Internationally renowned documentary film festival Hot Docs is currently underway in Toronto, and I had the pleasure of attending the world premiere of one of its hottest tickets on Saturday: Sugar Coated. Plank is no stranger to film festivals and documentaries, from our long-standing relationship with the Fantasia Festival, and going back to our work with doc giant Michael Moore. But this time was a little different. Plank has been working with the Sugar Coated team at Toronto’s Cutting Factory not on a website but on a nutrition app for the iPhone.
Sugar Coated is a smart, funny and biting look at the Sugar Industry over the past fifty years, the effects of out of control sugar consumption on public health, and the industry’s insidious efforts over time to spin the story. After the second and third screenings of the film (this Thursday and Friday) both sold out, Hot Docs added a fourth for Sunday May 3rd.
A year ago The Cutting Factory approached Plank with an idea to build an app to not only help promote the film, but also empower Canadians to follow through on its message, and change their habits. We’ve spent the last six months researching and building OneSweetApp, Canada’s first nutrition app focused exclusively on identifying and tracking unhealthy ‘free’ sugar in food products.
What are free sugars? Well all sugar is naturally occurring. Problems arise when sugar is ‘liberated’ from its source and added in large quantities to other foods, disrupting the balance of the type of calories people consume. So free sugar is comprised not just of conventional added sugars, but also juices, purees, concentrates, honey and syrups. And this stuff is in 74% of packaged foods! Both the World Health Organization and Canada’s Heart and Stroke Foundation have recently said that no more than 10% of an individual’s calories should come from free sugar (and ideally that number would be closer to 5% to be safe).
OneSweetApp features a database of over 17000 products, and—thanks to our partnership with The University of Toronto’s Department of Nutritional Sciences—is the only app to show free sugar values. The app is also built to accept submissions, so that if you can not find a product in our database, you can take a couple photos of the packaging and nutrition label, and upload it for us to process for inclusion.
The first version of the app was released on Saturday to coincide with the film’s premiere. Over the coming weeks we’ll be rolling out more and more features, specifically the ability for users to set goals and track their own consumption of products. You’ll be able to see how much free sugar you consume in a day, and follow your progress over time. Along with the Sugar Coated team, its our hope that OneSweetApp will help Canadians navigate the often confusing and manipulative labelling of the food industry and start eating healthier.
One of the highlights of my trip was getting to chat with Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, a family doctor and professor from Ottawa who features prominently in the film. (He’s also behind popular food blog WeightyMatters and the bestselling book The Diet Fix). He takes a balanced and practical approach to these issues that’s much in line with my own values. During a Q&A following the premiere someone asked him how to navigate all these labels and ingredients and his answer was simple: eat more whole foods that don’t have labels. I couldn’t agree more. But he also acknowledged that we’re a long way from grocery stores without packaging and long lists of ingredients, and people are going to continue to buy products with barcodes. As long as that’s the case, and as long as the food industry continues to exert influence over public health policy, it’s up to us to make sure we’re eating healthy. Hopefully OneSweetApp is one tool that can help do that.