. The want to be the best person they can be and look the best and all of those kinds of things. They understand that food is playing a huge role in how you appear and how you feel and think. They're a pretty savvy generation, and the certain ones I'm speaking to, they get it.
I know in Australia, McDonald's and Coke are really struggling because the teenage market, they're not interested anymore. They're going to healthier burger places, and they're not having Cokes anymore because it's not seen as a cool thing to drink. Who would have thought that?