30-day No-Added Sugar Challenge Debrief

You’ve been wondering about my no added sugar challenge, right? You’ve been thinking about me every time you eat a piece of candy, or a pastry, or a bar of chocolate, isn’t that so? You’ve been asking yourself: how is Jessica doing with that crazy challenge, anyway?

I’m here to tell you. It’s been stinking hard!

But not for the reason I thought.

 

Remind me again?

I decided last month to do a 30-day challenge of eating no added sugar. That meant I gave up eating desserts, cookies, candy, syrup, jam, etc. I skipped Halloween’s traditional candy binge and instead I’ve sweetened my life with things like fruit. Yep.

Sugar is added to so many foods and is not particularly healthy, so I wanted to take a break to reset my attitude and my palate.

 

Where are we now?

Today (Tuesday) is the 28th day of this 30-day challenge! That means I’ve got two more days and on Friday, I’ve completed it!! It dragged by in the day-to-day, but in retrospect, I feel like it wasn’t SO long.

 

What has been the hardest?

It turns out, the lack of added sugar wasn’t the hard part. The hard part was my HABIT OF FOOD INDULGENCE. Post dinner, while out at a coffee shop, with friends, or when I’m stressed (ie. the election) – eating something delicious as a “treat” is apparently a deeply ingrained habit for me. Without traditional “treats” as an option, I branched out…into carbs. This was not my intention, but suddenly, after dinner, I was reaching for the pita chips or eating popcorn. I’d get home late from an aerial class and head to the kitchen, later chastising myself for eating when I wasn't even hungry because it felt relaxing.

I realized that I haven’t been physically craving sweets, but I relied on them psychologically. It was disappointing to discover that I couldn’t all of a sudden be satisfied with a cup of tea, I wanted more. Alas!

As the challenge went on, I did enjoy a bit of dessert wine in the evening in an attempt to curb the extra carb intake. Then, just last week, I started going straight to the source and sugared up by eating grapes. WOW, they are sweet. And quite satisfying.

 

What has changed? 

My tolerance for sweetness, definitely. I’m noticing that foods are sweeter than I thought and I can immediately tell when something has sugar added to it (because it tastes awesome, duh). What a snazzy trick! 

I have been feeling really good too. I haven’t had any sugar-induced mood swings or crankiness and my health has been great. This is anecdotal evidence, and luckily, I rarely got sick before...but still, I think it’s made some difference.

 

So now what?

I would love to keep up with 100% no added sugar full-time in the future. But I am pretty sure I won’t. It was easier to quit cold turkey temporarily than it will be for me to hem and haw over how much sugar is okay and how much is too much for the foreseeable future. I will try though. I’m planning to limit dessert eating to fruit and dark chocolate at home. I’m planning to celebrate with desserts out at restaurants less often.

And I did discover that I can enjoy (yes, I can!) both almond milk and granola with no added sugar. Incorporating both of these into my regular diet instead of the sugarier versions I used to eat seems like a worthwhile and completely doable permanent change.

 

And now, onward into a minimally sugared future!

30-Day Challenge: No Added Sugar

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I have decided that I want to eat in a more healthful and purposeful way. I believe that a big part of sustainable food is made up of everyone’s individual food choices and I am guilty of making many food choices that don’t align with my food values. That really bugs me! And I want to change it.

Part One of my plan to change my eating habits involves a new 30-day challenge. And it starts tomorrow, the 19th.

I was inspired to create this challenge by one of my aerial silks instructors when she casually mentioned that she doesn’t eat added sugars.

WHAT?!

I have a sweet tooth, I love convenience, and a lot of the pleasure of eating with my friends and family centers around dessert – so giving up added sugars wasn’t at the top of my to-do list. But then I kept thinking about the benefits of trying it and I decided I wanted to incorporate it into a challenge for myself.

I will still be eating some things that taste sweet (like fruit, including dried fruit), but I will not be eating traditional desserts. If things get desperate, I may allow myself some honey, but initially, I’m aiming to avoid it.

 

Why is this healthy?

To put it bluntly, sugar is not good for us. Ok, we all already knew that, but the part that we aren’t as familiar with is how much sugar is added to SO many foods. It is a big part of making processed foods irresistible. The sugar we eat that occurs naturally as part of a peach (for example) comes with fiber and other nutrients to modulate the sugar. The sugar we eat in chocolate chip cookies does not. Those cookies cause a fast spike in blood sugar levels, which requires insulin to be released from the pancreas. Insulin regulates our bodies by removing glucose from our bloodstream. Too much sugar over and over can lead to all kinds of chronic diseases including diabetes and heart disease.

