‘No-Added-Sugar’ Challenge: Day 1


sugar-clipart-photo-24785645-clip-art-no-sugarHappy Day 1!  I started my morning with a cup of coffee with less than a teaspoon of sugar (the one exception is no more than 1 tsp in coffee), some food prep, and breakfast: 1/2 C plain greek yogurt, 1/4 C grain-free granola and 1/2 banana. It was delicious and kept me satisfied for a few hours before I snacked on some almonds.

*If you’re just joining us, Andrew and I (and a handful of motivated friends) are avoiding added sugar for the 30 days in April.  It’s not too late to join us!  For the ‘rules’, click here.

After Andrew woke up, we both emptied out the fridge and pantry together. (Hadrian, Andrew and Odie made cameos, below.)


What came out included our maple syrups, jams, some condiments and salad dressings, Andrew’s Gatorade mix, my stash of Justin’s goodies, Andrew’s flavored nuts, honey, and–obviously–any sweets. I think it was good for Andrew to read labels, although he wasn’t too surprised since he’s gone through this with me before.

Here’s the fridge after:


I was pleasantly surprised that, despite hauling a TV tray full of food down to our basement storage area and fridge (out of sight, out of mind), we were still left with quite a full fridge.

A few quick notes:

-Alcohol: I’ve gotten a few questions about alcohol, and I failed to address it in my column.  Yes, alcohol is OK in moderation, and only beer and wine.  Mixed drinks are full of sugar and sweeteners, so they’re out.

-Juice: Ordinarily, I’d say juice (at least sweet juice) is out.  Almost all of them, even those that are 100% juice, are super sweet.  I’d always rather someone eat a piece of fruit over a glass of juice.  Andrew loves V8 (low sodium) and I like about a 1/2 C of Naked Juice’s Kale Blazer at breakfast, neither of which has added sugar nor are they sweet. You’ll see we currently have some OJ in the fridge (which NEVER happens, I just had a craving about a week ago).  In the interest of not wasting food, we’ll finish it but I’m not going to replace it.

-Bread: This one is a little tough.  While we don’t tend to have a lot of bread in the house, I do believe whole grains can be part of a healthy diet.  Unfortunately, a lot of breads contain a little sugar yet aren’t what you’d call sweet.  My plan is to scour the grocery shelves and see if I can find sandwich bread without sugar, limit breads in general and rely a little more on Ezekiel bread (no added sugar) anyway. Honestly, I don’t foresee this being a problem at home as much as it might be eating away from home. For the sake of Andrew’s sanity and participation in the challenge, I might have to overlook some of his bread intake.

In a nutshell, Andrew and I are embarking on this journey because we feel like we need to ‘clean up’ our diets a bit.  Yes, we eat a lot of healthy foods (especially me), but we also splurge a lot on ordering pizza, sweets and junk.  In fact, this whole thing was Andrew’s idea!  (Hard to believe, I know.)  Andrew suggested we limit our sweets and bread, then I started talking about avoiding added sugars (I’d been working on my no-added-sugar banana bread at this same time.) and one thing led to another and I laid down some rules and published it in the March nutrition column in the East Aurora Advertiser.  He’s not thrilled with the strictness of the rules, but hopefully he’ll persevere.

He’s more interested in making sustainable changes (i.e. he doesn’t want to really give up ALL sugar) and I like participating in challenges because they motivate me and keep me accountable.  I felt like doing this 30-day challenge would be a way to ‘reset’ our taste-buds to appreciate things less-sweet and introduce some self-control.

For lunch, we grabbed food from the co-op. I paired a salad with s cup of lentil soup and Andrew chose Chipotle Pork with cous-cous (and bread) on the side. He did, however, opt for a bottle of tea without added sugar, despite his initial protests.

For those joining us, good luck!  I’ll be posting no-added-sugar recipes on the blog throughout. For those on the fence, give it a try!  It’s never too late to make changes to your diet for the better!


Buffalo News Refresh – March 2017

by: Holly R. Layer

Say no to added sugar in April and feel better

In order to celebrate National Nutrition Month and ‘Put Our Best Fork Forward,’ this year’s theme, I challenge each and every one of you to GIVE UP ADDED SUGAR.

Seriously, I do. For the—how convenient—thirty days in April. And to keep it interesting, my husband, Andrew, and I will join you. I do realize this means no Easter candy; I sympathize, as I adore Starburst Jellybeans and will miss them. Instead, why not get creative with your Easter Basket this year—the hubby has been known to stuff books, workout gear and healthy snacks in mine!

