Managing Director and owner of The Muesli, Emma Dumas is a crusader on an anti-sugar campaign. And not just to promote her breakfast cereal. She firmly believes SUGAR is the root of all nutritional evil. After interviewing Emma, I’m pretty much convinced too, so now the Muffin Top journey has ended, I’m going to try another experiment. I’m going to add another test of willpower to my list of New Year’s Resolutions. But more about that later.
Let’s chat with Emma first. This is the third in my series of interviews, under the banner ‘Inspirational Life Changes.’ It’s about people who successfully change careers at some point in their lives and turn to a job that’s quite different, requiring new challenges and skills. With people living longer, it’s a much more common choice, so it’s wonderful to learn from others who have been brave enough to take a leap of faith into another area of expertise and make it work. Their experience can teach and inspire us.
Before The Muesli took over Emma’s life, she was a successful television producer. From a stint in radio, she began working at Channel Nine in 1989. ‘I was in TV production for many years, starting at the Nine Network in Special Projects as a Producer,’ said Emma as we chatted over a coffee. ‘I then started up my own company, Prime Time Productions and left Nine in 1993.’
Working in Special Projects meant Emma was involved in the production of major live events, like Carols by Candlelight, the Logie Awards and the Arias. It’s a job requiring super organisational skills, not to mention a good dose of persuasiveness when trying to convince stars to appear on shows. Emma then produced several highly acclaimed programs with her own company, Prime Time productions with another partner from Nine.
‘Then I had the babies from ’98, so I sold out of Prime Time in 2000, just before the birth of our second, Sophie,’ said Emma. ‘From there, I had about six months off, then Michael Hirsh rang me from Working Dog so I started producing The Panel from 2000 until it ran its course, in about mid 2005.’
It was about that time that Emma’s good friend Donna Aston, (personal trainer for the stars and registered nutritionist) who she’d worked and trained with, sparked an idea. ‘She was saying to me, “My clients are doing my head in. They cannot get their heads around breakfast and get it right.” I’d written recipes for her over the years for several books so I said, ‘Oh don’t worry about it. I’ll prepare something.’ So I mixed up this concoction and started making The Muesli.’ Emma said, smiling.
‘I’d parcel it up in one kilo zip lock bags and started taking in ten or twenty at a time to her gym and they started to sell. It was based on the fact that people just could NOT get an option on a supermarket shelf that was actually healthy. There’s a big perception that all muesli’s are a health food and people are doing the right thing buying it, but they’re really grabbing things that are up to 48 per cent sugar. And that’s before you start thinking about the roasting and toasting and the damage to fats in all the roasted and toasted products.’
I voiced my disappointment, being a lover of the roasted and toasted variety, but Emma insisted NONE of them are any good. ‘Absolutely no good!’ she said sternly. ‘So with all those things in mind, I put The Muesli together. Something that was nutritionally great. Donna loved it. It was high in protein, the fats are all raw, so they’re in their essential form and it just happened to be naturally sugar-free, because I would never have included anything that was sugary – which is dried fruit or honey or anything like that.’
I’ve tried Emma’s muesli and also love it, but could have sworn there were sultanas somewhere in the mix. “No,’ said Emma. ‘That’s how it’s sugar free. Because dried fruit is concentrated sugar. Our muesli is fifty percent nuts and seeds. 36 per cent oats and 14 per cent coconut. And the nutrition panel contains just 1.6 grams per 100grams of sugars, which occur naturally from within those ingredients.’
Proof of it’s taste-good factor comes from it’s popularity. As demand from Donna’s gym clients grew, Emma found it difficult to juggle both her TV production job and being a muesli chef. ‘Well I was working as well, and so I was in a hairnet and gloves in the kitchen at night, mixing my fifty kilos a month in massive vats and chopping it my thermo mix and yes, it was tough. It really was. Particularly when I was doing things like Thank God You’re Here. They were massive days. I’d suddenly get an order and think, ‘Oh my God…’
From supplying just one gym, Emma’s business quickly grew. ‘Basically it’s been a learning process. The fact that our muesli has so little sugar in it appealed to me as a selling point. So down the track, I decided to team up with Heather Brodie, who is a friend, and then we started producing commercially mid 2010.’
