Welcome to My Year Without
On January 1, 2008, I made a New Year's resolution to cut out refined sugar for one year. I cut out white refined sugar and corn syrups. My quest to be sugar-free evolved into political interest, public health, and letter writing to food manufacturers. Join me in sugar sleuthing, and learn more about the psychological aspects of sugar addiction, and those who push sugar on us.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
First of all, I was having a wonderful day with family. Talking. Grazing the platter of sliced vegetables and black olives. Catching up with cousins. Waiting in anticipation, along with everyone else, for the big dinner event. It came and went very traditionally and plentiful. Right before we eat, we gather into a circle and take turns sharing what we are thankful for. I used to hate it as a kid. Sometime in my growing up, I went from hating it to crying at everything people said. I still cry. No matter what people say.
To my surprise, my dinner choices were extremely slim, while everyone else enjoyed sweet rolls, cream berry jell-O, yams heaped with brown sugar, stuffing (my favorite!!), and even my other favorite, the green bean casserole which is made with cream of mushroom sauce. Sugar. I gravitated towards the open container of those little crunchy-fried onions that top the green bean casserole and glanced at the ingredients and even those were off limits! I enjoyed a sugarless cheesy crab dip, more sliced vegetables and some plain mashed potatoes, for my meal. I missed out on a lot of my favorite, once-a-year dishes. I was able to stick to the right portion sizes, however, and felt light when I stood up from the table, something I don't ever remember feeling on Thanksgiving.
We spent the late afternoon playing games, talking, reminiscing and drinking coffee. I was bracing myself for the moment when all of the desserts would be set out. That moment came and went pretty uneventfully. The desserts all looked wonderful, but I felt strong and proud to be sugarless.
Later in the evening I decided to indulge in a root beer that I had bought earlier in the week, thinking of this day. I guessed ahead of time that I would need a dessert substitute and root beer seemed above and beyond as far as my sweet needs were concerned. This week I discovered a 4-pack of root beer in the health food section of my local grocery store, and was shocked to see that the ingredients listed on the side of the bottle did not have sugar. Molasses seemed to be the sweetener and the other "gourmet" ingredients looked too intriguing to pass up. To back up, I have been craving a good root beer for the past several months. Perhaps it was all the root beer that was passed under my nose all summer long.
I was so excited to drink my root beer and made a point of announcing to everyone that I had found a sugar-free root beer. I took a sip and was overwhelmed by sweetness. It tasted almost too sweet, but had that delicious, ice cold root beer flavor that is intoxicating to me. I had my husband taste it and he seemed to think it wasn't sweet enough.
As the evening wore on, I sipped on my root beer, wanting to savor it. Not too long after I had been sipping it, I began to feel bloated but blamed it on all of the black olives that I had eaten throughout the day. Next, however, I found myself nodding off and unable to continue the game that all of my family were participating in. I actually lost on purpose just so that I could go into my room for a little nap. I had become deliriously tired. Once in my room, I glanced at the computer and figured it wouldn't hurt to go to the website of the root beer company to see what else they put in it that would cause me to dose on and off like this. It was easy to find their website and in a matter of seconds, I had the root beer ingredient list in front of me.
To my horror, shock, anger and surprise, SUGAR was listed as an ingredient! How could this be? Had I missed something on the label of the bottle? I double-checked just to be sure, and then had someone else look, too. There is no sugar listed as an ingredient on the bottle's ingredient list. I even went so far as to read the box label that the four bottles came in.
I wanted to hit somebody. Throw something heavy. Scream at the root beer people for tricking me like this! I would have done anything to avoid a mistake like this! I was so angry I wrote a letter to the company and am anxiously awaiting their reply.
Here is a copy of the letter I wrote:
Saturday, November 29, 2008
It stemmed from a long conversation that I had with my dad, an accomplished scientist, researcher and skeptic. We were discussing sugar's relationship to diabetes, obesity and heart disease. I was eager to discuss the evidence that points to sugar being to blame--but that most medical doctors still don't demonize sugar like I want them to. On top of that, it seems like the bulk of the studies that have been done have not concluded that sugar is the culprit. There are variables in every study that keep sugar from being the one and only culprit.
