I was pretty excited when I saw an interview with Katie Couric about her new documentary Fed Up (released May 9, 2014), which spotlights the dangers of sugar, particularly added sugars, in the American diet.
I haven’t watched the film yet (I’ll post again if I have any commentary after I do see it), though I’m well-versed in the work and research of its featured experts. My critique here is about Fed Up‘s website, and 10 Day Challenge to go sugar-free. Both are curated and endorsed by a slew of health experts, including licensed medical professionals. At the time of this article’s publication there are around 40,000 people signed up for nutritional guidance to participate in the Challenge.
When I heard about the film, I went to Fed Up’s website, half-hopeful, half-wary there might be big holes in its schtick.
Sadly, my suspicions were confirmed.
Make no mistake: Couric’s production is a timely and valuable mainstream product with some notable movers and shakers behind it. And yes, as a nation, we DO need to drastically reduce added sugars–something that definitely hits home for Couric, who lost her husband and sister to pancreatic cancer (sugar feeds pancreatic cancer cells, much like it does other kinds of cancerous cells).
The Fed Up Challenge encourages site visitors to go 10 days without any added sugars in their diets, including sources often defined as “healthy” by mainstream and even non-mainstream terms: honey, molasses, agave, fruit juices, sports drinks, bottled teas, etc. I’m down with this. This is good information, good logic.
The homepage also warns about hidden added sugars in seemingly “healthy” foods like yogurt and spaghetti sauce, in addition to artificial sugars and sugar substitutes. Also good information, good logic.
Then (and here’s where I want you Goddesses to really pay attention!) the 10-day Challenge guidelines suggest:
Also try cutting out all flour products that turn to sugar in your body.
I read this line and got way excited. Katie and Company, you’re Goddesses (and Herculeses)! Your production totally just “went there” in a way mainstream sugar-conscious sources don’t.
I scrolled down the page, and saw something disturbing: a list of suggested foods and recipes, considered “healthy” by Fed Up‘s health-experts, including:
- sugar free brownies: this recipe calls for starchy whole wheat flour and 22 dates. Read: massively high in sugar. NutritionData.com lists one cup of dates as having 93g sugar–that’s equivalent to almost FOUR cans of soda! Keep in mind, 22 dates would fill more than one cup, so the total sugar-content of this recipe would be even higher. While the recipe supposedly provides 16 servings of brownies, servings are likely small and people are likely to eat more than one (especially because they are sugary, sweet and starchy). Even one serving would be substantial sugar for one day. Case in point: not at all smart. Not at all “sugar free.”
- gluten-free recipes: which may not include gluten, but are almost always grain-based and therefore super-starchy. I always say: just because it’s gluten-free doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all. If you go to town with starchy gluten-free foods, you can still promote weight gain or make excess weight hard to lose, and you will still provoke inflammation, undesirable cholesterol formation, and a cascade of heightened disease-risk factors
- tons of vegetarian and vegan recipes: likely very high in starchy grains, beans, legumes, natural and added sugars, low in saturated fat (Goddesses’ fav!), with moderate to high amounts of inflammatory unsaturated fats (read more about unsaturated vs. saturated fat for health here and here)
- a recipe for quinoa with asparagus and shitakes: a predominantly-starch recipe
Make no mistake: for most Americans, removing added sugars is a huge step in a better direction. Fed Up‘s challenge is a good thing for most Americans.
But what about the flour? The starch that turns to sugar in the body?
My major qualm
Clearly the “experts” behind this production and brand know the dangers of flour products–they explicitly warn against these products (see my quote of the website’s copy above). And yet the nutritional recommendations on the brand’s website contradict some of its own warnings, as well as ignore the dangers of excessive high-starch foods, not just from whole wheat flour, but rice, quinoa, and potatoes. Ahem. This qualifies as complete lack of critical thinking (and really bad science editing).
Yes, flour-containing foods are processed, and devoid of nutrients. But Goddesses know “whole” foods like rice, quinoa, and potatoes are not truly nutrient-dense sources of food, and, in the case of grains and quinoa, unless prepared properly, antinutrients block our bodies’ ability to access and absorb much of the nutrients (minerals) that are in fact present in these foods (my book goes into depth about this).
Granted, these starchier foods can be OK in smaller amounts when served with fat (one rule of thumb for Goddesses; starch-thresholds may vary from person to person, and may also depend on lifestyle), but that’s hardly the guidance offered on this website.
Read more about these ideas in my popular article Complex Carbs, Whole Grains & the Hype Machine.
The experts that put together The Fed Up Challenge’s nutritional recommendations offer a promising beginning to an incomplete, and contradictory logic. Remember: people reference Fed Up‘s site for guidance about how to eat–the number of Challenge participants as I write this is around 40,000!
Let my critique serve as a reminder that mainstream nutritional recommendations, even when they seem progressive or counter-culture, are often not quite there yet, or have the right idea but also some big holes. That said, don’t get discouraged. I’ve got your back.
Now in the comments below, share how you’ve felt frustrated about trusting health recommendations, and how that frustration has influenced your drive to make nutritional or lifestyle changes.
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