Now Emma only uses her own kitchen for family food preparation. ‘We sourced a company called OmniBlend which is a co-packer. So they produce according to our instructions, making a blend exactly to my recipe and package it. It’s all done in a factory that meets all the food standards. Then we launched a website in early 2011 and it’s been growing ever since then.’
When working on the marketing strategy, Emma’s passion for the anti-sugar campaign grew. ‘We use a 99 per cent sugar-free slogan as part of the logo and the sugar thing kept resonating with me. I knew from research just how busy the marketplace was, so I knew there wasn’t any point putting just another muesli onto the shelves, among the dozens that are there already. I realised that the sugar thing was big. I also simultaneously became aware of David Gillespie who has written the book ‘Sweet Poison’ and he is brilliant. Everything he says, I absolutely subscribe to,’ she said, her voice becoming more emphatic.
‘I fully believe from everything that I have read, not just from him, but other research as well, that sugar is THE biggest health crisis the world will ever know. And the sugar industry – BIG sugar world-wide is SO powerful. The vested interests in keeping sugar in everything are so huge that they’re very, very good at information generation – information that creates confusion and clouds the issue and covers up what is happening.’
Emma then went into a detailed explanation about how sugar works. To summarise:
SUGAR = 2 MOLECULES (fructose and glucose)
FRUCTOSE is the ‘natural’ sugar everyone talks about.
Emma is not a fan of FRUCTOSE. ‘There are lots of foods that are labelled Only Natural Sugars and you can be guaranteed that they’re chock full of fructose. Sadly it’s the fructose that’s causing all the problems. Glucose is the basic building block of all energy. So our bodies utilise the tiny simple glucose cell for all of its energy.’
But apparently our bodies have not evolved in a way that enables us to process fructose. ‘The only area in your body that’s capable of doing anything with it – is your liver. So what it does, is to turn it immediately into fat,’ said Emma. ‘So fatty liver disease is something being diagnosed more and more and its because the fructose half of sugar. David Gillespie says that if you drink a glass of apple juice, the fructose in that glass of apple juice is circulating in your blood as fat, before you’ve even finished drinking that glass.’
And then Emma told me something I hadn’t known before. While other food types have corresponding hormones to let our bodies know when we’ve eaten enough, sugar doesn’t. Which means you can keep eating sugary stuff WITHOUT feeling full. ‘ It ALSO suppresses existing hormones, so not only will you take in more fructose, but you can keep taking in other stuff as well.’
Ouch. That sounds pretty bad… In effect, sugar can actually increase our appetite? ‘Yes,’ said Emma firmly. ‘It’s the single most addictive substance freely available.’
With that in mind, I ask Emma if her children are allowed lollies. And if so, do they actually eat them, given they must have heard her stance on sugar? ‘They do,’ she said. ‘Because I’m not a complete Nazi. But they’re very conscious of it. Although the 12-year-old is totally bored by me. But they take it on board and they do understand it and they probably do restrict themselves quite willingly without me needing to do much about it.’
Before you read the next part of the interview, take a look at this picture. A banquet of lollies to choose from that most people would find hard to resist… Is your mouth watering yet? Now read on.
Jen: And do you have a strict diet yourself?
Emma: I do. I lost about nine kilos in 2005 with Donna when I first began this. And I’ve kept it off. I basically cut out all processed foods – anything white – bread, potato and sugar. But I was never a massive sweet tooth. I’d eat a bowl of chips before chocolate.
Jen: How long since you’ve had a pig out on lollies?
Emma: Well, I used to eat dark chocolate, and I loved that but then I realised even that has too much sugar for what I want to do. I have to take this seriously, so sugar is the thing I completely restrict so it’s been a long, long time since I’ve had a lolly.
Jen: What, a year? (can you hear my incredulous tone?)
Emma, Oh no! It would be since 2005.
Emma: Oh yes.
Jen: NOT ONE LOLLY?
Jen: You’re a freak.
There was a long pause, as I sat there stunned. How could ANYONE not eat ONE lolly for SEVEN years??? I mean, revisit that photo above. How could anyone say NO to that? But it’s a good thing, right? So how has Emma managed this – what is her SECRET to such amazing self-discipline?