The main problem with pointing the finger at sugar, is that there are a lot of foods/drinks out there that act just like sugar in our bodies by turning into glucose. Also, in my researching and reading and talking with people like my dad, it seems more likely that the amount of sugar in our diets is what's to blame, not the sugar itself, necessarily.
In the early 1900's people had tiny amounts of sugar in their diets. I forget the exact statistic, but it is shocking how little we consumed then in comparison to what the average American consumes now, which is between 150-175 pounds each, per year. It seems like small amounts of unhealthy consumption won't add up to very much disease, but like anything, if there is a large amount of something unhealthy going into our bodies daily, it is bound to be linked to disease.
In my conversation with my dad on Thanksgiving, I thought about what it means that the average person is consuming so much sugar. What that says to me is that we are probably consuming too much of everything. People who regularly eat a larger meal portion than their body requires (that's most of us!) are probably not just overeating sugar, but everything else, as well. And, being that there are hundreds of foods out there that act like sugar in our bodies (because they are carbohydrates), this amounts to stress on our bodies that were not meant to intake the portions we take in. The physical stress of this has to be played out somehow. I believe it is mostly played out in the form of disease, or dis-ease. Malcontent. Obesity. Addiction.
To conclude, I think sugar is horrible. Because it contains nothing our body requires (we get plenty of natural sugars in our diet--think fruits, vegetables, etc.) I think it is awful that it is sold at grocery stores as food. (The only thing food about sugar is where it originates from, sugar cane or sugar beet.) The only argument used in favor of sugar being consumed is that it provides energy. But the energy we get from sugar pales in comparison to all of the negative side effects of sugar. Also, it is a false energy being that in a short amount of time the sugar high turns into a sugar low. It ends up sapping our energy, using our bodies' reserves of nutrients just to help digest it!
Stay tuned for my story about what happened to me on Thanksgiving. It's true and it will make you furious!
(I will not be providing any references in this post tonight, as I am just sharing my own summation of what I believe about sugar at this point.)
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Because I eat vegetarian, hardly any dairy and no sugar, I have assumed that I can eat everything in whatever portions I want. So when I make a batch of the most delectable gingersnaps ever, I heap them on a plate, go find a cozy spot to curl up and sit, and take my time eating each one while reading a book or doing a Japanese number puzzle. I'm in the clear, right? The cookies are healthy--no white flour or white sugar, so I am good to go, right? Obviously not!
To my dismay, I have to admit that I have been overeating. It has not even crossed my mind until recently, for some reason. Perhaps it has something to do with the year coming to a close and the one goal I was very much looking forward to, I have not attained. In searching for all the reasons why I have stayed 15 pounds over my desired weight, I have concluded that eating half a batch of cookies probably doesn't help my plight, nor does eating five bowls of quinoa, even though it is healthy!
So, the other day I decided to take into account my portion sizes. Already I feel better about myself. I don't need that super-full/sick feeling in my stomach to tell me that I'm done eating. I need to use common sense and forget relying upon my animal senses. The animal in me will gorge. But I am not an animal, and I don't need to load up on food for fear of starvation.
I am not calling this a diet, because I hope to carry this idea to fruition throughout my life. While this may sound totally obvious to you all, this has been a great revelation for me! We'll see if anything significant (weight-wise) happens over the next month.
Oh, and I thought "Portions" was quite appropriate, being that tonight is the eve of Thanksgiving! Happy Thanksgiving to you all!!
Spicy Mulled Cider
3 C. apple cider
4 whole star anise pods
1/2 tsp. whole allspice berries
1 tsp. whole cloves
1-4 cinnamon sticks
4 white cardamom pods, cracked
2 slices of orange, quartered
2 slices of lemon, quartered
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a low simmer. Lower the heat and continue to simmer gently for 30 minutes. Ladle into four mugs, add a slice or two of orange and a cinnamon stick, and serve steaming hot. Serves 4. Enjoy!