Interested in learning more about why sugar is bad for you? See here and here.

 

Why is this challenge sustainable?

This is an exercise in health and in that sense, it incorporates individual sustainability. Additionally, a LOT of those foods with sugar added to them are the unhealthy processed foods, so skipping those will cut down on my consumption, and financial patronage, of processed foods and big food companies (sweet!).

Because I will be bringing sweetness to my life through fruit, I will seek out the most delicious and most sustainable fruit I can find.

What will be hard about this?

This 30-day challenge will mean changing my post-meal patterns. I am very used to eating sweets, just a small --- ok, medium--- amount after a meal. It will be hard to skip that. I’m planning to stock up on delicious herbal teas to try as my post-dinner go-to and plenty of savory treats (Humbolt Fog goat cheese). I will have to check food labels carefully; sugar is added to many things that we wouldn’t ordinarily think of, for example: ketchup, tomato sauce, and yogurt.

In full disclosure, I’ve decided not to be extremely nit-picky about this challenge. If something has 1 or 2 grams of sugar added, I won’t sweat it. This is about the large amounts, not the tiny amounts.

 

A note on artificial sweeteners:

I’ve decided not to substitute real sugar with artificial sweeteners in this challenge. I know that it would make the 30 days easier, but artificial sweeteners just aren’t my thing. I don’t love the taste and I don’t love the idea. I hardly ever consume them as is, so staying away should be a piece of cake.

 

So that’s the plan. Got any recipes or advice? Want to join in? Let me know!

Book Report: Unprocessed

Reviews of books relevant to the food movement.

unprocessed book

One sentence summary: Thoughtful, dedicated, graduate student in Tuscon, AZ spends one year avoiding all processed food to discover what “processed” means in all facets of the food system.

Book title: Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food
Author: Megan Kimble
Year of Publication: 2015
Length: 326 pages
Keywords: local, farm-to-table, home cooking, slow food, lifestyle

Memorable Quote: “Eating unprocessed wasn’t just a way to opt out of a broken food system, it was also a way to opt in. To opt in to another way of eating, another way of being with food, flavor, and community.”

greens growing near the sink

Much like me (or any typical millennial-aged foodie these days), Megan Kimble, the author of Unprocessed got hooked learning about where our food comes from and how the system evolved to where it is today. Growing up in the Los Angeles area (Pasadena, in fact!), she ate well, but didn’t spend much time thinking about food. That changed after she left home and so during her stint in grad school doing an MFA in writing in Tuscon, she decided to act on her food interests. She writes about reading food system books and articles for fun (hi, have you met me?), being inspired by food movement icon Michael Pollan, and deciding to do something with the little power she felt she possessed.

freshly-milled flour

So Kimble decided to spend one whole year changing the way she ate by unprocessing her diet. More specifically, she avoided all ultraprocessed food. So yes, as she explains in her introduction, peanuts are processed into peanut butter when they are ground up, but that’s different than a frozen microwave dinner barely resembling the foods it started as.

Kimble’s book is organized to take the reader through 10+ topics (sugar, meat, flour, dairy, etc.) within the food system that she investigates during her year. You get the sense that all these chapters played out simultaneously in her life, but for ease of understanding, she split them into coherent sections connected through a witty narrative.

My opinion: I loved this book. I found myself (literally) nodding along with Kimble’s perspective while reading on the train to and from work. This book isn’t a page-turner, but if you invest in it with patience, the outcome is worth it. Kind of like the slow food movement, eh?

unprocessed whole grain bread

The most important thing to say in this review is how much I respect Kimble for (1) following through on a difficult journey and (2) writing really well about it.

As you recall from my recent 30-day challenge, I wrote about how difficult it is to change eating behaviors. It takes a great deal of intention, time, and effort. Kimble drastically changed her food habits for a whole year! WOW.

Diving deeper into the logistics, she was able to do that because she had a lot of autonomy over her food. She had time to cook and prepare, she didn’t travel for work much, and she didn’t have family members relying on her to get food on the table for every meal. That gave her plenty of flexibility and an opportunity to take control of changing what she ate. Many people aren’t in a situation in which this experiment would be feasible. I don’t say any of this to diminish what Kimble did at all, but to realize some key factors in her success.

reading unprocssed book

To sum up: Food system books can be a bit dry (trust me, I’ve read them), so major props to Kimble for making this book engaging and informative. She threw in just enough personal details --- New romance! New friends! --- to keep the story as strong as the educational content.

I highly recommend this read!