After reading new reports of how dangerous added sugar is, including the possibility that it's addictive, I decided to try two months on a no-sugar diet. I'll take a few days off between the two months for Valentine's Day and as always birthday cake is exempt from the rules. Read on for why, how, and the results so far. (Sneak peek: it's been a snap!)
Is sugar dangerous?
I've read many studies and heard talks about the dangers of added sugar for years. Sugar is bad for your teeth and your heart. It feeds cancer and can lead to diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Proponents of a whole-foods, plant-based diet point out that it's extracted from sugar beets or sugar cane, leaving behind the fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
I knew all this, but also knew that the Cook for Good diet calls for just 20% of the sugar in the Standard American Diet, none of it high-fructose corn syrup or sugary drinks. That seems like a safe approach for most people.
But then I read A Month Without Sugar by author David Leonhardt. He quotes leading nutritionist Marion Nestle, who says:
Most public authorities think everybody would be healthier eating less sugar. There is tons of evidence.
The essay made me realize that sugar had been creeping into my life. I was using it to sooth me through the election and to celebrate the holidays. It had gone from being a treat to being a habit, with two desserts most days instead of one. I was even having jam on my breakfast toast and candied orange peels on my broccoli! I'd gained three pounds since September and could see myself gaining more. Clearly I needed to reset my sugar intake.
After I started my sugar fast on January 6th, I read several articles triggered by the hot new book The Case Against Sugar by journalist Gary Taubes. He says sugar is literally addictive and toxic, like cigarettes. Maybe I was becoming a sugar addict!
How I gave up sugar
Sugar is such a part of our culture that I couldn't imagine living without at least one dessert every day. Like meat and dairy, sugar is tied up with tradition. My Taster has a sweet tooth and is very happy whenever I bake cake, cookies, or cobbler. I enjoy desserts but my cravings are for salty snacks.
Here are the steps I took to eliminate added sugar:
- Stopped eating desserts, except for birthday cake at a party
- Started having a piece of fruit or a serving of Cinnamon Mashed Sweet Potatoes after meals
- Stopped adding sorghum to my peanut butter
- Quit putting jam on my morning toast and candied orange peels on everything
- Started using vinaigrette on salads instead of sorghum-mustard dressing
- Started snacking on cashews, walnuts, raisins, carrots, or celery instead of chocolate
I still need to create a bread recipe without sugar, but for now I'm counting on the yeast to eat most of the sorghum I add to Good Bread-Machine Bread. What I didn't have to worry about was added sugars in tomato sauce, pizza dough, or other foods. Most of my non-dessert recipes are already free from added sugar.
I didn't experience any withdrawal symptoms or cravings. The transition feels completely normal. Clearly I'm just a "social sweet-eater" rather than a sugar-aholic. Taubes did say in the Case Against Sugar that not everyone reacts to it in the same way. He adds that just because some smokers don't get lung cancer, it doesn't mean that smoking doesn't cause lung cancer. I just must be lucky as far as sugar goes.
I've lost a pound since I started, but my weight actually went up two pounds the first week. I was so sure that dropping sugar would make me lose weight that I ate too many nuts. I also replaced half my regular breakfast with a fruit smoothie, for what turned out to be a net gain of 75 calories a day. I'm back to my regular breakfast now.
By giving up sugar, I also:
- Save time and money by not making desserts
- Save money and avoid additives by not getting pre-baked cookies or frozen desserts
- Avoid the other extra fat and carb calories that travel along with sugar in baked goods
- Learned at a body-knowledge level that I don't have to have something sugary every day
- Probably improved my health
Have you ever given up sugar? How did it go? Do you struggle with it now? Please log in and add your comments below. I'll add updates to let you know how the experiment progresses.