I was inadvertently issued a challenge to go sugar-free for 10 days. I agreed to do 5 days and this is how it turned out.
What started as a challenge turned into an experiment and then became an exploration. The challenge was to go without sugar, the obvious and the hidden, for 10 days (5 in my case). Cookies, cakes and candies were clearly not allowed along with the following:
smoothies, ketchup, mayo, salad dressing, packaged and processed foods such as crackers, vitamins, bread made with white flour, white rice, certain brands of peanut butter, jam, chutney, fruit juice, natural sweeteners, cereal, sports drinks, energy bars
This is not an exhaustive list. There are many more items I’m sure, but you get the idea. The two things I conceded was my thyroid medication (many medications use some type of sugar as a filler) and the greens supplement I take which is sweetened with a minute amount of stevia.
As a result this became more of an experiment in discovering just how many foods contain added sugar as well as an exploration of what is there left for a vegan to eat?
These 5 days forced me to be more creative with my food (e.g. steel cut oats with naturally sweet tasting cashew and coconut butter as a snack), find alternative brands (an unsweetened calcium/magnesium/vitamin D supplement powder) and use ingredients that I had been meaning to make use of for some time (quinoa and canned chickpeas).
The original challenge is from the website for Fed Up.
And speaking of which…two buttery thumbs up for Fed Up. (Yes movie theatre popcorn with real butter is one of the concessions I make in an otherwise vegan diet.)
This documentary film by Stephanie Soechtig is a lightly sautéed exposé on the food industry and their dirty little candy-coated secret: sugar.
Sugar in all its incarnations is in practically everything. For many it tastes good but too much of a good thing is a bad thing, even if it is ‘natural’. The wallets of big food giants seems to mirror the expansion of many people’s waistline as they unwittingly consume more sugar than they realize. This film touches on a number of issues that are worth further investigation:
- Excess dietary sugar is said to depress the immune system and is implicated in a number of diseases e.g. obesity, Type II diabetes, heart disease, cancer.
- The physiological effect of sugar on the brain is similar to that of cocaine. Sugar is like an addiction – the more you eat, the more you want and the more you have, the more you need.
- The World Health Organization had a recommendation on the table to reduce the daily amount of calories acquired from sugar consumption. Previously it was 10% and the recommendation was for 5%. This equates to 25g (about 5 teaspoons) or 100 calories of sugar per day for the average adult. This has yet to be approved and enforced so there is currently no guideline for daily sugar consumption.
As a reference, 1 glass (about 250mL or 1 cup) of unsweetened orange juice contains about 20g of sugar.
Breakfast: the most important meal of the day
How many sugars do you take in your coffee/tea? Did you have a smoothie instead? Or how about that ‘healthy’ granola cereal you may have had? Or the jam? Or the muffin? Or the ketchup/HP sauce on your egg? Was the toast/bagel whole grain and/or commercially prepared?
A typical full North American breakfast can easily exceed the proposed guideline from WHO for daily sugar consumption.
And my sugar-free conclusions?
In spite of the negatives concerning sugar, I still like the sweet stuff. I derive much satisfaction from baking (though it is bad for business to promote being eternally sugar-free!) I also like to enjoy the occasional indulgence which is manageable in an otherwise healthy diet.
I think most people have an innate sweet tooth but we can retrain our taste buds to eat less sugar and appreciate the flavour and moderate consumption of naturally sweetened goods.
How does one reconcile the enjoyment of sweets with the negative impact of sugar? Here are some tips:
- Reduce the amount of sugar in recipes by half. For the most part, the recipe will still work.
- Use natural sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup and agave. They are sweeter than refined sugar so less is required.
- Try the sugar-free challenge to retrain your taste buds.
- Enjoy fruit in its entirety; skip the juices.
- Become food aware and learn what is really in your food. Better yet, make it yourself from scratch so you have control over the ingredients.