7 Learnings From Nixing Added Sugar For A Month
After spending a harrowing month (😉) nixing added sugar, I've got some knowledge to drop.
1. Zero grams of sugar doesn't always mean no sugar.
This was a bit of a shocker. We learned in week two to read the list of ingredients every time we were going to eat something. If there are less than .5 grams of sugar in each serving, a company can claim zero grams on the nutrition label. Since we were trying to cut out added sugar (not sugar in general, which includes fruit etc.), this was a big deal to us. It also should be a big deal to people who read sugar labels without reading the portion size it represents, which is so often much smaller than what happens in reality.
2. Check the ingredient list for natural vs. added sugars.
We also found that products stating one or more grams of sugar weren't necessarily using added sugar or honey. Fruit and other products carry natural sugars that can account for those grams. Recently the FDA has mandated that companies underline the difference in added versus natural sugars (like in the image below). Check out this New York Times article on the amount of added sugar in our foods and the changes made by the FDA.
3. Bread always has some form of sugar.
For some reason, I did not expect this. Bread without sugar or honey was challenging to find at the grocery store. And when we did find it, it had evaporated fruit juice in it. While that was okay by our agreed upon rules for the month, it's essentially sugar.
4. Without sugar, salt looks mighty fine.
Exactly how it sounds, I craved salty snacks in place of dessert. After a tough defeat in a job interview process, I combined brie and kettle chips to fill ice cream's hole. And to make a meal special, we often had a merriment of french fries or salty mashed potatoes. So, while we kicked one bad habit, it was tough not to create another.
5. Sugar is in everything.
At the start of the month, we created a rule that for every item we consumed with added sugar, we would have to pay $10 to a pot. This rule didn't make it. Unlike the month without alcohol, it was nearly impossible to have a totally clean record with sugar (check out our cheat tracking below). It's in everything and so, so easy to forget about. I ordered fried artichoke sandwich, forgetting until half way through that there was a sauce on it that most likely included sugar. Igor totally forgot about our rule and absentmindedly dumped a tablespoon of sugar into the borscht. There are also items you'd never think had added sugar that do like horseradish sauce.
6. It's hard to say no when you are a guest, although peer pressure was almost non-existent.
This may seem like an oxymoron, but each piece is so, so true. In the group, almost everyone cheated at least once while a guest in someone's home or when a guest brought something over. Our hosts were aware of our no sugar month and really supportive, but often times didn't really know that there was sugar in what they were serving. At my mom's house, everyone had totally forgotten that there was sugar in canned beans, until my mom remembered and looked at the label. On our trip to Yellowstone, everyone we traveled with adopted our diet for a couple of days to keep us on track. Since we did the grocery shopping all together, we kept on track (a yummy mushroom meal from the trip in the photo below). When I quit alcohol for a month, there was peer pressure left and right to cheat from everyone around me. That didn't happen with added sugar.
7. The only way to control what you eat is to cook it.
Out of everything, this hit me the hardest. It is so hard to control your added sugar intake when you aren't cooking for yourself. And if it's hard to control added sugar, you have to resign to the fact that it's hard to control many other factors like the treatment of the animals that provide the meat, dairy and fish. While we do cook often, it hit home that eating healthy (especially in the U.S.) is almost always simpler when you commit to cooking the meals yourself.
While dessert is back on the menu for me (especially on my trip through Portugal), I am much more conscious of ingredient lists now, have a renewed passion for cooking at home and profound respect for people with dietary restrictions (self-appointed or not).
For September, the same group has decided to try adding daily push-ups instead of removing something from our diet. Hopefully I can do a pull-up by the end of the month!