Emma says it was probably easier for her than most, as she didn’t really have a sweet tooth to begin with. ‘I’d have a dim sim over a lolly any day. But it’s hard for most people because sugar IS the single most addictive substance. And if you are a sweet tooth, then you probably are addicted.’
That would be me… But Emma assures me there’s hope. ‘You can wean yourself off it,’ she said. ‘You will literally though, have withdrawal problems. Headaches and that kind of thing. And you can avoid chocolate and lollies, but the problem with our food source – the way that society is now – is that so many of the foods available for us that are on the supermarket shelves rare LOADED with sugar.’
‘That’s been my big thing that I’m campaigning about. Because sugar is killing people. It is completely implicated in every single health crisis we have going on. Obesity, Type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, heart disease. You name it and sugar is implicated.’
But Emma says it’s a hard battle to fight because so many major corporations have so much money invested in industries that use sugar. ‘For instance, Sixty Minutes ran a piece about the dangers of sugar earlier in the year, but only two weeks later, Channel Nine had a piece on A Current Affair that exonerated sugar. Because of the advertisers. So the vested interests are massive.’
‘We’ve been terrorised for forty years by the slogan ‘Fat Free’ but to make the fat free food bearable, they load it up with sugar to compensate for taste. To make it palatable. And in those 30 to 40 years, the correlations between sugar consumption and the diseases that we’ve talked about are massive, And we’re not getting slimmer – we’re getting fatter a lll the time. You can guarantee the sugar industry has been behind the far-free campaign.’
So what do we do as a community, I ask? ‘I truly believe if people did nothing else but attempt to control their sugar intake by limiting anything that they buy, eat or use in cooking to LESS THAN FIVE GRAMS PER 100 GRAMS OR LESS THAN FIVE PER CENT SUGAR, it would make a difference. If we all did nothing more complex than that, we would see a massive impact.’
Emma calls it THE ONE LINE RULE. ‘And dieticians and nutritionists will jump up and down and say, you can’t put it all down to one thing, but what’s being prescribed and what they’ve been saying for the last forty years hasn’t worked. We’ve just been getting fatter and sicker. So I say, stick to this simple rule. Limit the sugar to this level and there’ll be a huge difference.’
I have a VERY important question that’s bothering me. I can cope with vetting the products I buy at the supermarket. I might even be able to cope with cutting out lollies.
BUT WHAT ABOUT WINE?
‘Interestingly, fructose changes it’s structure in wine – in the fermentation process, ‘ said Emma. ‘So wine’s never good in excess, but it’s not as bad as you might think.’
THANK GOD. ‘So…’ I ask optimistically, ‘does that mean wine is better for us than apple juice?’
‘WAY better,’ said Emma definitively. ‘I’d be drinking wine over apple juice any day.’
YAYYYYYYYY. That’s the best news I’ve had all week.
More wine, less apple juice.
To get her message out there, (about sugar, not wine…) Emma wants to start speaking at schools to educate young people from an early age. With a Bachelor of Applied Science behind her, she has the credentials. ‘It’s just common sense,’ she said. ‘I’ve got two daughters at body-image age, and THE ONE LINE RULE resonates really well and really safely with kids at a dangerous age.’
‘It’s a much safer awareness than worrying about fatty food. Just look at the nutrition box on the labels of food and you’ll easily see whether there’s more than five per cent sugar or not.’
And what about fruit? Emma says one piece of fruit a day is fine. For breakfast though, NO jams or honey on toast. Choose vegemite or avocado instead. Better still, stock up on The Muesli!!
So that’s the challenge I’m going to set myself in the New Year. I’m going to add THE ONE LINE RULE to my resolutions list and see how long I can stick with it. Along the way, I’ll give you tips on which foods to avoid and which ones get a big tick.
Emma says while she misses the people and personalities she worked with in the television industry, she’s loving her running her own business with Heather. They’re extending their range of The Muesli to include a gluten free variety and even have plans to go international.
If you’d like to try The Muesli, here’s a SPECIAL OFFER. If you subscribe to this Blog (and it’s free, so just push the right buttons and you can do it in a minute) then just be one of the first TEN readers to email Emma, and she will send you a FREE 450g pack of The Muesli.
Email Emma Dumas at firstname.lastname@example.org
And to find out where to buy The Muesli, go to the website at http://themuesli.com.au