(-courtesy of Guideposts, December 2008)
Delicious Hot Chocolate
1-2 C. unsweetened almond milk
2 Tablespoons honey
1 heaping scoop of pure cocoa
In saucepan combine milk and honey and heat on medium to medium high while stirring. Whisk in cocoa until all lumps dissolve. Serve right away and enjoy!
(I made this up. Feel free to use any substitutions to your liking. As is, this is very thick and sweet!)
Monday, November 24, 2008
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Friday, November 21, 2008
By now I'm sure it's an association with being in the car, but nonetheless, my stomach growls soon after I hit the road somewhere. Sometimes I feel hungry in the car even if I've just eaten a big meal. I try to ignore my hunger, but I always keep snacks in my glove box, just in case. I like to have almonds and other mixed nuts for hunger emergencies.
Yesterday, on an extended road trip, my husband and I found ourselves 7,000 feet up the side of a mountain in the middle of nowhere and it started to snow. We had breakfast hours earlier and my hunger was mounting as we crawled up the rocky slope of P--- Mountain. Eventually, I just became plain hungry and grouchy. For some reason I had packed the car with snacks, but yesterday we took the truck. No snacks. I looked in every compartment hoping for a hidden bag of peanuts or macadamias or pistachios. I found nothing except two half-frozen bananas which I ate and did not enjoy. It did nothing to stop my stomach from growling, and I don't even like bananas.
We made it down the mountain okay but I was hungrier than ever, as several hours had passed. I appeased myself by imagining what kinds of snacks I would like to stock the truck with. When we drove into town, I spotted a health food store and we stopped to go in. I ate a giant lunch before grabbing a basket to fill with all kinds of snacks for the truck:
- fruit leathers
- Panda licorice
- Nana's cookies
- Pamela's ginger cookies
- Nut-thin crackers
- grain-sweetened chocolate chips
Before setting out on a road trip again into the great unknown, next time I will plan ahead so that I am prepared with more than just sweet snacks. It would have been nice to have grapes or sliced up vegetables.
If you are caught hungry on a road trip and stop somewhere to get gas and then go inside the little gas mart, you are more likely to buy and eat unhealthy, sugary treats. It always pays to plan ahead!
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
in my trail mix?
Since I forgot
that bag of peanuts
into a mix
he ate all
of the M&M's
It looked like
I wasn't watching
as I emptied
Held my breath
in my mouth--
Friday, November 14, 2008
1. Nine out of 10 schools offer junk food to kids.
2. One of every five calories in the American diet is liquid.
3. Researchers calculate that for each additional soda consumed, the risk of obesity increases 1.6 times.
4. The USDA supplies schools with the same commodity foods as prisons.
5. More than 32% of youths are overweight and nearly 74% are unfit.
6. About 19,000 public schools, 1 in every 5, sell branded food in the cafeteria.
7. Teenagers' milk consumption decreased by 36% between 1965 and 1996, while soda consumption increased by more than 200%.
8. Vending machines are in 43% of elementary schools and 97% of high schools.
9. Only 29% of adolescents meet the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity.
10. In 2003, the Centers for Disease Control declared obesity the most important public health issue in the United States.
I remember when I first became aware that my after-school snack was junk food. I was in the 8th grade, sitting on the couch with my brother and watching Duck Tales. We were both eating Oreos. I remember each bite was a crunchy, heavenly experience until I started thinking about my figure. All of a sudden, my teenage mind wondered, "If I want boys to like me, I had better stay nice and thin and not get fat eating junk food." To this day I have no idea where that thought came from. I remember my immediate dilemma was finding a healthy snack food that had the *crunch* that I enjoyed so much. I dug through the refrigerator and came up with a handful of carrots. I chose the biggest carrot of the bunch and peeled it. Then I rejoined my brother on the couch and ate my carrot like Bugs Bunny.
