by: Holly R. Layer
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Dairy: Plain yogurt is OK; fruit-on-the-bottom is not. Milk and cheese are allowed as well.
- Meat and Eggs: No sugar here! But, bacon, deli meats and sausages tend to have added sugars, so read those labels.
- 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.
- ‘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.
- 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.
- 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.