I think I was probably one of the world’s biggest sugar addicts. From chocolate to cookies, to mountains of dried fruit: if it was sweet, I ate it. And I’d eat it with lots (and lots and LOTS) of love. And then suddenly – BOOM − tough challenge: 6 weeks no refined or concentrated sugars whatsoever. Not even honey or agave syrup…
Just to further illustrate the intensity of my arduous trial: I was that crazy sugar addict that would instantly lighten up and become significantly happier when in the vicinity of cookies or other sweet treats. The kind of sugar addict that hoarded treats in a sugar stash, ate Bastogne cookies or milky chocolate daily and would almost begin to melt when it rained.
My point: If anyone would have had a hard time going sugar free for 6 weeks, it would have been me. Yet, it ended up going better than I ever expected and I’m still living (almost completely) sugar free – and it’s already been two years. Why? Because I discovered so many (health) benefits to living without sugar that I wouldn’t possibly want to give them up. So I decided to put them in a list for you.
Personal benefits from living without sugar:
1. MORE ENERGY
And I mean A LOT more energy. Not being able to get out of bed, being too tired to do groceries, feeling too tired to exercise, or fatigue-attacks during the day: all a thing of the past. I had no idea that not eating sugar would end up giving me so much energy, and had I known before I would have stopped years ago. Truth be told, I don’t even need more reasons to stick to being sugar free, despite there being a good few. Having said that, on to the next benefit.
2. BABY SKIN
Finer pores, a more even skin tone, no blackheads or skin drama; my skin is more beautiful than ever.
Refined sugars are just plain bad for you; they are not healthy, cause an array ailments (including dementia on the long run) and shouldn’t be eaten by us. We all know that. But there is something Dr. Oz once said about it that really struck a cord and keeps motivating me to maintain my sugar free lifestyle: “Sugar in your blood is like shards of glass scraping the inner lining of your arteries.” It destroys everything from within. So go ahead and visualize that and you’ll end up feeling like a criminal with your next cupcake ;-)
4. LOSE WEIGHT
If you stop eating refined and concentrated sugars without doing anything else, odds are you might still shed a few pounds. At least, that was the case with me. This is partly due to the way the insulin in your body gets re-balanced and your body feels less inclined to crave excess food: you begin to feel when you’re really hungry or not.
5. HEIGHTENED SENSE OF TASTE
When you’ve stopped eating refined and concentrated sugars for a while, you gradually lower your sugar tolerance. Consequence: if you end up eating something with a lot of sugar, you’ll probably end up finding it way too sweet. A while ago I took a bite of a sweet and sour pickle and it ended up giving me goosebumps; that’s how revoltingly sweet it was to me. Sounds hard to believe and may sound far-fetched, but trust me; if you’ve really gone sugar free for a good while, you’ll probably end up preferring a plain Brussels Sprout over a bonbon. In my experience you also begin to taste better when you ditch the sugar and start eating more whole foods (foods that aren’t all too processed). You’ll experience more taste-pleasure in eating. Heavenly! The cashew butter that’s deemed tasteless by my friends for example, is delicious and perfectly sweet for me.
Of course there are countless books written about different methods to go sugar free and although I am not a nutritionist nor claim to know the best method, I would still like to share with you the method that worked for me.
PLAN: 6 WEEKS SUGAR FREE CHALLENGE
Just to be clear on what I mean by going sugar free: avoiding refined sugars (e.g. cane sugar, caster sugar, crystal sugar etc.) and (natural) concentrated sugars (e.g. honey, maple syrup or coconut sugar). Living ENTIRELY sugar free is not possible, nor desirable. Your body really needs sugars, albeit not in the high dosages or the kinds of sugar we’re used to nowadays. Sugar is found in fruit, vegetables and carbs; all of which I still eat. I just choose to not eat too much fruit, for example, and I choose complex carbs over simple carbs. But that’s not all that I do; below I share my more detailed plan.
1. Steer clear of all kinds of concentrated or added sugar, even natural ones. No refined sugars, no honey, no artificial sweeteners and no fruit juices (they contain high amounts of sugar, which is why you should eat whole fruits, and preferably no more than 2 pieces of fruit per day). Truth be told, there’s sugar in everything so you’re going to have to start checking: your sauces (common household sauces like ketchup contain about 45-60 cubes of sugar per bottle), your hummus, your meat products, your soup: everything. Don’t do this by looking at the nutritional value, but at the list of ingredients. And try to make as much as you can homemade, that way you’ll know exactly what’s in your food.
2. Don’t eat white bread, white pasta or white rice. These carbs easily deliver too much quick sugars in to your bloodstream subsequently causing your blood sugar and insulin to rise and ultimately causing that after dinner/lunch dip. Instead of these, opt for non-refined and wholegrain versions of rice, pasta or bread.
3. Put down the wine! Don’t drink (any) alcohol, it contains loads of sugar.
4. Ditch the milk (because it secretly contains a lot of sugar too). You can use unsweetened plant milk as a substitute.
All sound a bit harsh? Does 6 weeks seem too long? Try the 30-Day challenge; it’s a good way to go. After those 30 days or 6 weeks you’ll be able to see what benefits the challenge has brought for you and you’ll be able to determine if it truly made you feel better or not.
And if you’re convinced to continue the sugar free existence: good for you! The good news is that you don’t have to stay this strict forever to reap the benefits of this lifestyle chance. That’s why I’m also giving you my long term sugar free plan, the one that’s been my guide for the past two years.
PLAN: FOREVER (ALMOST COMPLETELY) SUGAR FREE
1. Eat as little refined or concentrated sugar as possible, including candy, cookies, cake, etc. But also pay attention to all other products where (natural) sugars) may have been added. I personally avoid products with honey, maple syrup, dextrose, artificial sweeteners and make as much as I can myself. Granted my approach is a little less rigorous than it was in the first 6 weeks and I do eat a few things that contain some sugar like for example dark chocolate (90% cacao or more), balsamic-vinegar or dates (in limited numbers).
2. Choose whole-grain and whole food products. Don’t skip your complex carbs and the natural healthy fats you get in foods like nuts and avocados; they keep you fuller longer and help you keep your cravings in check.
3. If you do drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
4. Try not to drink cow milk. Better forms of dairy are cheese, yogurt and cottage cheese since they do not contain added sugar. The ideal way to go would still be choosing a plant-based option that is unsweetened.
To make it all a bit easier and more fun to keep up with, I sweeten brownies for example with pure cocoa and dates, and I make cookies from oats and bananas. See it doesn’t have to be less fun, just different. Make sure you don’t go eating more cookies now just because they’ve become ‘healthier’. Sugars will always be sugars and too much will always be just that; too much. So aim to practice moderation :-) If you want to do more to keep your blood sugar in balance, there are a few tricks; like combining your sugar with healthy fats and fiber-rich foods.
But since this blog is already over 1000 words, I’ll post a link to my favorite sweet snack that is both free of refined sugars and addictively yummy. This naturally sweetened vegan banana bread is one of my specialties.
And for all those sugar addicts who are going to do the sugar-free challenge: Good luck! :)