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!