Saturday 17 February 2018

Sugar free January

One of my favourite food blogs to follow is Pinch of Yum, and in December, a post went up on that blog about sugar free January. Essentially, sugar free January is what the name says - it is a challenge to give up refined sugar for a month. As someone who definitely has a sweet tooth, and will always reach for the cupcake or brownie over a meat pie or sandwich at an afternoon tea, I thought this would be an interesting challenge to attempt.

You can tailor the sugar free plan to your liking, whether it be giving up all sugar completely, just having natural sugar, or allowing yourself the occasional refined sugar treat throughout the month. Pinch of Yum provided a template with a list of example sugary foods that you can keep or give up for the month. My plan looked something like this:

  • Sweet foods I planned to cut out: refined sugar, corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, fruit juice, refined grains, pre-packaged foods with sugar in them, desserts, sweet alcohol
  • Sweet foods I planned to keep: honey, pure maple syrup, whole fruits, dried fruits, whole grains, naturally sweet desserts, wine
So, when 1 January rolled around, I set out to cut the above foods from my diet for the month. The first major thing I noticed was when I went grocery shopping and had a look at the ingredients lists of certain foods, and saw just how much hidden sugar there was, even in so-called healthy foods. For example, I wanted to make a thai basil chicken stir fry one night, and trying to find a pre-made stir-fry sauce that wasn't loaded with sugar was quite a struggle.
One of the major switches I made throughout the month was in relation to my chocolate habit - for the first week or so, I decided only to eat 70% dark Lindt chocolate, then upped this to 85% dark Lindt chocolate for the rest of the month to see how I would handle that. I would allow myself a couple of squares a day (usually one after lunch with a cup of tea, and another after dinner with a cup of tea). This is probably the change that has made the most impact, as I don't really tend to crave milk chocolate anymore, and am more than happy nibbling away on one or two pieces of extra dark chocolate each day.

I also found a few other substitutes for certain sweet foods that I craved - when I was craving caramel, I would have a medjool date with some almond butter, which really did the trick, and when I was craving ice cream, I would either have a handful of frozen berries, or mix them together with plain greek yoghurt, which, while definitely not the same as ice cream, did help to cool me down on those hot days and took the cravings away.

The main substitute I made with alcohol was not having gin and tonics (given the high sugar content of tonic water) and not having any cider (which is also quite high in sugar). I generally only tend to have a drink once or twice a week anyway, so when I did, I would just stick to wine, or vodka with soda water and lime, which was completely fine and I didn't find that I missed the more sugary alternatives much anyway.
On the whole, I did manage to cut out most of my banned list for about the first three weeks of the month, but I have to confess that as the last week of January coincided with moving to Hobart, which involved a lot of driving back and forth between Burnie and Hobart, and living without a fridge for a few of those days, I did let my sugar free eating slide a bit (which included the odd gelato, lemon tart and magnum ego...). Apart from that final week, I did make exceptions once or twice throughout the month, for example when I went over to a friend's place for dinner who provided me with dessert after the main meal, and when I went out to dinner at one of Burnie's nicest restaurants which is known for its amazing desserts.

All in all, it was a really interesting experiment, and to be honest it wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. I think that if I had to cut out all sugar (e.g. fruit, dark chocolate, dates, wine etc) it would have been much harder, but even just cutting out the sugars that I did really made me more aware of the hidden sugar in our food and how you can make pretty simple substitutes for the sugary foods you love if you want to be a bit healthier.

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