We all know that refined sugar is not a health food, but sometimes it can be so hard to say no to all those oh-so-tempting sugary treats. Cravings kick in, and suddenly you realize that your sugar intake for the day (or week, or month…) has been less than ideal. As someone who has had a lifelong sweet tooth, I realized that my dessert consumption was getting a bit out of control even though my diet was fairly healthy overall. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about balance and there’s nothing wrong with indulging in the occasional cookie or vegan ice cream. But, there comes a point when opting for the healthier option feels like the better decision on a day-to-day basis. So, I decided to challenge myself by cutting out refined sugar from my diet for an entire month.
The first thing that I learned on my sugar-free journey was just how prevalent sugar is in packaged foods, both sweet and savory. When I started examining food labels, even on “health foods,” I realized just what an insidious ingredient sugar has become. It is hidden in everything from condiments, to snacks, to drinks. For example, why in the world is there sugar in a jar of tomato sauce? It’s because sugar is highly addictive, and brands add it to foods whenever possible to keep the consumer coming back for more. So, to cut sugar from my diet it became necessary to start reading every food label. Which wasn’t a big deal for me, because as a vegan I was already accustomed to checking every label at the grocery store anyway.
At the start of my sugar-free month, I anticipated the experience to be much more challenging than it actually was. As a health-conscious person, my sugar consumption was already fairly low overall. But that didn’t mean that I wasn’t a bit addicted to sugar in the form of baked goods and desserts. The first week into the challenge proved to be the hardest, as I found myself thinking about sweets on a regular basis. To counteract these craving, I took to the kitchen and began experimenting with refined sugar-free desserts and snacks. By the end of the first week, I found the sugar-free life to be easy and enjoyable!
After the challenge was over at the end of the month, I began eating a bit of sugar again once in a while on special occasions. But I immediately noticed that my desire for sweets was less frequent and much more manageable. I definitely learned that the more sugar I ate the more I craved. Overall, the experience was so enjoyable and enlightening that I wouldn’t be surprised if I completely gave up refined sugar again in the near future.
This is what I learned from giving up refined sugar for a month:
· Cravings go away – One of the craziest experiences of giving up refined sugar was realizing that my cravings went away! Did I still get the occasional sweet tooth? Of course. But a piece of fruit or a date hit the spot and quenched the original craving for something unhealthy. I also learned how to control my cravings more easily and recognize that I didn’t actually need that cookie.
· Everything tastes sweeter – After I gave up sugar, I definitely noticed that my palate and taste for sweets had changed. The first sugary dessert I ate at the end of the month tasted so extremely sweet that I actually didn’t enjoy it. My tolerance for sugar had diminished so much that overly sweet desserts didn’t even seem appealing anymore. Instead of automatically eating an entire piece of cake, I was happy with just a bite instead. I also learned that it’s easy to substantially cut back the sugar or sweetener in baking recipes and never taste the difference!
· Eating more intuitively – Refined sugar numbs the taste buds and brain, so without it I was able to learn how to listen to my body and interpret my cravings more clearly. For example, if I really wanted something sweet I was able to recognize that it was actually the nutrients in fresh fruit that my body needed. Or maybe I was actually thirsty and needed a glass of water.
· Sooth inflammation – Sugar is an inflammatory food that can cause or exacerbate inflammation in the body and disrupt hormones. As someone who suffers from severe menstrual cramps and occasional IBS, I found that eliminating sugar helped to decrease and sooth inflammation in my body. I think I would need to avoid sugar completely for more than a single month to really ease my cramps long-term, but anything that might help is worth a shot in my book!
Tricks I learned for kicking the sugar addiction:
· Choose whole foods – Whole foods are the healthiest foods! Avoiding sugar is a good chance to also avoid processed foods. Especially because sugar often comes in a package with other unhealthy and highly processed ingredients such as refined carbohydrates and oils. Choosing whole plant foods is always the healthiest option and it makes avoiding sugar that much easier.
· Eat plenty of fresh fruit – Fresh fruit is such a delicious and naturally sweet health food that should be enjoyed every day! Many people still have the misconception that the sugar in fruit is bad too, but that is not the case. Packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, fruit is nature’s perfectly healthy sweet treat. So, when a craving for sweets hits opt for a delicious bowl of sugar-free banana nice cream. Or, choose a bowl of fresh berries or a few dates as a delicious dessert.
· Substitute minimal amounts of unrefined natural sweeteners – Substituting natural sweeteners for refined sugars is always a good option for adding a touch of sweetness in cooking. Dates are naturally very sweet and can be made into a paste that is great for baking or adding to other dishes. Minimal amounts of maple syrup are also wonderful for adding to recipes that require some extra sweetness. Plus, substituting natural sweeteners for sugar provides the perfect opportunity to get creative in the kitchen and have fun experimenting with new recipes!
Overall, my sugar-free month was a wonderful learning experience and I’ve found that my sweet tooth is so much more manageable now. I’m certainly not going to say that the occasional sugary treat is a bad thing, but everything in moderation, right? Giving up sugar for a month gave me a new perspective on sugar cravings and helped me to establish a sustainable relationship with sugar and healthy eating into the future.
Would you like to try a refined sugar-free challenge?
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Photo: Kristina Paukshtite via Pexels; Pixabay