I've been a health nut ever since.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
When the free-flowing thoughts started, I was walking on the treadmill at the steepest incline, sweating like crazy and listening to Motorcycle's song. (Cheesy video here, but the song helps to rock my workouts). Before I began my workout I had a healthy breakfast:
- "Cheesy Spinach Squares": organic eggs from my local CSA farmer, local greens (kale, broccoli raab, radish greens, spinach) mixed into my eggs with organic cheese (recipe below...it's AMAZING)
- Piece of "Nature's Bake" raisin toast with almond butter (crusts go to the dog)
- One cup of coffee
- Several cups of water
- One chlorophyll capsule (more on how chlorophyll has changed my life....later...!)
- Two fish oil caps
Anyway, how does all of this relate to sugar? I have no idea! I would like to think that because I've eliminated sugar I will have more moments of genius and motivation. I would love to directly link my sugar-free diet to my fantastic morning, but I don't know. All I can say is that I had a great morning AND I don't eat sugar!
Now, for the best, easiest, comfort breakfast you will ever have if you eat eggs and dairy:
Cheese & Spinach Squares
1/4 C. butter
1/2 C. millet flour
1/2 C. quinoa flakes
1 C. nonfat milk
1 tsp. sea salt
1tsp. baking powder
1lb. grated cheese
4C. chopped greens (broccoli raab, kale, spinach...whatever you have!)
Spread melted butter in a 9x13 pan. Beat eggs. Add flour and flakes, milk, salt and baking powder. Add cheese and greens, mixing well. Spread into pan. Bake at 350 for 35 minutes. Cut into squares. Freezes well in zip-locks.
Note: The original recipe called for one cup flour. I used the half cup millet flour and half cup quinoa flakes instead. It's amazing and no one will know that you didn't use flour!
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Here's the dirty truth:
- I eat way too much honey and jam
- I still occasionally drink wine and beer (after all, the "sugar" that is used in the fermentation process gets "eaten" by the yeast so that the end product contains no white refined sugar--open to argument, here!)
- I bake too many goodies and eat them all
- My sneaky little sweet tooth still appears out of the blue
- I imagine all the ways I can gorge myself with cake and donuts on January 1st, 2009
- While most people fanticize about material things, I fanticize about whip cream, greasy donuts, gooey caramel and sinking my teeth into a mudd pie
- I am basically a sugar addict in a sugar-free body...or should I say I'm sugar-free in a sugar addict's body...
IT'S IMPORTANT TO EAT SUGAR!!
Let me explain. I am not talking about the white stuff (did you really think....?!). Nor am I talking about all (though some are included) of the natural sweeteners out there that I have been very much enjoying (bummer!). I am talking about essential sugars. The "sugars" found in raw, whole foods. Fruits and vegetables and seaweeds and mushrooms, etc. These sugars are good for us! In fact, they have healing properties, anti-cancer and anti-viral properties, too.
You know there are natural sugars, right? However, what may seem obvious was absolutely news to me. I knew about natural sugars in fruit and some vegetables (it's been arbitrary to me thus far!)--but what I did not know is what kind of sugars those are, and the huge list of foods that contain essential sugars. In fact, I hesitate as I write this because I have put an entire year's worth of effort into my year without, and now I wonder if I went about it the right way. I mean, now I am second-guessing my plight. With all of the natural sweeteners out there, it's been a cake-walk for the most part, when it comes to satisfying my sweet tooth--but here is my point:
WHY AM I STILL CATERING TO THE KING INSIDE MY MOUTH, MY NASTY LITTLE TYRANNICAL SWEET TOOTH??!!
Some of you are too kind and I know what you are thinking, "But you've given up refined sugar which is hard to do and is found in everything!" That is true, but I have a confession that I am about to tell you.....
Okay....I haven't really felt a heck of a lot different than I did before I gave up sugar! There! Now you know. The changes I have experienced are relatively minor, and I expected to lose some weight (I thought that extra 15 lbs. came from all of the donuts we would chow together as free-spirited, newlyweds...and if I gave those up, the weight would naturally slide off....NOPE!).
