a peek inside the fishbowl

21 Sep, 2010

Know More Do More: sugar-free is done

Posted by andrea tomkins in: - Know More Do More

I’ve saved the wrap up post of our sugar fast for today, because I needed to sit and think about it for awhile, not to mention the fact that the whole production left me totally exhausted.

To summarize: it was tough. It was much harder than we thought, and we didn’t actually manage to be “sugar free” for the whole week.

But before I get into that I want to make clear that this whole idea was our own, and was not an activity that was suggested or endorsed by the Champlain Cardiovascular Network and/or the Know More Do More campaign. In fact, I’m not sure if the good doctors in the Network would agree that doing something as drastic as yanking sugar from our fridges and kitchens would do anything other than traumatize our young children.

I’m kidding. Sort of.

I want to address the question of WHY. Why did we pick sugar, and not sodium, trans-fats etc.? Read this:

Americans have become conspicuous consumers of sugar and sweet-tasting foods and beverages. Per capita consumption of caloric sweeteners (dryweight basis)—mainly sucrose (table sugar made from cane and beets) and corn sweeteners (notably high-fructose corn syrup, or HFCS)—increased 43 pounds, or 39 percent, between 1950-59 and 2000 (table 2-6). In 2000, each American consumed an average 152 pounds of caloric sweeteners, 3 pounds below 1999’s record average 155 pounds. That amounted to more than two-fifths of a pound—or 52 teaspoonfuls—of added sugars per person per day in 2000. Of that 52 teaspoons, ERS estimates that Americans wasted or otherwise lost 20 teaspoons, resulting in an average intake of about 32 teaspoons of added sugars
per person per day.

USDA recommends that the average person on a 2,000-calorie daily diet include no more than 40 grams of added sugars. That’s about 10 teaspoons, or the amount of sugar in a 12-ounce soft drink. Sugar— including sucrose, corn sweeteners, honey, maple syrup, and molasses—is ubiquitous and often hidden. In a sense, sugar is the number one food additive. It turns up in some unlikely places, such as pizza, bread, hot dogs, boxed mixed rice, soup, crackers, spaghetti sauce, lunch meat, canned
vegetables, fruit drinks, flavored yogurt, ketchup, salad dressing, mayonnaise, and some peanut butter. Carbonated sodas provided more than a fifth (22 percent) of the refined and added sugars in the 2000 American food supply, compared with 16 percent in 1970.

– From: “Profiling Food Consumption in America” by the USDA (PDF)

Although this info is American I think it’s probably a pretty accurate picture of what’s happening in Canada as well. Bummer eh?

When Mark and I set out to do this we thought it’d be easy peasy. After all, we don’t eat dessert every night. We don’t put a lot of sweets in their lunchboxes, or eat that many processed foods. HOW HARD COULD IT BE?



The joke was on us. We didn’t realize that the seemingly simple task of “eliminating sweeteners” would be such a huge undertaking.

The the purposes of the sugar fast we defined “sugar-free” as: no sugar(s), corn syrup, anything ending with –ose (like glucose-fructose), artificial sweeteners as well as maple syrup and honey. We did allow for natural sugars, so I could, for example, use applesauce to sweeten a muffin recipe … but that’s it.

We didn’t even consume sugar-free gum.

I think there was some degree of eyeball-rolling out there in blogland. Why one sugar (like applesauce) and not something like MAPLE SYRUP? I realize it is sacrilegious, as a Canadian, to deny oneself the pleasure of maple syrup, the juice of our national tree, but Mark and I decided the tone down the amount of sweetness in our lives – no matter where it came from.

As I mentioned in the comments of the original post, much of what we perceive as tasting good just happens to be what we are used to eating. For example, if you don’t take sugar in your tea, and suddenly someone dumps a Splenda in there and you take a big slurp … you’re going to think that’s pretty disgusting.

If you grow up eating processed cheese and someone hands you a hunk of aged cheddar I don’t think you’ll like that very much either.

Shouldn’t sweets be a treat again, and not an everyday right? Is our collective sweet tooth is out of control? I was at the grocery store last night, and Loblaws had a TON of boxed mini-chocolate bars out on display. There was a time that candy bars were a once-in-a-blue moon treat. These days they’re beside us as we check out of the store, and packaged in appealing sizes for small lunchboxes. Sweets have become an everyday food, not a sometimes food. When did this happen, and why?

There was a time when sugar was heavily rationed and 100% of the foods we ate were made at home. But this isn’t the case anymore.

