Sugar, the new tobacco, or, so they say. Extremely sweet, extremely addictive, sugar has become one of the biggest health concern of this generation. Found in everything from salad dressings to soups, and bread to spaghetti sauce, sugar has infiltrated almost every aspect of our dietary lives. There are over sixty different names for sugar when it comes to ingredient listings, making it more and more difficult to know exactly what we’re putting into our bodies.
We all know eating too much sugar is a bad thing. Eating too much of anything is a bad thing, but how much are we really eating? Well, a 2004 study of Canadians showed that we eat an average of a whopping 110 grams of sugar per day. That’s 26 tablespoons, over 20% of our daily caloric intake, and a total of just over 88 pounds a year. To put that into perspective, the average weight of a German Shepherd is 75-90 lbs. Woof. The World Health Organization recommends eating no more than 6 teaspoons, or 25 grams, of sugar per day. Seems a little hard to do when a can of 355ml coke contains 39 grams of sugar. More than the daily recommendation.
I, like many other people, love a sweet treat, but recently I’ve been giving a lot more thought in regards to the amount of sugar in my food. I love a good salad, but why top it with a salad dressing that contains 10 grams of unnecessary sugar? Do I really need the two teaspoons of sugar in a serving of crackers? These are the types of questions I’ve been asking myself. Yes, I agree certain things taste better with sugar. I’m not going to deny myself the sweeter things in life (pun intended), but I am going to try to create a balance between what is good for me physically, and what is good for me mentally. In order to do this there was only one option that would work for me, quit cold turkey. I challenged myself to comply to a 5 day diet that contained absolutely no added sugar. This meant no sugar in my morning coffee, not even honey. I read the nutritional label and ingredient list of everything I ate, and let me tell you, sugar, it’s EVERYWHERE.
- Avoid all 61 terms for sugar for 5 days
- Natural sugar found in whole foods (fruit, vegetables, etc.) are okay
A day in the life
The first day of this challenge was a big learning curve. That morning I instinctively reached for the sugar when making my cup of coffee. I could tell habitual routine was going to be my biggest struggle. Putting down the sugar, only adding milk to my coffee, I began to look through my fridge and cupboard for breakfast options. Reading the ingredient list of all the cereals I had all had one thing in common, added sugar. All-Bran? Sugar. Flax Plus? Organic granulated sugar cane juice. Multi-Grain Cheerios? Refiner’s syrup (a.k.a golden syrup). Well, those options were off the table. So were the 4 different loaves of multi-grain bread I had on hand. All had sugar listed withing the first 5 ingredient. So, I settled on oatmeal. I cooked up some plain oats and topped it with chopped granny smith apple, cinnamon, raisins, and plain Greek yogurt. Satisfying, but I still missed the sweet tough a little honey or maple syrup would have provided. For lunch I had a salad with kale, tomato, cucumber, chickpeas, peppers, and feta. Simple, right? Until you get to the topic of salad dressing. If your just not a vinegar and oil kind of girl like yours truly, or don’t have time to whip up your own, finding a sugar free salad dressing can be quite the challenge. For example, Kraft Greek Feta & Oregano lists corn syrup as the third ingredient and sugar as the fifth, while Renée’s Sweet Onion Vinaigrette doesn’t get it’s sweetness from Spanish onions like the package claims. That would be the sugar lists as the second ingredient (only behind water). Yikes. If you’re looking for a packaged salad dressing with no sugar and recognizable ingredients look not further than Newman’s Own Olive Oil & Vinegar (offered in both organic and inorganic varieties). There isn’t an unfamiliar ingredient listed on the packaging, and on a plus side all profits from Newman’s products go to charities (bonus!). Snacks throughout the week consisted of sliced apples with all natural peanut butter, carrots and hummus, and yogurt with berries and nuts.
All of these foods are regular staples in my diet, and I often eat them on a daily basis, so why did I develop a headache that just wouldn’t go away? I discovered that I had been eating more sugar than I led myself to believe, all thanks to honey. I love honey. So much so that I eat it almost everyday. By not allowing myself to have honey I was denying 80% of the added sugar I eat on a regular basis. Turns out I was addicted to sugar in a way I didn’t even realize. The headaches were a sign my body was detoxing, and I both loved and hated it at the same time. Eventually the headaches subsided as my body began to adjust to the change. I didn’t notice a change in my skin or mood, aside from cravings, but it generally felt better to not be reliant on a sugar as a way to feel better.
Did I accomplish my goal?
I was so, so close. I let my guard down one time, and it was all thanks to a temptress in red, Sriracha (sugar is the second ingredient). My love of hot sauces got to me and one day while at work I, without thinking, reached for the bottle to add a little heat to my lunch. It wasn’t until I was about half way through my mug of soup that I realized what I had done. Was I disappointed in myself? Sure, but it also proved my point that sugar is in the things you least expect it to be. My one and only slip up was a lesson learned. I realized I had to become more aware about what I’m putting in my body, and not to blindly eat something just because it tastes good.
Did anything change?
Definitely. Realizing how much hidden sugars were in foods I had previously thought were “healthy” scared me. Many people are blindly consuming extra, unnecessary sugar as well as . I consider my self a fairly aware and conscious consumer, and this little experiment has prompted me to delve even deeper into food and how we as a society choose and consume the foods we do. I’ve even begin to make changes in my daily life, such as cutting out the sugar in my morning coffee, and choosing sugars with other nutrients and benefits (honey & molasses) over those that are purely sweeteners. Am I going to deny myself a slice of birthday cake? Absolutely not. Added sugar, like everything else should be consumed in moderation. Enjoy sweetness as a treat, not a trend.