We’ve pretty much all seen the headlines recently; everything is about sugar.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has spoken up, crying out for everyone to cut down massively on their ‘free sugar’ consumption to just 6 teaspoons a day (for those of us who are bakers that’s 2 tbsp/ 25g). That’s really not very much.
Free sugars refer to refined and unrefined sugars like granulated sugar, maple syrup, fruit juice, honey etc…
Natural sugars are found in fruit and unsweetened dairy products.
I’ve been cutting down on my sugar consumption, believe it or not, for a while now. No more cereal or nutella on toast or ‘low fat’ recipes which rely on 1 1/2 cups of sugar instead of butter. Still every evening (and sometimes in the afternoons) I’d get intense sugar cravings. Unless I distracted myself, I’d inevitably end up eating some kind of baked good.
So due to the whole WHO thing and the insatiable sweet tooth situation, I decided to cut out all added sugars from my diet for two months. It was mid-July when I decided this and I figured it would be perfect timing as I’d be going off to uni juuuust as the 2 months ended. As a (primarily) dessert blogger who has grown up in the low-fat-fad world (full of low fat, processed foods with lots of added sugar), giving up added sugar for 2 months was a f-ing massive deal for me. I’ve done the whole ‘I’m going to eat less cake’ malarkey before and it’s never properly worked. I still crave the cake. I just end up forcing myself not to eat it and mindlessly consuming too much of something else.
I set up a few loosie goosie guidelines in my head before I began:
- No added sugar at all. That included maple syrup, honey, agave, coconut sugar/nectar, molasses and granulated sugar.
- No fruit juice, soda or cordials (not much of a big deal for me as I’ve never been one to drink juice or soda).
- Limit dried fruit consumption.
- Limit sweetener consumption (I occasionally use xylitol and liquid stevia).
- Always eat fresh fruit with a source of protein and/or fat
- Allowed one thing over the weekend as a treat only if:
- it’s been minimally sweetened using natural sugar (e.g. mashed dates)
- the treat contains good sources of fibre & fat and/or protein
- Little to no alcohol consumption
- No restrictions on anything else
- Occasional slip-ups are okay!
Just to explain my reasoning behind some of those points:
Alternative sweeteners are all the rage right now. Manuka honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar. Lots and lots of people are pushing them as healthier alternatives to sugar. Now, while they do contain some minerals and vitamins (and coconut sugar has less of an extreme effect on your blood sugar levels), they’re not that much different nutritionally than plain old granulated sugar. The only way I’d see using them being better for me is that they’re so so expensive that I’d probably end up using less just for the sake of saving money. They’re still sugar which spikes your blood glucose levels which then come crashing down an hour later leaving you hungry for more.
My treat allowance was the age-old knowledge that if you deny yourself something completely, you’ll probably end up wanting it more. By mentally saying to myself ‘okay there’s one day you can bake and eat something sweet’, I knew I’d fare better.
I wanted these treats to be as low in sugar as possible. There are plenty of date-sweetened recipes out there but loads of the time they use like 2 cups of pitted dates!!!! I tried to keep my recipes to a maximum of 1/2 a date (or equivalent) per serving.
By making sure that there was plenty of fibre in these treats, I was aiming to again stop the blood sugar spikes. Adding fat/protein into the mix only helps this by staving off hunger and slowing digestion further.
DID YOU SLIP UP?
Yeah of course I did! I think we can all be too harsh on ourselves though so which is why I’d mentally allowed myself some slip-up leeway at the start. None of these occasions were accidental slip-ups, just merely me being like ‘Eff it I’m going to eat some refined sugar’
1) A Slice of Cake: I’d been photographing a cake one week into this adventure. At that point, I was still in the am-I-doing-this-for-real phase. I decided I’d set ONE slice aside for myself. I ended up only eating half the slice (see: ‘WHAT DID HAPPEN?’ for an explanation)
2) Four Churros: I’d been at The Big Feastival all weekend with my boyfriend. There was a churros stand which we’d managed to avoid for 3 days. Then on the last night, after discovering one of us had never had churros (hint: it wasn’t me), we decided to split a portion. Turns out the churro stand had already closed but I had an inkling there was another one around. We walked through the whole arena looking for a second stand and finally found it, only to discover that neither of us had enough money to buy any! In the end my boyfriend begged the people at the churro stand to give us 1/2 a portion for £2.50 with success! It was fate. I had to eat the churros.
