21 Sep, 2010
Know More Do More: sugar-free is done
Posted by andrea tomkins in: - Know More Do More
I’ve saved the wrap up post of our sugar fast for today, because I needed to sit and think about it for awhile, not to mention the fact that the whole production left me totally exhausted.
To summarize: it was tough. It was much harder than we thought, and we didn’t actually manage to be “sugar free” for the whole week.
But before I get into that I want to make clear that this whole idea was our own, and was not an activity that was suggested or endorsed by the Champlain Cardiovascular Network and/or the Know More Do More campaign. In fact, I’m not sure if the good doctors in the Network would agree that doing something as drastic as yanking sugar from our fridges and kitchens would do anything other than traumatize our young children.
I’m kidding. Sort of.
I want to address the question of WHY. Why did we pick sugar, and not sodium, trans-fats etc.? Read this:
Americans have become conspicuous consumers of sugar and sweet-tasting foods and beverages. Per capita consumption of caloric sweeteners (dryweight basis)—mainly sucrose (table sugar made from cane and beets) and corn sweeteners (notably high-fructose corn syrup, or HFCS)—increased 43 pounds, or 39 percent, between 1950-59 and 2000 (table 2-6). In 2000, each American consumed an average 152 pounds of caloric sweeteners, 3 pounds below 1999’s record average 155 pounds. That amounted to more than two-fifths of a pound—or 52 teaspoonfuls—of added sugars per person per day in 2000. Of that 52 teaspoons, ERS estimates that Americans wasted or otherwise lost 20 teaspoons, resulting in an average intake of about 32 teaspoons of added sugars
per person per day.
USDA recommends that the average person on a 2,000-calorie daily diet include no more than 40 grams of added sugars. That’s about 10 teaspoons, or the amount of sugar in a 12-ounce soft drink. Sugar— including sucrose, corn sweeteners, honey, maple syrup, and molasses—is ubiquitous and often hidden. In a sense, sugar is the number one food additive. It turns up in some unlikely places, such as pizza, bread, hot dogs, boxed mixed rice, soup, crackers, spaghetti sauce, lunch meat, canned
vegetables, fruit drinks, flavored yogurt, ketchup, salad dressing, mayonnaise, and some peanut butter. Carbonated sodas provided more than a fifth (22 percent) of the refined and added sugars in the 2000 American food supply, compared with 16 percent in 1970.
- From: “Profiling Food Consumption in America” by the USDA (PDF)
Although this info is American I think it’s probably a pretty accurate picture of what’s happening in Canada as well. Bummer eh?
When Mark and I set out to do this we thought it’d be easy peasy. After all, we don’t eat dessert every night. We don’t put a lot of sweets in their lunchboxes, or eat that many processed foods. HOW HARD COULD IT BE?
The joke was on us. We didn’t realize that the seemingly simple task of “eliminating sweeteners” would be such a huge undertaking.
The the purposes of the sugar fast we defined “sugar-free” as: no sugar(s), corn syrup, anything ending with –ose (like glucose-fructose), artificial sweeteners as well as maple syrup and honey. We did allow for natural sugars, so I could, for example, use applesauce to sweeten a muffin recipe … but that’s it.
We didn’t even consume sugar-free gum.
I think there was some degree of eyeball-rolling out there in blogland. Why one sugar (like applesauce) and not something like MAPLE SYRUP? I realize it is sacrilegious, as a Canadian, to deny oneself the pleasure of maple syrup, the juice of our national tree, but Mark and I decided the tone down the amount of sweetness in our lives - no matter where it came from.
As I mentioned in the comments of the original post, much of what we perceive as tasting good just happens to be what we are used to eating. For example, if you don’t take sugar in your tea, and suddenly someone dumps a Splenda in there and you take a big slurp … you’re going to think that’s pretty disgusting.
If you grow up eating processed cheese and someone hands you a hunk of aged cheddar I don’t think you’ll like that very much either.
There was a time when sugar was heavily rationed and 100% of the foods we ate were made at home. But this isn’t the case anymore.
I cooked an awful lot that week, more than I normally do. One night – having run out of steam – I grabbed a box of battered fish from the frozen food aisle at the grocery store. Guess what? There was sugar in it. We were guests at my in-laws for dinner, I turned down a bottled Mott’s Caesar (there’s sugar in it, or was it glucose-fructose) and BBQ chips (there’s sugar in those too). It’s everywhere!
I can’t tell you how much time I spent at the grocery store during the sugar fast, just scouring the labels. I can’t tell you how many conversations I had with the girls around the dinner table.
The kids were dismayed that ketchup has sugar in it (so they had to eat unadulterated meat) as did mayo. Some bacon is sugar-cured. Tomato sauce has sugar in it too. I could go on and on … don’t get me started on glucose-fructose in bread. I think I spent more time in the bread aisle than anywhere else.
I kept a daily log of sorts in the comments of the original post. Turns out I accidental ingested sugar nearly every day. In the organic vegetable broth I was using to make soup, for example.
I guess it seems obvious now, but almost everything that is factory made has sugar in it. Almost. We found taco shells that do not. And salsa (THANK GOD). And some chips.
Anyway, I am making this out to have been a very unpleasant experience, aren’t I? It was hard, but it was worth doing. And I would do it again.
What saved us: fruit. We ate baskets of peaches. My mantra became reach for a peach. They were the perfect antidote for a sugar craving and I think we all benefited from an increase in fruit consumption. What also saved us: one serving of banana “ice cream” and two batches of sugar-free muffins.
There were some other surprises I hadn’t counted on. I hadn’t told the girls what to do if they were offered sweets away from home. There were two occasions at Sarah’s school in which she came face-to-face with a muffin. She turned them down both times. I couldn’t believe it! Twice, the girls were at a friend’s house and were offered something sweet to eat and they (politely, I hope) turned it down too. I was so proud of their resolve.
And the most amazing thing of all is that one of Sarah’s school friends joined her in the last days of the sugar fast. She turned the muffins down too, AND told her parents about it AND asked her mom to pack her sugar-free lunches too. I was blown away by this.
Anyway, if you are thinking of doing this with your own family I highly recommend it.
- 1) Tracking your food really puts things into perspective. You get a much better sense of who’s eating what, how much, and when. I didn’t think we ate THAT much sugar and processed food, turns out we eat more than I thought we did.
- 2) It is a huge learning experience for kids (and parents). You might need an extra 20 minutes to get through the grocery store but the conversations that come from the experience are priceless. Information is good.
- 3) Home cooking is the way to go. Avoid processed foods as much as you can and you’ll save yourself time reading all those labels.
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