I cooked an awful lot that week, more than I normally do. One night – having run out of steam – I grabbed a box of battered fish from the frozen food aisle at the grocery store. Guess what? There was sugar in it. We were guests at my in-laws for dinner, I turned down a bottled Mott’s Caesar (there’s sugar in it, or was it glucose-fructose) and BBQ chips (there’s sugar in those too). It’s everywhere!

I can’t tell you how much time I spent at the grocery store during the sugar fast, just scouring the labels. I can’t tell you how many conversations I had with the girls around the dinner table.

The kids were dismayed that ketchup has sugar in it (so they had to eat unadulterated meat) as did mayo. Some bacon is sugar-cured. Tomato sauce has sugar in it too. I could go on and on … don’t get me started on glucose-fructose in bread. I think I spent more time in the bread aisle than anywhere else.

I kept a daily log of sorts in the comments of the original post. Turns out I accidental ingested sugar nearly every day. In the organic vegetable broth I was using to make soup, for example.

I guess it seems obvious now, but almost everything that is factory made has sugar in it. Almost. We found taco shells that do not. And salsa (THANK GOD). And some chips.

Anyway, I am making this out to have been a very unpleasant experience, aren’t I? It was hard, but it was worth doing. And I would do it again.

What saved us: fruit. We ate baskets of peaches. My mantra became reach for a peach. They were the perfect antidote for a sugar craving and I think we all benefited from an increase in fruit consumption. What also saved us: one serving of banana “ice cream” and two batches of sugar-free muffins.

There were some other surprises I hadn’t counted on. I hadn’t told the girls what to do if they were offered sweets away from home. There were two occasions at Sarah’s school in which she came face-to-face with a muffin. She turned them down both times. I couldn’t believe it! Twice, the girls were at a friend’s house and were offered something sweet to eat and they (politely, I hope) turned it down too. I was so proud of their resolve. 

And the most amazing thing of all is that one of Sarah’s school friends joined her in the last days of the sugar fast. She turned the muffins down too, AND told her parents about it AND asked her mom to pack her sugar-free lunches too. I was blown away by this.

Anyway, if you are thinking of doing this with your own family I highly recommend it.

  1. 1) Tracking your food really puts things into perspective. You get a much better sense of who’s eating what, how much, and when. I didn’t think we ate THAT much sugar and processed food, turns out we eat more than I thought we did.
  2. 2) It is a huge learning experience for kids (and parents). You might need an extra 20 minutes to get through the grocery store but the conversations that come from the experience are priceless. Information is good.
  3. 3) Home cooking is the way to go. Avoid processed foods as much as you can and you’ll save yourself time reading all those labels.

What about you? Is this something you can try? Why or why not?

This post is part of the Know More Do More initiative which was spearheaded by the Champlain Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Network. KMDM is about empowering parents and inspiring them to take charge of their children’s health by taking easy steps to increase activity levels and improve eating habits. I’m one of two champion families who has been asked to take this challenge. You can join too. Check out the official website for more information. If you’re blogging about your participation, please let me know so we can cheer each other on! You can read all of my past weekly challenges here.

10 Responses to "Know More Do More: sugar-free is done"

1 | Theresa

September 21st, 2010 at 9:03 am


I found after doing something similar with my family, that our taste for sweets changed. Things we normally ate and thought nothing of, suddenly tasted hyper-sweet. Sweet things tasted sweeter. And you are right it IS hard, Prepared foods (pre-packaged, processed) always contain some form of natural or artificial sweeteners, and it’s hard to consume 100% whole foods 100% of the time. But the awareness is key, kudos to your family for sticking out the week, i know after day 2 or 3, the novelty wore off a LOT for my kids and they were ready to have something sweet other than whole fruit.

2 | Betsy Mae

September 21st, 2010 at 11:13 am


how did you (and your fam) feel physically?

3 | Barbi D.

September 21st, 2010 at 11:48 am


Good for you! I think you did great. Going Sugar Free is very hard. It is absolutely everywhere. We are a family with two members that are lactose intolerant so I have had to become a label reader long ago. I try to avoid anything that has a long list of ingredients so I end up in the health food section a lot and I have increased my cooking and baking at home. I never put in the full amount of sugar called for and have experimented with some better options. Unfortunately, for me, I think the kids are more open than Dad! He is stress eater which for him is everyday. I do want to try this though as a family, so your posts are inspiring. Oh yes, your taste buds DO change. I can’t stand anything from a can or frozen or some other form of prepared food, it tastes SO salty I can’t stand it. Any chocolate bar from the store’s candy section taste fake to me, I have converted to good or very good dark chocolate. Thanks for sharing your experience.