3) Ketchup: On a few occasions I did eat ketchup, eeeek! I made sure that I limited myself to 1 tsp each time though.
4) A spoonful of gelato: I was taking photos for Remeo Gelato. Ice cream was everywhere and I wanted to try the pistachio flavour soooo baaaadly. So I did 😀
WHAT DIDN’T HAPPEN?
I wasn’t doing this to lose weight so I wasn’t measuring myself at any point during these two months. Therefore, I don’t know if I have or haven’t.
Other things giving up sugar apparently does: clears up your skin, reduces bloating, energises you, helps you sleep more restfully or improves your mood. None of those happened for me but then again I sleep pretty well and I’m not tired very often! I can occasionally be grumpy and that deeeefinitely didn’t change haha.
WHAT DID HAPPEN?
- I found breakfast a struggle
Dear god, I missed having jam on toast. I missed mixing flavoured yogurt into my plain yogurt. I missed MAPLE SYRUP on pancakes. You know what I also realised? Savoury, healthy breakfasts which don’t involve eggs are few and far between! I mean, I love eggs, but it’s not good to be eating them every day for breakfast. Avocado smashed up on whole grain bread with tomatoes and basil was a life-saver.
I also got used to having plain yogurt (though I’d sometimes stir a few drops of stevia into it) with chopped nuts instead of muesli and fresh fruit instead of dried.
I also got used to eating nut butter alone on toast. Before I’d need honey or jam with it but now I find it sweet enough all by itself.
2) I completely lost my sugar cravings.
Sure I wanted some fruit now and then but my full on cravings for baked goods were completely gone. I didn’t get that ache for a cookie every time I finished a savoury meal. I was satisfied with what I’d eaten and that was that. I was finding it amazingly easy to not eat cake! Sure if there was any kind of food in front of me I’d want to taste it purely because it looked good. But my uninitiated want for anything sweet disappeared, however….
3) When I did slip up, the cravings came back
It was weird how blatant this was for me. One evening, I eat a slice of cake. The next day I’m drinking way too much tea in order to curb my cravings. It seemed to go like: eat refined sugar –> crave sugar for 2 days –> back to no cravings. The post churros cravings lasted three days, though, UGH. During those days, I honestly wondered to myself how I’d managed to get this far (a stark contrast to how I’d been feeling the rest of the time).
4) When I ate something quite sweet, it would fill me up a lot
An unexpected side effect! I never thought that eating something sweet could make me feel so full. Like I said earlier with the cake, I’d cut myself one slice thinking that would be okay. I was expecting to finish that slice and want another. However, it was the opposite way round – I could only finish half the slice.
This also happened with a non-slip-up treat. I bought some Nakd bars at the start because I knew they were only sweetened with dried fruit. They seemed like a good thing to have around in case of emergencies! One small bar used to feel like eating nothing but now, finishing it takes a good 15 minutes.
5) My taste improved
Eating loads of salt can dull your palate. I think this is also true (at least for me) for sugar.
I started to notice that fruit tasted a lot sweeter and had much better flavour as did nuts and nut butter!
WHAT DID YOU LEARN?
1) Eating refined sugar makes me crave sugar.
A no brainer but it was really powerful for me to actually experience this for myself. I experienced that I can properly control my sugar cravings!!
2) There’s refined sugar in almost everything processed.
Sauces, salads, sandwiches, spreads, bread, snacks (potato crisps have sugar on them. wtf.).
3) I can make a kick-ass, vegan, chocolate ice cream with no refined sugar!!!! (see second picture)
WILL YOU CONTINUE WITH IT?
Yes and no. There’s no way I’ll give up added sugar completely, I like baking and baked goods too much. I also like ketchup and putting honey in salad dressings. However I am going to try to keep my added sugar on the little-to-none side during the week. I love the fact that it’s reduced my cravings so much and how much better some foods taste. Theeeen on the weekends it’ll be cake time
DO YOU HAVE THE TREAT RECIPES?!?!!
Yes!! I’ve got a little series that I’m working on with the chocolate ice cream recipe, an apple fritter recipe, a brownie recipe and MORE. I’ll be posting them over the next few weeks as I settle into Uni. All are sweet treats which are only naturally sweetened (no honey/maple/agave etc) and low in the total, naturally-occurring sugar which they contain. Lots of the recipes also happen to be suitable for those of you with restricted diets DOUBLE YAY!!!!