Last month, Fashion Potluck launched their #fpchallenge, so naturally I had to join in on the fun!
My challenge was to cut out sugar for 21 days, which I was glad to accept. And below I’m going to share all the things that I did, applied and learned during this period.
Hope they will help some of you too*, who may be pondering trying this out!
What I cut out:
*Sugar, honey, maple (and other kinds of) syrup- and their equivalents with different names- in any and all sweets, treats or drinks
*Alcohol (later found out doesn’t contain sugar! But hey, still good to cut down on from time to time)
What I kept:
*All fruits and all veggies
*Dark chocolate (70% and up)
*Milk, cheese, yogurt (naturally occurring sugars in the form of lactose)
What I learned:
1. I got TONS more energy straight off the bat
The first day I cut off added sugars, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Although I had given up sugar previously for certain periods of time, cravings, a bad mood, maybe even a withdrawal induced headache were still very much on the table.
Instead, I am happy to report that I had no such symptoms, and instead had a surge of energy that surprised me!
Normally, around 14:00-15:00 I’m so drowsy and even exhausted, it makes concentrating on my tasks quite hard. But by lunchtime on that first day, I felt... perky.
That state lasted throughout the next days of the challenge as well, without a crash.
Actually, the more days passed without me relying on sweets for a short burst of faux-nergy, the better and more cheerful I felt. And I think that had to do with me feeling (and being) better nourished than normal. See below just why:
2. No added sugar =/ added artificial sweeteners =/ added natural sweeteners
When looking to reduce the amount of added sugar in your diet, it might be tempting to reach for alternative sweeteners instead.
After all, you get to keep that same sweet sensation but with no calories or sugar, right? Plus, there are so many options to choose from, there is bound to be a few that will sit right with you.
Don’t want controversial artificial sweeteners like aspartame or sucralose? There’s always a natural alternative, like stevia, xylitol, maltitol.
And I have to say that while I steered 100% clear of artificial options, I did enjoy my morning toast with the occasional spoonful of maltitol-sweetened protein spread or berry jam (the one from Céréal is absolutely delish!)
But I didn't rely on these substitutes too much either, for two reasons:
One- I felt like this wasn't exactly the spirit of the challenge. So, at least for me, other solutions turned out to be best (more on them at point 3).
Two- Sweeteners are great in a few cases, such as: people with conditions like diabetes (not my case). They are also very useful in short term calorie-deficient diets (not my goal here), and can be accepted on a longer-term base, but then very occasionally.
And that's because, from the studies I could find, with repeated long-term use, they can in fact increase your body’s craving for sugar.
This because your brain registers the sweetness of that particular item, but no actual sugar reaches it. Which makes your brain in fact crave more food, especially sweet.
So my lesson was: don’t try to trick your brain, it fires back.
Instead, I pushed myself to read and explore other options, and learned that:
3. A little creativity can go a very long way
With my hesitation to rely on various zero-cal, zero-sugar sweeteners, I looked at getting creative with new sources of naturally occurring, nutrient rich sugar sources.
This was particularly difficult in terms of my honey/maple syrup latte- which, as I wrote here, is an unmissable part of my morning.
Luckily, after some reading, I learned that date paste can be used for this purpose too!
Next to the sugar these fruits naturally contain, they also have a healthy dose of fiber. Which is important, because it slows down the absorption of sugar in your bloodstream, and helps keep you full and satisfied for longer.
And although I was a bit skeptical at first, it turned out to be the greatest thing since sliced bread!
Granted, it’s not the easiest substitution- after all, you need to plan at least a day ahead, so you can give the dates ample time to soak before blending them into a paste.
But it is incredibly satisfying, and a jar of it will last you in the fridge for a couple of weeks. So it’s also not as cumbersome to use as it may seem!
So I ended up putting it in everything:
*Like a yummy Greek yogurt- nectarine cake, sweetened with date paste
*The banana nicecream 2.0, for which it made a wonderful topping
*A simple grilled tortilla (warm and sweet and fully indulgent)
These very simple, very tasty recipes satisfied my sweet tooth fully (next to a square or two of dark chocolate every now and then, of course).
Which brings me to my next learning:
4. Pure/dark chocolate over 70% is even considered keto-friendly!
Had no idea before, but how great is this??😊
What I will keep with me going forward:
To wrap up, I have since finished my 21 days without added sugar.
In the meantime, I also fully enjoyed some red velvet cake for my husband and my wedding anniversary. And a little piece of portokalopita- a delicious (but killer sweet!) Greek cake- made by a dear friend. And some bitter cherry jam that my grandma sent over in a care package.
But what I didn’t do was eat all of these one day after the next.
Nor did I go back to all the different kinds of processed sweets I used to eat.
I realized that while I do have a sweet tooth, I actually truly enjoy only a handful of sweets (usually the part bitter ones), and don’t really need the rest. And that a couple squares of quality dark chocolate are worth their weight in gold!
What I will also continue doing is making date paste for cakes and even occasionally for coffee. I still like the flavor that maple syrup gives it- but now I have a trusty alternative for when I feel a little extra.
Plus, simply because I have to make the paste instead of buy it, I feel less encouraged to consume a large quantity of it.
And finally, I take with me the continued belief that sugar is not evil in and of itself. Our brain actually needs it to function correctly.
The problems it generates usually come from the quantity of sugar we ingest, the frequency with which we do it, and the sources of sugar we choose.
And this is where I will continue to make improvements in my daily diet, by reducing sources of processed sugar, and increasing the variety of healthier, more nutritionally dense, natural ones. The key for me is balance, and that can be found in a different spot for each of us individually.
Have you tried cutting out sugar before? And if so, what conclusions and tips would you share?
*These learnings come from a person with no special sugar-related conditions. Please talk to a medical professional if you want to cut out sugar for a longer time, or if you have any such conditions.