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'Fed Up' producer explains how family meals and sugar ban can conquer obesity

Get cooking as a family.

Can one documentary make a difference in the sugar that food companies pour into products ranging from cereal to soup? Well, maybe - because the "Fed Up" movie's list of celebrities behind and in front of the camera reads like a "Who's Who" in the entertainment, education and medical worlds. Above all, the documentary aims to shine a much-needed spotlight on why our nation continues to struggle with obesity and related conditions such as diabetes more than 30 years since the initial set of low-fat diet guidelines were released, reported the Los Angeles Times. It also shows how much overweight children suffer - and contemplates the solutions. And one solution comes from a co-producer of the film, who shared her expertise with us.

The co-producers of the film are Katie Couric and Laurie David. Laurie authored (and Katie wrote the preface) "The Family Cooks: 100+ Recipes to Get Your Family Craving Food That's Simple, Tasty, and Incredibly Good for You" (click for details) and "The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a Time." We interviewed Laurie to get her insights.

Question: Childhood obesity remains a concern in our nation. What can cooking together and eating together as a family do to conquer the epidemic?

"One of the causes of the obesity epidemic is the fact that half of everything we are eating is being made outside our homes. When we don't cook it ourselves we don't really know what's in it but you can bet that it probably has more sugar and more salt. Food you make at home and eat together around the table will always be healthier!" says Laurie.

Question: There's a lot of debate about whether children should be put on diet plans and forbidden foods like birthday cakes. What's your view on the healthiest approach to helping an overweight child?

The best diet is to eat home cooked food made from real ingredients that weren't processed in a factory. Then replace all the crazy snack foods with fresh vegetables, nuts and fruit... finally toss out all the sugary drinks (that includes fruit juices and "energy juices') and replace with water... its refreshing, pure and free. Get your kids cooking with you, they are much more likely to love something if they were part of making it and you are teaching them a life skill that will keep them in control of what they eat, healthy and happy the rest of their lives.

Question: We live in a nation where almost every processed food contains some form of sugar (often hidden behind deceptive terms such as "pure cane juice"). What's the easiest way to keep sugar out of the home: do parents need to become vigilantes with regard to label-reading?

"Yet again... we need to get back into our kitchens, start cooking and avoid buying processed foods. All it takes is five minutes (with glasses on) of reading the labels in your fridge and pantry and you will be shocked at the amount of sugar you have been unknowingly eating. The AHA recommends no more than 4 teaspoons of sugar per day for kids, 6-8 for grownups... Have one of those yoghurts with fruit and an orange juice for breakfast and you've already blown your sugar max by 8 AM" says Laurie.

And when it comes to being literally "fed up," it's clear that is precisely how Laurie and Katie feel about the lack of responsibility taken by the food industry when it comes to feeding America. Given what we now know about the dangers of sugar, it is appalling that companies continue to cram sugar into products and even hide it under names that sound healthy (example: "pure cane juice").

Moreover, the food pyramid and low-fat diet guidelines have been shown as failures when it comes to promoting healthy weight loss and preventing conditions such as diabetes. "The conventional wisdom [about obesity and health] turns out not to be true," said Laurie to the Los Angeles Times.

In the film, the message that sugar is toxic comes across loud and clear. Because of all the fat-free propaganda, manufacturers replaced fat with sugar. As a result, between 1977 to 2000, Americans doubled their average daily intake of sweeteners, including high fructose corn syrup. Highlighting the dangers of sugar in the film is Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at UC San Francisco and author of "Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease" (click for details) and "The Fat Chance Cookbook: More Than 100 Recipes Ready in Under 30 Minutes to Help You Lose the Sugar and the Weight."

Other nutrition notables interviewed by the filmmakers include Marion Nestle, author of "Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health" and Gary Taubes, famed for having written two of the most influential low carb diet books: "Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It" and "Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health."

But the film does more than take off the cellophane wrapping hiding what's wrong with our food and diet guidelines, reports Time magazine. It helps viewers understand what to avoid, including sugar and starches. “You can eat a bowl of corn flakes with no added sugar, or you can eat a bowl or sugar with no added corn flakes; they might taste different but below the neck, they’re metabolically the same,” comments Dr. David Ludwig, a professor at Harvard Medical School.

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