The real challenge was the blizzard. All I wanted to do was bake. Instead, thanks to my commitment to cutting sugar for two weeks, I walked by the store-bought muffins and my favorite chocolate biscuits on the kitchen counter, focusing on lunch instead. Cutting out refined sugar in baked goods and coffee drinks over the last week has been fairly easy – I have not cheated, not once. Still, what’s been hard is cutting out the hidden sugars that have become a normal part of my diet. All of our diets, really.
According to researchers at the University of North Carolina, 60 percent of products purchased in American grocery stores include some form of added sugar. I expect to ingest sugar when I eat a cookie, but what about when I’m eating “healthy” brands of cereal, yogurt, crackers, lunch meat, bread or tomato sauce? Not so much. The average American consumes one cup of sugar per day, and clearly, we’re not getting it only from eating cake. Researchers say food companies try to hide the sugar by calling it something else, like “evaporated cane juice,” or “rice syrup,” or “flo-malt,” or “beet juice” — all sugar.
Knowing this made me more aware of what I was buying in the grocery store. I was relieved that the cereal I love – Kashi Blueberry Clusters – has 11 grams of sugar per cup; Kellogg’s Smart Start has 14 grams and Frosted Flakes packs 15 grams. Um, my “healthy” cereal is not so healthy. That is discouraging, especially since the American Heart Association says that women should get no more than 25 grams of sugar per day to remain “heart healthy.” Skim milk has surprising amount of sugars (11 grams per cup); if a product says it has “no sugar added,” often it means that they contain highly concentrated amounts of fructose. Agave nectar, often considered a “healthy” sweetener, has 3.3 grams of sugar per teaspoon. (For the answers in the above photo, go to Wake the Wolves for more about the telling graphic.)
In a pinch, I often use Rao’s Tomato Sauce to pour over ravioli for a quick dinner; In ½ cup, sugars and added sugars added up to 6 grams, 19% of the dietary allotment, although it’s unclear how much of that is naturally occurring. A cup of Horizon Organic Yogurt (Vanilla flavor) has 31 grams of sugar in one cup, and that’s not counting the Bear Naked granola I sprinkle on top (¼ cup has 5 grams). One of the biggest culprits of sugar, I read, were fat-free salad dressings, which I don’t eat, since they eliminate the fat but add sugar to keep it tasting good. Gross. Even my Dang Toasted Coconut Chips I often snack on had added sugar – one serving was coated in 13 grams. Um, seriously?!?!?! (I promptly picked up the “no added sugar” version at the market and honestly, liked them just as much.)
While some sugar is healthy and essential to a diet, clearly, we’re all getting a little too much.
It made me really concerned about how much added sugars I’m giving my kids, too. The American Heart Association recommends that children eat less than 6 teaspoons of sugar per day, that’s about 25 grams. I wondered how much they were actually getting.
I often pack my son a Stonyfield Farms YoKids “squeezer” yogurt for lunch; sugar is listed as the second ingredient, packing 8 grams in that tiny tube. The Earth Best Cereal Bars (with Grover on front) has 9 grams of sugar; that’s 2.5 teaspoons in a bar made for a toddler. Ten tiny animal crackers from a bag of Barbara’s Bakery “Snackimals” Animal cookies has 6 grams. Five Ritz crackers have 5 grams of sugar; the Late July Organic version I buy at Whole Foods has 4 grams – not much better. Not to mention a juice box or a frozen waffle. Or one of those Horizon low-fat chocolate milk boxes I sometimes pass my son after school. That has 22 grams of sugar. Yikes.
All of these details made my head spin. Interestingly, though, learning all of this lead to an interesting development in my kitchen: I’m paying a little more attention to what we’re eating overall. I mentioned that healthful eating has always been important to me, but I admit that with a baby, I’m often just happy to get dinner out with a sautéed or steamed vegetable, not paying super close attention to the nutritional value of the other components. Suddenly, I was reconsidering my go-to dinner options. What exactly was I putting in my children’s little bodies? They were eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, but how could I feed them less sugar and sodium and trans-fats and maybe even meat? (More beans, wholesome grains, lots and lots of vegetables.)
“Does anyone want to go vegan with me?” It was a message that came in a group text, and several people piped in their thoughts. One friend responded that she’d started a vegan diet that Monday, another said she worked hard to eat vegetarian but she couldn’t live without diary, so no. While I’m not ready to go vegan, cutting sugar has helped me re-commit to healthier eating overall. My husband and I agreed to meatless Monday and meatless Thursday and promoting meatless eating whenever we can. Which I don’t think I would have even considered if I didn’t start with cutting sugar.
And why change my habits? Because my body feels so good. My afternoons are no longer dictated by this emotional swing of a sugar high and a sugar crash. If I’m craving sugar, it’s usually because I’m just hungry, and I simply reach into the fruit bowl or the pantry for nuts or toast a bagel or pour myself a bowl of cereal. Oh wait, I just got my sugar hit. Shoot.
Read my first post about cutting sugar here.
Next up: In my last “Two Weeks Without Sugar” journal entry next Friday, I’ll write about “Emotional Sugar: Why we crave sugar at certain times.”