Recently, a friend challenged me to avoid any added sugar in my diet for two weeks. I’ve never been a soda drinker, haven’t patronized fast food joints in years, and considering myself a natural foods-foodie, I thought the challenge would be easy. What I discovered though, when it comes to consuming less sugar, awareness is everything.
Being a natural foods advocate does not ensure a diet low in added sugar. There was added sugar in my “all natural” choices, from the raw, local honey I added to my coffee, the maple syrup I poured over plain yogurt, to the baked-from-scratch goods I made for family and friends. Pure, natural ingredients in all of them, but they contribute to added dietary sugar. And I haven’t even mentioned chocolate! If I was going to meet this challenge, I had to come up with some strategies to curb my cravings.
I learned I can’t rely on just my taste buds to detect high levels of sugar in a product. I started reading labels and was surprised at the amount of sugar in “all natural” pre-packaged items. Sugar has a variety of names, and they can be found in tomato, chili, stir-fry, and other favorite commercial organic sauces. I found four types of sugar listed in one product alone! Sucrose, barley malt, maltose, ethyl maltol, are just a few of the many names for sugar. Being health-conscious, none of the products on my shelf had high fructose corn syrup (HCFS), but avoiding this is only the first step in reducing added sugar.
I chose to make some changes, and at the same time, deal with my cravings. This is what I did:
- I stopped using honey in my coffee.
- I stopped using maple syrup in my yogurt, substituting fruits and nuts.
- I increased my daily water intake to half my body weight in ounces.
- I minimized my evening cravings by having a hot chocolate fiber drink, made with no added sugar.
Over the course of the two weeks, I heightened my awareness of the hidden sugar in my “healthy” diet. Along with reading labels and educating myself on the many names for sugar, I increased both my water and fiber consumption, which was key to my success. Surprisingly, I adapted quickly. After two weeks, my taste buds adjusted, fresh food tasted even better, and fruits tasted sweeter. It is a challenge I want to continue, because I like how I feel after having tweaked my diet. And as far as chocolate is concerned, well, I switched to a locally made chocolate bar, with 70% cacao, and it’s divine!
P.S. While baking for my family, I now reduce the sugar called for by half, and no one has noticed yet!
Sarah lives in the beautiful Ozark Mountains, where she and her husband have raised their three children. Sarah has combined her compassionate nature and her 30 years of experience in professional nursing caring for others to launch a private health and wellness coaching practice.