4 | Vicky

September 21st, 2010 at 6:04 pm


The month before my wedding, in an attempt to lose a couple of pounds I went on a no-sugar kick for a few weeks. I avoided all sweets, baked good, candy etc (including cake at one of my showers!) I didn’t actually read labels and eliminate those -ose ending sugars. I remember it took a few days for the cravings to subside, but they never really went away completely.

Having also gone gluten-free, I experience similar frustrations with packaged foods. There is wheat and/or gluten in so many products. It’s frustrating! I have stopped buying boxed frozen food products entirely. No more chicken fingers, fish sticks, lasagnas or chicken pot pies.

It’s tough to make everything home-made. I find the hardest part is time management. There always seems to be some better use of time, but really it’s our health isn’t it?

5 | Lara

September 22nd, 2010 at 6:49 am


I’ve been thinking about this challenge a lot in the last week – trying to figure out if I could do it. I don’t think I’m ready, but it inspires me to try to give myself another challenge… maybe no boxed food for a week. But I’m not sure I’m ready for even that ;)

I’m very impressed that you made it through a week – good for you!

6 | andrea

September 22nd, 2010 at 8:29 am


Betsy Mae – I have to say, we felt pretty darn good, but I think the change might not have been as profound as a family who consumed a ton of refined sugars beforehand.

Vicky – I wonder if we’re genetically wired to like sweet stuff? Would make sense, wouldn’t it? But it’s funny, personally I find that if I eat a lot of crap I crave crap. If I eat good stuff I don’t crave the bad stuff. Isn’t that weird? I wonder where that comes from.

Lara – just to play devil’s advocate… why aren’t you ready? Can you make yourself ready? What do you need to do in order to be ready? :) I think you can do no boxed food for a week. Just make sure you plan ahead so you don’t set yourself up for failure!

7 | Randa

September 22nd, 2010 at 10:36 am


I am actually in the process of ‘no sugars for a year’, which I started on August 15. I decided to eliminate sugars because I am ADDICTED. (I did this for an 8-month period years ago, so I know I can do it again!)

I am finding it easier than I thought I would, actually. Once I made the decision – that was it. And deciding on a one-year time frame was a conscious decision and not arbitrary – I knew that if I had decided on, say, six months, that I would hanker after sweet things and think, “It’s just around the corner; only ‘x’ number of weeks until sugar in my coffee and chocolate bars again!” One year means to me that I must be completely committed to this change.

We have always prepared most of our foods from scratch (including things like mayonnaise) and eat VERY little processed food…so that part’s not a problem. We love to cook and eat good healthy food! The part that’s been the biggest change for me is no sugar in my coffee!!! I like my coffee sweet and creamy…so coffee has been just not the same. To my surprise, I’m getting used to it though. I’m curious to see what will happen after the year has passed; to see how much my ‘sugar’ habits change for the long-term.

By the way, I find I am far less bloated and ‘pot-bellied’ and generally uncomfortable since I have cut out sugar. AND – to this my husband will happily attest – I am far less MOODY!


8 | Tiana

September 22nd, 2010 at 7:54 pm


As I’ve alluded to you previously via twitter. I’ve done this before. I used to suffer from chronic yeast infections and the only thing that worked to stop them was eliminating refined sugars from my diet. This included refined carbohydrates. My diet basically went like this:

-Nothing white (bread, rice, sugar, pasta)
-No refined sugars (basically using the same guidelines as you but I still used maple syrup but not bee vomit ;P )

It worked marvelously and I’ve generally been yeast free since. The only exceptions seem to be when I get pregnant and I no longer have any kind of resolve. Such as now. All I can think about is cookies and Booster Juice

9 | is it really Thursday? >> a peek inside the fishbowl

September 30th, 2010 at 8:34 am


[…] because my lattes are sugar free now doesn’t mean I am LOVING them. Yet. The Sugar Fast is still rolling around my head. More on why later. […]

10 | A bit about those lunch tweets - and some food for thought >> a peek inside the fishbowl

August 8th, 2012 at 8:53 am


[…] our now-annual Family Advent Calendar. And come to think of it, so did the Moments of Bliss, the Sugar Fast, Couch-to-5K, the Trust Experiment, and even the cookies we baked in the car a couple of weeks ago. […]

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