Lessons From A Day of No Sugar

Table-SugarWe did it! We survived a day of no sugar. Inspired by Eve Schaub’s new book Year of No Sugar, several of my colleagues and I shunned the sweet stuff on Wednesday, part of a national #NoSugarChallenge. That meant no table sugar, honey, agave, maple syrup, or any sugar in packaged foods. Sweet fruit and vegetables were still on the table.

While Eve and her family gave up sugar for an entire year, one day seemed like a manageable goal. But, for many of us, it was a tougher challenge than we anticipated, primarily because sugar is in so many foods—80 percent of products found in the supermarket in fact.

• Learn more about identifying added sugar and cutting processed food from your diet.

Here are our reports on what was easy, what was hard, and what we learned:

Laura Fenton, Lifestyle Director – So, I failed straight off the bat: I forgot it was no-sugar day and poured myself a bowl of cereal for breakfast (looking at the label after work, I saw that the brand contains both honey and molasses, a.k.a. sugar). But once I got to work and remembered my mission I had a steely reserve to resist sugar, including: Bagels, cookies at my cube mate’s desk, and jelly beans at my other cube mate’s desk. When I went for lunch, I actually looked at the label for the salad dressing to make sure it was sugar free (it seemed to be!) and said “no thank you” to the roll that was offered with my salad that was likely made with sugar.

Alexandra Johnston, Assistant Photo Editor – I thought by biggest struggle would be handling my after-lunch sweet tooth, but my sugar-free banana chocolate “ice cream” was amazing and it actually felt very indulgent. The rest of the day proved to be more difficult. I didn’t realize how many condiments and packaged ingredients actually had sugar in them. While I won’t be making this a permanent change at this time, it did open my eyes to the problem and I will be checking the labels more closely in the grocery store from now on.

Rheanna Bellomo, Editorial Assistant – I made it through breakfast, lunch, and dinner by making all my own fresh food (nothing processed) and snacking on a mango in the afternoon. What I found so funny was that once I settled in for the night with my book, the challenge completely slipped my mind and I had a piece of chocolate. It was so mindless! That’s what really stuck with me: the need to be more thoughtful about food.

Karen Cicero, Contributing Food and Nutrition Editor – It was a lot harder than I expected—and we are really careful about added sugar to begin with. Breakfast was easy (eggs & fruit), but when packing lunch, I remembered that our whole-wheat bread has one gram of sugar per slice and the peanut butter has a gram per serving. I couldn’t do much about that last minute so Katie had three grams of added sugar in her lunch. I had a salad for lunch, and made my own balsamic vinaigrette so it would be sugar-free. But I blew my sugar-free day when I mindlessly tried a piece of a granola bar that came in the mail for an upcoming story—that was about three grams of sugar. For dinner, we had whole-grain pasta with a fresh sauce I made with heirloom tomatoes and red onions. Overall, it was a really good reminder about how pervasive added sugar is in foods that don’t taste at all sweet, and how deliciously sweet and satisfying fruit is. I’m going to try to do it once a week–a la Meatless Monday, maybe this is Sugar-Free Sunday. Starting the week after Easter, of course!

Allison Berry, Editorial Assistant – My goal of cooking vegan was unsuccessful (I didn’t realize how complicated some of the recipes could be!), but I was able to eat vegan for the day, which I loved! The hardest part was passing up a morning bagel and cream cheese, but I was surprised to find that during the workday especially, my sugar-free snacks of fruit, almonds, and tea kept me going between meals. After dinner did get hard for me, seeing as a lot of the snacks I go for after dinner have added sugar in them. If definitely opened my eyes to what even having a cookie after dinner can do to your sugar intake. The habit I’ll definitely continue is snacking on almonds and fruit through the workday. I bought a 1 bag of almonds at the drug store and they’ve kept me full and lasted all week.

Sherry Huang, Features Editor – The two toughest times of the day were the afternoon (when I usually eat a sugary snack) and the evening (when I usually have dessert after dinner). After eating a few Craisins by accident (shoot, added sugar!), Jenna rescued me with a no-sugar-added protein bar for a snack. Dessert was a little pitiful – plain saltine crackers and natural peanut butter. I did feel slightly more alert and energetic throughout the day, so that was a bonus. Overall, the challenge was slightly easier than I anticipated, in part because it was just for one day, and there were no tempting treats lying around the office! I do confess to waiting until midnight to eat some cake, but I’d be willing to try avoiding sugar for a few more days…but maybe not consecutive ones.

Ruthie Fierberg, Editorial Assistant – It took some planning, but turns out I have a good amount of meal options that I typically eat anyway that are sugar-free. The main component of my meals didn’t deviate from my norm (eggs over spinach with some nuts for breakfast, a salad with black beans and an apple for lunch, banana for an afternoon snack, chicken and rice and a small salad for dinner with blackberries for dessert). What DID surprise me is how many of my condiments had sugar in them. I couldn’t have my usual salad dressing – I opted for lemon juice instead – and I couldn’t have barbeque sauce on my chicken – that actually has a LOT of sugar in it. I think in the future I will pay more attention to the “sugars” listing on nutrition labels and opt for things with less sugar, but I have no plans to go sugar-free for good. I like my whole wheat pastas and multigrain breads and even that barbeque sauce. The challenge was certainly interesting and eye-opening!

Madeleine Burry, Associate Managing Editor – The best part of the sugar-free day was the need to be thoughtful about what I eat: Does that salad dressing have sugar added? What about that bottled tomato sauce? I prepped for the day with lots of tiny containers of fruits and veggies (apple slices in one, cut up cucumber in another, and grapes in the last little tupperware), and was able to escape the kitchen without trying the cookies temptingly laid out on the counter, and make it through the treacherous three to five p.m. window, when I’m most vulnerable to lure of the sugary snack. Will I quit sugar forever? No way! I quit sugar for a month once, and midway through, life felt dark and dreary. A little sweetness is a good thing, and sometimes an apple just doesn’t cut it. But I will definitely try to be more mindful when eating, especially about the presence of sugar in foods I don’t think of as being sweet (like ketchup, instant oatmeal packets, dried fruit, and salad dressing).

For my part, feeding my daughter sugar-free meals turned out to be the toughest challenge. She usually has a low-sugar cereal for breakfast, but we decided on eggs and whole grain crackers for breakfast—not something I’d want her to have everyday. I left a list of sugar-free snacks for the babysitter, and it was a little humdrum: dried plums, more crackers, fruit, milk.

Participating in this challenge made me realize just how hard it is to not eat sugar throughout the day, especially for kids. Since all the grams of sugar – in cereal, chocolate milk, yogurt, and granola bars – add up, even if I feel like I’m feeding my daughter a “healthy” diet, it is still very sugary. My new goal is to step up my game and find some delicious, sugar-free options for her everyday diet.

Could you or your kids ever go sugar-free—even just for a day?

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Image: Sugar on wooden table via Shutterstock

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