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.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Quit Sugar and Thrive

Sometimes the reasons I go without sugar seem elusive, like during a full-blown craving. Other times I can't seem to find the time to list the reasons why refined sugar sucks.

Well, this morning I found some time and some novel reasons to reconsider eating any more of the white stuff. Although you'll mostly hear me demonize nutrition-less white refined cane/beet sugar, I also recognize and advocate keeping all sugars, even natural sugars, to a minimum. With that being said, I'd like to share bits and pieces of nutritional information and recipes from a book that I can't wait to share with you.

Ever heard of the Thrive Diet?

Written by a professional Ironman triathlete, author Brendan Brazier offers a plan to help you achieve top notch health and reduce all types of stress. He uses a whole foods plan and helps you understand how and why refined crap-food can be the source of stress. He provides super-easy recipes with wonderful, nutrient-rich ingredients.

Here's his take on the almighty sweet tooth:

"A sweet tooth also helps us maintain a positive outlook: The modern brain craves sugary or refined starchy foods (those foods whose fiber has been removed and therefore whose sugar component of the carbohydrate is relatively high) because they release serotonin, a chemical found in the brain's pituitary gland. The release of serotonin has a powerful elevating effect on our mood. Continually low levels of serotonin can lead to chronic fatigue and clinical depression. People who have a regular supply of serotonin being released into their bloodstream feel better, and are therefore more productive and feel less stressed, than those with low levels of serotonin. Serotonin is plentiful and free flowing when stress is low; however, as stress rises, serotonin production declines. Cravings for sugary or starchy food are most likely an attempt by the brain to make it "feel" better. This is why such foods are referred to as comfort foods--they are the foods that are craved after a particularly trying day. Ice cream and donuts, which are high in sugar required to produce the subconsciously desired serotonin hit, are common comfort foods. Giving in to these cravings will satisfy the brain, but this satisfaction is short-lived. And so you eat more serotonin-releasing foods, which eventually leads to more stress, since these refined carbohydrates offer very few nutrients--not having enough nutrients in our diet is a form of nutritional stress and therefore produces a stress response. Simply by having lower levels of cortisol (meaning less stress), the body will naturally produce more serotonin. Natural light and healthy food are the best ways to naturally raise serotonin." -The Thrive Diet, p. 18-19

He also states that the "common cause of nutritional stress [is] the overconsumption of refined food."

We've probably all faced the following situation: We are seated at a restaurant and we're ravished. We feel like we'll just drop unless we get some food in our body. The server brings a basket of bread and even though we don't want it, it's there and we're starving. We eat it anyway. Brazier describes what happens when we eat it: "I would wolf down the French bread typically served before the meal. My stomach would be physically full, yet I would still be hungry. Since white bread is void of any useful nutrients, my body wanted me to continue eating despite that I felt full. To digest, assimilate, and then eliminate the white bread requires a large energy expenditure. The net energy gain from it is very low." p.36-37

He goes on to describe how and why high net-gain nutrition is so important. He lists important staple foods, the role of exercise for life-long health, and meal plans for home and travel. His recipes include: pizza crusts (using beans and quinoa), energy bars, smoothies, pancakes (the chocolate banana pancake is made with hemp flour, buckwheat flour and dates), soups, salads, salad dressings, crackers, sauces, drinks and a banana coconut pie for dessert.

I'm eager to own this book (I'm borrowing the one I have now), and dirty the recipe pages while experimenting with hemp flour, ground sunflower seeds, hemp oil, miso, etc.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Urban Balcony Garden

I don't know what you call the opposite of a green thumb, but I kill plants. I've tried indoor plants several times but they never make it. I understand the concept of over-watering and under-watering, so I'm not sure what my problem is.

Fortunately, I have better luck with plants outdoors. I love to garden and last summer I helped my dad prepare and plant his garden in Washington state. I moved to the east coast before reaping any harvest, but I was amazed at the bounty he and my mom collected over the summer.

