I follow a LOT of natural living and healthy food bloggers on Facebook and Twitter. Like, a lot. So, it goes without saying that a lot of food-related posts pop up in my newsfeed on a daily basis. The first day I saw the trailer for “Fed Up” pop up in my newsfeed, I stopped everything I was doing and hit play. Finally. I thought, This is what the world needs to see! I saw the film last week and was not disappointed. If you haven’t seen it, watch the trailer here.
The film focuses on the childhood obesity epidemic and the role that Big Food and sugar play in said epidemic. Spoiler alert: it’s all them. Fed Up did a fantastic job of putting everything into perspective, giving historical background and perspective for each new fact they introduced about the food industry and why certain decisions have been made. I won’t touch on all the issues the film discusses, but I highly recommend everyone go see it themselves 🙂
SUGAR: The main focus of this film is sugar’s impact on the body and where it stands in the obesity epidemic, especially childhood obesity. When you go to the grocery store and pick out some, let’s say, crackers, you have a choice of literally 100s of boxes. So how do you choose? Look for things like “low-fat” “100 calories” “All-natural?” You might want to reconsider your method of choosing a snack. Disclaimer: making your own food is ALWAYS a healthier alternative to buying a packaged snack, however, we are busy and sometimes that just isn’t an option. So, let’s think. Low fat. What makes food taste good? Well, fat. So, how can these low fat snacks still be so tasty? You guessed it, sugar! Fed Up explains that there have been studies and food regulations suggesting a reduced sugar intake that have never made it to print because the Food Industry won’t let it happen – it would take away too much of their business. Here’s the big problem: almost every processed snack you pick up has added sugar in it and your body does not need any of it.
Take a look at these two labels: Skippy Peanut Butter – reduced fat vs. regular fat. What do you notice? Reduced fat version has MORE sugar and MORE sodium…that sounds like a bad idea to me, what do you think?
What about fruit? Fruit is full of sugar! What I really enjoyed about the film is that it took the time to explain why fruit is not worrisome like added sugar. Fruit is full of fiber in addition to sugar, so when your body processes it, it takes much longer to process all the fiber and accompanying sugar, and thereby does not overload your organs. When excess sugar enters your digestive system without the accompanying fiber to digest it, your liver gets overwhelmed and turns the sugar into insulin and fatty acids – this can do two (bad) things: 1) Insulin makes it very difficult for your brain to know when you are full, so you keep eating 2) the sugar your body doesn’t know what to do with, is turned into fat and stored.
Fed Up focuses on the fact that added sugars are in almost every single processes food you purchase, even if it’s not a traditionally sweet food. You can find it in chips, crackers, breads, etc. Worst of all, these companies are subsidizing school lunches and providing students with added sugar-filled lunches instead of nutrient dense meals to give them the brain power they need to succeed in school. There is SO much wrong with this picture and this cycle but nothing is changing because the people are not demanding it.
Another of the film’s main points: exercise. Well, if I just run enough I can work off all the calories, right? Not exactly how it works. This is why campaigns to get America more active, including but not limited to the latest “Let’s Move!” campaign, are just not enough. This film was not afraid to attack the Food Industry and hold them accountable for the poison they are putting into our food. I call it poison, because it’s a drug, and a drug most of us (myself included!) have been addicted to since we were small children. Studies confirm that sugar has the same effect on your brain as cocaine. Yikes! Never fear, there is a safe amount of sugar to be consumed daily, but most Americans exceed that intake everyday – sometimes in just one meal.
This year I started volunteering with an organization called Green Plate Special based here in Seattle. This program teaches kids not only how to eat healthily, but also how to prepare food from garden to table. I’ve been lucky enough to help with a special program in a middle school where we discuss different aspects of nutrition each week, all culminating in this week’s “Snack Challenge.” We set up two tables in the classroom (pictured below), one with foods containing preservatives (all your classic junk food – candy, cookies, donuts, chips, etc.) and the other with healthy snacks (fresh fruit, dried fruit, veggies, hummus, nuts, and yogurt). The challenge: pick a 250 calorie snack from each table, and you must have at least three different items in your snack. The girls had a rough time getting variety at the preservative-filled table, with one girl even resorting to cutting a junior mint in half! It was an eye opening experience for all of them when they saw just how full their healthy snack plates were and how much better they felt after eating that snack compared to the plate of empty calories and sugars.
As we left the school, we packed up baggies of fresh veggies and nuts for the girls to take with them. We walked out of the building where other students who weren’t in the program saw our big cart of junk food and asked if they could have some. After the first no, they proceeded to exclaim that they were “so hungry,” to which the program director replied, “well I have some delicious veggies for you!” After a little whining, they agreed, and they sat there happily munching away on their veggies. Because they ate their vegetables, the program director gave them a reward of an organic cheese stick and they were happy as could be.
Imagine a world where instead of candy at the front of every check out stand, there was a mixed bag of fresh vegetables or nuts. Kids will eat healthy food (and enjoy it!) when that’s what is there for them. So many kids have trouble focusing in school and getting through the day, and I would love to see how that would change if they stopped eating food with added sugar all the time.
So, as always the question is, what can we do about it? The film’s ending call to action was to take the 10 Day Fed Up Challenge and avoid foods with added sugars for 10 days. How can you do it? First, start cooking your own food! Make it in big batches and put it in the freezer and you’ll have easy and quick meals for busy days. If I can do it, you can do it! Find a partner: a friend, a family member, a significant other, someone to hold you accountable! Pack your snacks the night before and plan your meals for the whole week on the weekend. Bring your snacks with you and leave your money at home so you aren’t tempted to go buy that tasty looking candy bar. Register for the challenge and see how it changes how you look and feel. Of course, there is more to the story, scary unknown ingredients in your food, genetically modified sugars, etc., but by cutting out foods with processed sugars, you’re probably killing two birds with one stone 🙂