Television host Katie Couric, whose new documentary, "Fed Up," blames sugar for the country's spiraling obesity problem, is challenging people to take a 10-day break from the sweet stuff.
In an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America," C
ouric urged people to try and give up foods with added sugar, including artificial sweeteners, "which have the same impact on your brain as added sugar." That means foods with naturally occurring sugar, including fresh fruit and plain yogurt, are fine, but options such as soda, desserts and sweetened snacks are verboten during this sugar cleanse.
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Giving up these choices may take some effort, she acknowledged, because sugar 's effect on the brain can be addictive: "You have to wean yourself from some of these foods."
Couric, the former anchor of "The CBS Evening News," and Laurie David, who was also a producer of the global warming documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," coproduced the film, which Couric narrates. She said she came up with the idea after years of reporting on the country's obesity epidemic without seeing any improvement. "I felt like we were never really giving people a handle on what was causing this and why the rates were skyrocketing the way they were," she told the New York Times.
The film tackles both the insidious health effects of our sugar-laden diet, plus the corporate and political forces behind all the sugary junk food we consume. "There's hidden sugar in everything," Couric said. "Of the 60,000 products in the grocery store, 80 percent have added sugar."
Watch a preview of the film:
Sugar, say the medical experts in the film, has a dramatically different effect on our brain and our body's metabolism than when we eat other types of food such as meat, nuts or vegetables.
The sugar in processed food stimulates hunger cravings, slows our metabolism and affects the hormones that tell our body how much fat to store, all of which makes it more difficult to lose weight, Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at Harvard whose research is cited in the film, told the Times: "The evidence is very clear that not all calories are created equal as far as weight gain and obesity."
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The film also points a finger at powerful corporations - together with government agencies, which have the conflicting goals of promoting U.S. business and protecting consumers - as a major reason behind our unhealthful diet. As one example, the film notes how in 2003 the Bush administration threatened to withhold funding to the World Health Organization if it published nutritional guidelines that suggested no more than 10 per cent of calories per day should come from sugar.
But some have also criticized the film as being too simplistic, demonizing sugar as the sole culprit for the nation's expanding waistline, without additionally considering problems such as less physical activity, less cooking from scratch, neighborhoods without convenient access to supermarkets, and a medical establishment that told us back in the 1980s that we needed to eat low-fat foods - a conclusion now being questioned after decades in which we've consumed low-fat foods filled with sugar and salt to improve their flavor.
The food industry, not surprisingly, took exception to being made the villain. The Grocery Manufacturers Association released a statement from president and CEO Pamela G. Bailey accusing "Fed Up" of presenting an inaccurate view of the food industry. The GMA pointed out that the industry has taken positive steps, such as removing full-calorie sodas from schools, putting nutrition facts on the front of food packages and cutting more than 6.4 trillion calories from the U.S. marketplace since 2007.
Couric said she hopes the debate over the film, as well as her 10-day sugar challenge, provides "a wake-up call that I hope will spur some solutions."
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