Currently I live in a high-rise condominium, but I've been wanting to play in soil and garden. I have not identified any community gardens close-by (although there are several scattered throughout the city) so I was beginning to think I would have to swallow my desire to garden. Then, earlier this year I read this post on Crazy Sexy Life and I knew as I read that I would have to give balcony gardening a try. This guy just makes it sound so magical (a garden growing on a fire escape in New York City?!), while also sharing some dirty details and pointers. Check out his blog!

So, I'm doing it, too.

So far I have planted: basil, cherry tomatoes, heirloom purple tomatoes, arugula, buttercrunch lettuce and red cabbage. I germinated my basil seeds first, so we'll see how that goes. One of my main goals in balcony gardening is keeping the cost down, and using as many recycled containers as possible. Between my husband and I, we have plenty of containers and I'm hopeful that I will not need to purchase any. My costs have been $7 for a bag of soil, and around $2.00 for each packet of seeds. Yesterday I planted. I'm keeping everything inside until I have hearty sprouts, then I'll arrange everything on my sun-kissed balcony.

I feel like a little kid, eagerly awaiting any sign of the first sprout. The only thing I'm missing is Stevia. I want to grow my own plant, dry the leaves, and use them in their whole form for sweetening my tea. I'm also anticipating satisfying my summer sweet tooth with sun-ripened cherry tomatoes. There's nothing more delicious than a warm, ripe, juicy tomato. Goodbye winter. Let there be a warm spring and pleasant summer!

In a few weeks, I will be transferring my starts outside to my balcony.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Still Sugar-Free and Insanely Happy

It's been exactly 2 years, 2 months and 22 days since I gave up the white stuff. I don't enjoy saying it like that, though, because it doesn't feel like I have given anything up. It feels like I have been given energy, happiness, good moods, more time (less time sleeping/napping), better health, and a greater understanding of this little devilish, overly processed grain of nutrition-less sweet.

What started out as a test of my willpower became much, much more. At first I missed and craved sugar in all it's sweet and fattening forms. Oreos became the object of my lust, as did giant mochas and whipped cream, brownies and Ben & Jerry's. Thing is, when I began feeling wonderful and going through my day without any sugar crashes, I realized that I was happier than a taste in my mouth could ever make me. The taste was so temporary but the feeling of being energized lasted and built up my confidence. I don't question whether I have willpower anymore. I've proven to myself that I can do anything since I did what I set out believing was impossible.

People ask me all the time whether I miss things like cookies and donuts. Sure I do. Sometimes. But most of the time I'm not obsessing over food anymore. I don't fantasize about getting my sugar fix. The cravings have hugely subsided and when I do get a hankering for something sweet, the slightest sweet in my mouth satisfies me.

Overcoming such a difficult behavior to control (my former sugar addiction) is the best. Nothing I've ever put in my mouth compares to feeling in control and happy and healthy. I used to think all this was impossible. I read books and heard stories about people who had given up sugar and I kind of didn't believe them. Surely they had hidden stashes of donut holes or midnight runs to Mickey D's for chocolate shakes. No one can really go without sugar, I used to think. Now, it's a way of life for me and lots of others who have dared to test the limits of their willpower.

With the growing rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other medical issues, I don't care to go back to sugar. I love a little drop of honey in my tea, and my date- and molasses-sweetened cookies or my rich and creamy peanut butter cups. All in moderation, which is now something I can do. Hooked on the white stuff, I could never understand the concept of moderation.

Instead of saying I've "given up" sugar, I need to start saying that I've streamlined my eating habits to reduce needless calories. Giving something up is what people do for lent. It no longer makes sense for me to use this phrase. It's quite a treat being satisfied with a juicy piece of fruit. I no longer worry about extra calories, which before always came in the form of something sweet.

I don't know if this is at all inspiring in any way. I hope it is. I just wanted to give a personal update and reiterate that being sugar-free is one of the greatest gifts I have ever given to myself. It's not only doable, it's packed with rewards.