For those of you who would like a quick re-cap of the changes that I have experienced, here they are:
- I don't experience the blood sugar ups and downs like before. About an hour or so after people have eaten dessert and everyone gets sluggish and sleepy, I am bouncing off the walls and wanting to hang out.
- I don't have quite the same problem with cravings like I did before. When I was eating white sugar, the only thing that would satisfy my sugar cravings was white sugar. Now, honey or other natural sweeteners can satisfy that little hellion--my sweet tooth.
- My immune system has been going strong, but it actually has been for the past 3 years. My only bout with being sick in the last 3 years was a week-long cold--this year. I am pretty sure that in trying a series of hot yoga, my body was ridding itself of hidden toxins in the form of a cold.
- I feel better about myself.
- I feel superior to those around me gorging themselves on desserts. (Sorry, this is the truth--and I think anyone would feel the same in my shoes.)
- I have an awareness about sugar that I will have for the rest of my life. I also have renewed faith in myself that I can do anything if I put my mind to it.
In conclusion, I am saying that I have kicked white refined sugar, but I am unsure if I have really kicked the "sugar habit". When I crave sugar, I pour on the honey, or make a batch of naturally sweetened cookies or muffins. And dare I confess that often I eat just as many goodies in a row as if they were filled with white sugar. My cut-off point to eating sweets may not be in any better shape than before, if looked at under a microscope. Dang!
I had no idea that today would be this confessional-like forum. I would love feedback. Not the pat-me-on-the-back kind of feedback, but whatever comes to mind as you have been reading this.
Okay, here is what you have been waiting for. This is the article that got me thinking in this direction this morning. I have the first part quoted here, but please click on the author's name below to read the rest of the article.
"Sugar seems to be related to all things sweet in life. We call our loved ones "sweetheart," "sugar plum," "honey," and "sweety pie." Life without any sweet flavors would be challenging at best and extremely disappointing at worst. Sugar is the great reward of life and we know that people and animals perform consistently better when rewarded.
Because the term is used so loosely, sugar has become an ambiguous word. When one states the word "sugar" it could mean one of a dozen things such as high fructose corn syrup, refined cane sugar, white sugar, brown sugar, maple sugar, beet sugar, fruit juice, dried fruit, etc.
For purposes of this article, sugar is defined as a natural hydrocarbon compound (such as honey, agave, fruits, dried fruits, etc.) and refined sugar is an unnatural hydrocarbon product (such as high fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, white sugar, etc.) made through human engineering, plant breeding, and heat processing...." --by David Wolfe, JD
Thursday, November 6, 2008
I do thank you for your interest in our products! I’m sorry to hear that you are unable to consume refined sugar. We do use organic sugar in our products, but I can understand being wary of sugar in general. If you log on to our website www.pamelasproducts.com and click on the “Allergy Information” heading, this page lists all of the ingredients we use as sweeteners. We do have two cookies that are sweetened with fruit juice: the Butter Shortbread Cookies and the Old-fashioned Raisin Walnut Cookies. I will certainly pass along your suggestion to Pamela in regards to using agave, stevia, etc. in her products.
Again, thank you---, and I hope you have a great day!
P: (707) 462-6605 ext.102
F: (707) 462-6642"
If you are interested in contacting Pamela's to ask for an ingredients change, I would urge you to do so! A quick email or phone call would work. It looks like they are open to customer feedback and satisfaction. Also, I've learned that one person contacting a company about something actually represents 1,000 people. Let's speak out in favor of healthier products!
Have you ever heard of Pamela's Products? They make delicious, gluten-free and wheat-free cookies, some of which are also sugar-free. However, in the last year or so, Pamela's has changed some of their cookie recipes to include sugar as an ingredient. It's been terrible! My favorite cookie, the Lemon Shortbread cookie, was so good. I used to graze right through an entire box in one evening (not good), because it was hard to stop eating them. Anyway, I wrote to the company a while back to inquire about the ingredient change. I received a quick reply back from Pamela's, explaining that due to the Hurricane Katrina disaster, their honey supply has been inefficient and too expensive to continue buying.
