"Fed Up" The Movie - A Mom's Review

I saw the movie “Fed Up” over the weekend and I give it a thumbs up. “Fed Up” is a documentary (narrated by Katie Couric) that focuses on the role sugar plays both in the current childhood obesity epidemic and the overall declining health of our nation in terms of public health and financial health.  Since people may not have had the opportunity to see this movie because it’s only showing in limited locations, I will try to summarize some of the main points below.
The movie definitely inspired me to take action by removing some processed foods from my pantry and revising my grocery list. As a mom trying to promote healthy eating in my home, the following information resonated with me the most:
·       The negative effects of highly processed, sugary foods and drinks go beyond the childhood obesity epidemic – it affects ALL children. After being scanned with a special x-ray machine, some “Normal” weight children were told they had unhealthy body fat percentages in their midsection. The fat accumulating in this area is the most dangerous type of fat and over the years can lead to metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, abnormal cholesterol levels and abdominal obesity) which can increase your risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. This is a wake-up call for all parents because even if your child is not obese or even overweight, they are not immune to the health problems that these highly processed and sugary foods can cause from within – it just may be less obvious or take more time to see the damaging effects. 
·       More “normal weight” adults experience these diet-related diseases than there are obese people in the US. This is why we’re headed for a health care crisis – it’s not just because of “obesity.” The bottom line is that over time good food nourishes your body and bad food damages it no matter what size you are.
·       Government is subsidizing this obesity epidemic. Since 1995 corn farmers have received over 80 billion dollars in subsidies. The majority of this corn is made into HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup, a highly processed sweetener and cheaper alternative to regular sugar) and is sold to consumers in the form of health-damaging junk foods. With these subsidies, food companies are able to make cheaper products, make more money, and use their profits to spend on marketing and lobbying campaigns that undermine our health.
   Soda companies are using the same rhetoric as the tobacco companies did when presenting their product to congress as "harmless" in order to block any legislation against them. It’s pretty alarming when you watch and compare the actual footage of both these industries' representatives.  You can see how eerily similar their speeches are and how glib they are about the public’s health.
·       When fat is taken out of a processed food product in order to make it “low-fat”, the fat is often replaced with sugar (a cheaper ingredient), in order to make it taste like food. Sugar also conveniently acts as a preservative so the product has a longer shelf life.   Sugar = good for their profits but bad for our health.
·       About 17 major food corporations like Pepsi, Coca Cola, Hershey, Nestle, and Sara Lee have come together to form the “Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation.” This foundation is also a major sponsor of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign. Their main message however is much different from the “MyPlate” principle of balancing your plate with fruits/veggies/whole grains/proteins. Instead they recommend balancing calories in and calories out - also known as “energy balance.” As outlined in one of their infographics, their solution to the obesity epidemic is for kids to eat 41 fewer calories per day and to exercise in order to burn the same amount of calories they eat (that's a lot of record keeping and calculating for a child to do...) They advise choosing lower calorie “packaged” foods or eating out less frequently and then biking for an hour to burn 286 calories.  At the very bottom of this infographic, they recommend people eat smaller portions (of what, they don’t specify), keep hydrated (images of packaged cartons and bottles, one resembling a Gatorade or Vitamin Water shaped bottle, and yes a glass of water), and eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables (now that’s great advice)  How about if you just eat mostly real, whole foods as pictured on the main MyPlate page. This way you don’t have to worry about counting calories and then exercise just becomes a way to have fun and stay healthy and strong, not something you need to do in order to keep from becoming obese. Somebody recently said that getting health advice from a food company is like a smoker getting health advice from their cigarette company.  I see their point.
·       Junk food made with fewer calories is still junk.  
·       All calories are NOT created equal. For example, almonds (or insert here any fruit, vegetable, nut, seed, bean, whole grain) and soda are processed in very different ways inside your body - one benefits your health, the other one damages it.
·       Sugar messes with your brain signals and hormones. You become “addicted” and start to crave it (just like caffeine for instance.) You have withdrawal symptoms (strong cravings, tired, cranky, headaches) if you don’t eat it and over time you have to eat more of it to feel satisfied. Personal responsibility becomes challenging when you are literally addicted to something.  But bigger cravings = bigger “stomach share” = higher profits = no reason for the Big Food companies to change this equation.
    ·    When you eat processed, sugary foods, your body doesn’t tell you it’s full after a certain number of calories. Your body is waiting to receive the corresponding nutrients, and then it will tell you you’re full. But these nutrients never come (because these calories are ”empty”) so neither does that “full” signal. You end up overeating and still feeling hungry. These extra calories are then stored as fat.   NOTE: This doesn’t happen when you eat real, “nutrient dense” foods – the hormones that tell you you’re full work just fine in response to these foods.
·       Diet soda, which contains artificial sweeteners, is just as harmful as regular soda - your pancreas still produces insulin because of the “sweetness” factor, it doesn’t have to be real sugar to start that metabolic response.  The extra insulin in your body then triggers your hunger signals. (But you’re balancing your “calories in” with a low/no calorie product so Coke and Pepsi would have you believe that that’s good!)
·       Read labels: 80% of the 600,000 food products have added sugar and it can be listed under 56 different names.   The majority of the sugar we eat in a day comes from processed food products such has bread, ketchup, pasta sauce, crackers, cereal, granola bars, yogurt, salad dressings, etc. so you may not even realize you’re eating that much sugar.   Moreover, one of the doctors in the film said that your body processes a bowl of cornflakes with no added sugar in the same way as a bowl of sugar with no added cornflakes. So sometimes it’s not so obvious to a consumer what a certain food is going to do inside their body – but a good rule of thumb is that if it comes in a box, buyer beware.
Overall the information presented in “Fed Up” is very eye-opening. If we act upon the movie’s recommendation of removing sugary, processed foods and drinks from our diets we will improve our health and collectively the health of millions of people around the world. 
Some critics say that vilifying just one ingredient (sugar) is not telling the whole story. True, this is probably only one piece of the bad-diet puzzle, but I think the movie focuses on this one ingredient in order to keep their message simple and to explain in great detail why sugar is toxic to our body. Most likely they also believe that transfats, refined grains, artificial ingredients / flavorings /colorings, (which are all common ingredients in processed foods) and too much animal products and saturated fats are also not good – but there's just not enough time in a 90 minute movie to cover all those topics in great detail as well...
The bottom line is that processed, high-sugar foods are not good for us in any amount – so the more we can remove them from our diets, the better off we’ll be. In my next few blog entries I will give you actionable steps to help you do this. Of course the first step is to use Raise Your Rainbow® with your kids so they can eat more fruits and vegetables in order to crowd out those unhealthy processed, sugary foods and enhance their health with real foods! 
Reviewed by Tracy Sivak, creator of Raise Your Rainbow® and mom of two "tween" girls.