Added sugars are the additional sugar found in sweetened items, like cookies, cakes, yogurts and even bread and salad dressings. This includes many condiments, like ketchup, and artificial sweeteners, such as Stevia. Giving added sugars the boot—and focusing on whole foods—is the quickest way to weight loss and decreasing your risk for heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Perhaps the biggest benefit of omitting added sugars is decreasing your dependence on added sugars after those 30 days are up.

As a dietitian, I’m always cautious of the various fad diets out there, especially those that omit food groups or promise incredible results. I’ve participated in various ‘eating styles’ over the years, sometimes to test them out for myself, other times because I wanted a challenge or to clean up my own diet. I felt like crap avoiding wheat for Wheat Belly, had a blast trying new recipes with Andrew on a ’21-Day Paleo Challenge’ and felt my absolute best doing a couple Whole30s.   I can say, without a doubt, that my healthiest eating style is to focus on fruits and vegetables and protein sources, while limiting grains and dairy products.

Enter my own ‘No Added-Sugar Challenge.’ A quick Google search will yield multiple hits for ‘no sugar challenges,’ many of them 30 days in duration and with varying rules, some are legitimately ‘sanctioned’ and require participants to pay a fee, while others are simply someone’s rules for anyone to attempt. What I like about these ‘challenges’ is that they’re short yet sustainable, generate excitement and motivation and are goal-oriented. I encourage you to come up with a (non-food) reward for completing the challenge, like a new yoga mat.

I’ll keep it simple with just ONE rule: NO ADDED SUGAR/SWEETENER. (*With one caveat, below.)

Here are some helpful hints and clarification:

  1. Thirty days: It’s long enough to break bad habits, form new ones and see results. You may lose weight and/or inches off various parts of your body, as well as other changes, such as better sleep, increased energy, etc.
  2. Other names for sugar: Sugar is sugar is sugar. This includes agave nectar, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, coconut sugar, molasses, etc. If it serves to sweeten the item—even if it’s natural—it’s out. This also includes artificial sweeteners, like sucralose, saccharin, aspartame, xylitol, acesulfame K and monk fruit.
  3. Read those labels: You’ll be shocked at how many items have added sugar that aren’t sweet, like salsas, spaghetti sauce and salad dressings. Be wary of all the sneaky names for sugar, some of which are mentioned above. If it has sugar, don’t even bring it into the house. If you already own it and aren’t getting rid of it, keep it out of sight for those 30 days.
  4. Whole Grains: Bread often has added sugars. Choose unsweetened loaves, like Ezekiel Bread and 100% whole grain items. Jellies and jams contain sugar, so they’re out—try spreading peanut or almond butter on toast instead.
  5. Dairy: Plain yogurt is OK; fruit-on-the-bottom is not. Milk and cheese are allowed as well.
  6. Meat and Eggs: No sugar here! But, bacon, deli meats and sausages tend to have added sugars, so read those labels.
  7. Produce: Natural sugars are OK, so eat as many fruits and veggies as you can. White (and sweet) potatoes are allowed; so don’t shy away from an old standby. Frozen canned and fresh are all allowed, as long as the fruit isn’t sweetened.
  8. ‘Junk’ food: If it comes in a box or bag with bright colors and you can’t pronounce most of the ingredients, it’s out. First, it probably has sugar. Second, it shouldn’t be in your diet, anyway. Exceptions include healthy, no-added sugar snacks, like freeze-dried fruit or compliant beef jerky.
  9. Fried food: Avoid fried foods, not because of sugar, but because they’re not good food you. As we’re in Lent, it might be sacrilege to ask you to give up your fish fry, so I won’t. I’ll simply strongly encourage you to choose the broiled option with baked potato, instead.
  10. Eating Out: Ask questions, order wisely and skip dessert or have fresh fruit.

Lastly, let these 30 days address any sugar cravings you have. I’m going to borrow a guideline from the Whole30 here. Using an allowed item to feed your sweet tooth IS NOT ALLOWED. Don’t trade your afternoon candy bar for a Larabar (allowed, made with fruit and nuts). Instead, first evaluate whether you’re hungry or not. If so, eat a snack low in natural sugar (like a few almonds or veggies and hummus) and consider eating a bigger lunch the next day to quell that mid-afternoon hunger pang. If not, distract yourself and the craving will go away.

*Coffee: Most—it not all—of the challenges online are 100% no added sugar. I get it—that’s why it’s a challenge. However, I’m going to allow you to put a little sugar (as in, ONE teaspoon or less—none of those uber-sweetened ‘coffee’ drinks) in your coffee for a couple reasons. First, some of you won’t participate if you have to give up your morning coffee, and I want EVERYONE. Second, I want this to be a sustainable eating style beyond the thirty days. I’ve done Whole30s and choked down black coffee, finally switched to tea, only to go right back to the coffee with sugar on Day 31. I’m not here to disrupt your morning coffee routine; I’m here to get you to re-think what you’re eating every day, all day.