(Thank you Marc and Angel for posting my article, "9 Timeless Nutrition Tips for Any Age" on their blog, Marc and Angel Hack Life.)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Coke, PepsiCo, Michelle Obama, & Other News...

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Recently in the news:

makes a world-wide commitment to not sell sugary drinks in schools. However, they will still sell non-caloric beverages and sports drinks like Gatorade. We all know Gatorade is sugary, but at least Pepsi is taking a step in the right direction. Thanks to CSPI for their work in this effort. Unfortunately, Coke is not doing the same.

Michelle Obama "Scolds" the GMA
Thanks to Food Politics for outlining excerpts of Mrs. Obama's speech to the Grocery Manufacturer's of America. It certainly packed a punch!

Let's Move! Campaign: A Closer Look
Take a look at the informative post on Appetite for Profit's blog. If you haven't been interested before, reading A for P's take on things is sure to get you fired up!

Here's more on the Let's Move! Campaign, plus, look around this blog for lots of great nutritional information.

Bob's Red Mill: An Incredible Change of Ownership
When I found out that Bob transferred his multi-million dollar business to his employees, I teared up. Not just because I miss my hometown, but because of this amazing act of kindness. He inspires me to make decisions that I can look back on and feel proud of (giving away material items rather than storing them). Click here for the scoop. And if you happen to run out of date sugar or garbonzo bean flour, order from the Red Mill. Better yet, take a vacation to Portland, Oregon and plan to eat at and tour the facilities. It's quite charming.

That's it for now. I have an itch to write something provocative and juicy. Any topic suggestions?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

My Kitchen Exploded

It's been a while since I've had the motivation to blog...

Here's the most recent reason why:

It happened last week and almost killed my dog. I was seconds away from having my bare feet sliced into serving sizes.

What happened is I got home and wandered into the kitchen for a glass of water. My faithful mutt always has a sip with me. Her eating and drinking dishes are next to the pantry. Like I've mentioned before, my kitchen is teeny. So, Annie and I are wetting our whistles and then I step out of the kitchen for a second before loading some dishes in the dishwasher. Annie steps out into the front room with me. As we are walking out of the kitchen, the biggest crash I've ever heard in my life happened on the tile floor. The shelves in my poorly constructed pantry came crashing down. Basically, my pantry exploded.

Upgrading your containers to glass is a good idea--if you trust your pantry shelves. Most of my grains and pastas have been housed in gorgeous mason jars. Suddenly my kitchen floor became a swampy combination of vinegars, syrups, and a steady flow of molasses carrying large chunks of glass all throughout my kitchen and seeping into my living room. Walls were splattered with sticky substances. Most of our food became a soupy mix of glass shards and molasses. I freaked out. I grabbed Annie, and ran outside the apartment to call Jeff. I thought the wall had come down.

Fortunately, I have a most incredible husband. As soon as he heard the trembling in my voice, he assured me he was out the door and would take a cab home. I was shocked and thought it unnecessary for him to leave his job (contract position...you don't just leave because your wife has a molasses problem) until 6pm that night when we finally finished cleaning up the mess. It was a nightmare. Our apartment is completely tiled, so glass shards had rolled and spread all throughout the kitchen and the front room. We wore Crocs as we cleaned and then had to clean the glass bits out of the Crocs. Scrubbing molasses and glass off the floor was dangerous and tedious. I got cut. Jeff probably did, too, but didn't say. He had the good attitude, I had an anger management problem: "I could have been killed! Annie was drinking her water just seconds before...if she were standing there when it happened, she could have been killed!"

Jeff lost much of his "junk" food, and I lost all sorts of beans and grains and pasta. But in the end, I realized how lucky I had been. I can't imagine standing there and having a pantry full of glass jars and dishes fall down on me, surrounding me with shards of glass, cutting me into pieces. Annie and I decided that even though it was a strange catastrophe, it was a reminder to be thankful. We avoided the worst of it. And Jeff still has his job.