I did not understand that very well, but left it alone. Recently, however, I was craving those Lemon Shortbread cookies again, and thought I would recheck the ingredients at the store. Sadly, they are still using sugar, and are using sugar in other cookie recipes, as well. While they do offer a small selection of sugarless cookies, I can't help but wonder why they don't make all of their cookies sugar-free. After grazing through my box of sugar-free Ginger cookies, I decided to write to Pamela's again. Here is the letter I sent:
Hello. I have contacted Pamela's before to ask about the disappointing ingredient change in the cookies. I consume no refined sugar and have had to stop buying most of Pamela's cookie products. If you have noticed a decrease in sales of the Lemon Shortbread cookies over the last year or so, it is because the ingredients now contain sugar, and I have discontinued buying this product. I received a response about this months ago, which explained that it has become difficult to find a honey supplier to sweeten the cookies. However, there are so many natural sweeteners that could be used in place of sugar! Agave, molasses, honey, stevia, brown rice syrup, date sugar, etc. I really miss the lemon shortbread cookies, and some others, and have had to resort to the ginger cookies only--which I LOVE, by the way. They are absolutely heavenly and sweetened only with molasses. Is it possible to reformulate your cookie recipes at some time and go back to using natural sweeteners? What can I do to help?
I had a habit of recommending Pamela's cookies to people, but now do not feel comfortable recommending a product with sugar. There are a lot of people looking to cut out all refined sugar, and there are few packaged products out there that offer a delicious and naturally sweetened goodie. Please bring back your naturally sweetened cookies!
I'm anxious to hear from them!
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
On your mark...
The world's most fluffy, delicious, sweet, well-balanced in texture and flavor, banana muffins are here! I've eaten plenty of banana muffins, cookies and breads over the years, and this is THE BEST batch of banana muffins I've ever had. I'd say that maybe I'm biased because these days I don't know what white refined sugar tastes like in comparison (it's been too long!), but I'm not the only one freaking out about these muffins. They are a favorite around here and I can't wait for you to try them!
½ cup slightly softened butter
½ cup honey
¼ cup maple syrup
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
½ cup chopped walnuts
3 ripe bananas
2 tsp vanilla
Cream butter, honey, syrup, and eggs. Add mashed bananas and vanilla. Stir in soda, salt and finally fold in flour. Lastly, fold in walnuts. Spoon into well greased muffin tins or baking cups. Bake at 325 for 20 minutes.
Monday, November 3, 2008
This weekend I joined my mom in her yearly tradition of bazaar shopping. I was actually appointed chaperone to keep her from spending money on crochet doilies or stained glass ornaments. I was happy to look around at all of the homemade products, but I was not going to spend any money. At the end of our hour there, my mom walked out empty-handed while I carried out a paper sack with goat's milk soap, and a jar of sugar-free fruit spread.
We are not talking about an ordinary jar of jam. We are talking about heaven in a jar. Pure, untamed flavor, sweet as all get out, giving me an emotional experience with toast. The marionberry blended so elegantly with the flavor of black raspberries. The woman selling her spreads and syrups was extremely nice and informative. She uses only three or four ingredients in her products, one of which is white grape juice concentrate for the sweetener. I chose the flavor, "Black Cap Raspberry and Seedless Marionberry" spread. It is incredible. It is the sweetest thing that I have had in a long time. I just smeared a thin layer of it onto my buttered toast, and then savoured every bite.
On a strange note, as my husband and I delivered Meals-On-Wheels this morning, we actually drove past the farm where she grows her fruit and makes her spreads! It completely took us by surprise. The only reason I noticed it, was because I had taken a brochure of the farm, at the bazaar, and really liked the picture of the log home they live in. It was even more beautiful and quaint in person, we noticed as our car whizzed past.
On a side note: There seems to be just as much and more of nature's beauty and damp, woodsy fragrance of the outdoors, as there is political tension right now! It's nice to turn off the computer for a day and enjoy this vibrant time of year.