What happens when you finish successfully? First, you’ll have accomplished something amazing with lasting results—congratulations! Second, you’ll probably be down a few pounds and feeling pretty good—hold onto those wins! Third, take a hard look at what—if anything—you want to reintroduce into your diet. You’ll probably have missed some sweets and it’s OK to enjoy treats in moderation; if you didn’t miss it, don’t bother!

Feel free to email me and let me know if you’re taking on the No Added-Sugar Challenge. Be sure to check out my recipe for no-added-sugar banana bread here. 


no-added-sugar banana bread, three ways

This post was originally going to be about a no-added-sugar banana bread recipe I found almost two years ago and have been making ever since.  However, I recently found another recipe for no-sugar-added banana bread that looked intriguing, so I gave that one a try. Turns out the first one had great flavor and the second had a better texture, so I melded them together to create my own!

I mentioned the first no-added-sugar banana bread recipe here back in January and planned to post about it soon after.  Well, February has come and gone and we’re halfway through March and I’m just now getting to it. Sheesh.

(This is also NOT to be confused with the ‘made-over’ Martha Stewart banana bread recipe posted here.  Absolutely fabulous, but it does include sugar.)

Clearly, I’m into banana bread.  Or I just buy too many and have to find something to do with all my too-ripe bananas…

First, my recipe:


1 cup AP flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tablespoon flaxseed meal

6 bananas, very ripe and preferably thawed from frozen (approximately 2 – 2 1/2 cups)

2 eggs

6 tablespoons melted coconut oil or light olive oil

2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped

1/2 cup shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin. Mash bananas and mix with beaten eggs, oil and vanilla. Mix dry ingredients and add to wet, mixing until just combined. Fold in walnuts and coconut, if using.

Using an ice cream scoop, portion into muffin tin and bake for approximately 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

Check out the height on this one!  And that nicely browned, domed top!  Sugar helps things brown, which is why sugar-free baked products don’t always look the same as those with sugar.


I was pleasantly surprised to find the inside had a very nice crumb as well, not too dense or rubbery like many ‘healthy’ baked goods. Again, sugar helps baked products achieve the right texture, so omitting it can lead to all sorts of baking fails.


I like my banana bread with ‘stuff’ in it, so I tend to add walnuts for sure and dried fruit or chocolate chips if I’m feeling fancy.  You certainly don’t have to add anything if you don’t want to.  I’ve also experimented with how much or little I mash the bananas and found I prefer mine with small chunks of banana. I’ve been adding shredded coconut ever since I tried Martha Stewart’s recipe (linked above) and haven’t looked back.  It adds excellent flavor and texture.

This was the first time I experimented with the two recipes and am very pleased. I think I might still experiment with some of the spices, as I like a really cinnamon-y bread.  I’m considering using more cinnamon, or substituting pumpkin or apple pie spice to achieve that flavor.

I split the flours to achieve a better texture and kept the increased bananas for added sweetness and liquid.  I’m not against a little fat in my bread, so I kept the oil from recipe two as well for good texture and flavor. I also like flaxseed meal for it’s health benefits (a great fat source!) and texture, so I kept that from recipe one.

And, for completeness, here are the two recipes that inspired my recipe with my recent photos.

Recipe one:


Like I said, I’ve been making it with pretty good results for a while now, but always felt the muffins turned out a bit dense.  This recipe includes whole wheat flour, a flax egg instead of a real egg and four bananas. Photo below:


Verdict: Compared to the other two recipes, this one looks, feels and tastes like a ‘healthy’ muffin.  But, I didn’t know any better and kept baking them because they were easy, tasted good and turned out relatively well. However, the muffins never really baked up high with domed tops and were susceptible to bad batches that turned out heavy.

Recipe two:


After seeing her photos, I was very excited to try it.  Check out the browned tops and height below!  Elle’s recipe includes regular all-purpose flour, two eggs and more bananas than the other recipe.



Verdict: A great product, but left me a little wanting on the flavor side.  I wanted more heft and heartiness without the density of the first recipe.

Honestly, both of the above recipes are winners.  I was shocked at how well the first recipe turned out, so I’m even more thrilled that others are experimenting with healthier baking that highlights the natural flavors of foods without sacrificing healthy fat and a pleasing texture.

And speaking of no-added-sugar…I bet you can guess what Andrew and I will be giving up in April!  More on that soon!