Thursday, May 6, 2010

Sugar Blues

Most of you know that I gave up sugar about a week before Lent.  It wasn't for Lent at first.  At first it was because I was sick and tired of having no self-control when it came to sweets.  I held fast through Lent and partook of processed sugar throughout the week following Easter.   This re-iterated my need to set limits and I put myself back on the no-sugar wagon and I plan to stay on this wagon except for a handful of special occasions throughout the year.

I honestly thought that I would crave sweets so much that I would need to find natural sweetener substitutes to replace the sweets I was used to.  I have been pleasantly surprised in this area.  I haven't been making cookies that use honey or desserts that call for agave nectar, etc.  I have been eating granola made with honey and I have been using pure maple syrup when we make waffles.  That's it.  So, I've come to realize that cutting out sugar has really dampened my need for all things sweet.  What a nice surprise.

Initially, I didn't notice any physical changes.  My mood seemed more peaceful, though, and I enjoyed the lack of inner turmoil over how many cookies I should allow myself in a sitting (2? 12? 2? 12?).  I did lose 5 pounds, but I'm still nursing Miriam and exercising a little bit, so the weight loss could be related to those things.  Now that it's been over two months, I've noticed two other interesting things.

First, I have had no trouble (with the exception of one night) with insomnia since going off sugar.  Insomnia wasn't a huge problem for me, but at least once a week it would take me an hour or more to fall asleep at night or to fall back asleep after nursing Miriam in the middle of the night.  I have not missed that.  The other major change I have noticed is that I have had no "episodes" (let's call them) that have found me running to the bathroom.  My doctor, just as recently as this fall diagnosed me with having an irritable colon.  I was having major "episodes" (with terrible cramping) once or twice a week.  Since cutting our sugar, I've had ONE episode in two months.  Do you want to know when that episode was?  During the week right after Easter when I was eating processed sugar.  Yes, indeed.  I haven't missed that either.

My cousin (Thank you, Conrad.) lent me his copy of Sugar Blues by William Duffy.  It's an interesting read.  It starts out with Duffy telling about his history with sugar.  I love reading people's stories and this was one of my favorite parts of this book.  He describes his relationship with sugar during his growing up years- a very unhealthy one-particularly with soda and sweets.  As a young adult he developed some major health problems that repeatedly sent him to the doctor but the doctors were unable to find anything wrong with him/couldn't explain the cause of his ailments.  Eventually, he read something that talked about sugar being a poison and he decided to go off sugar cold turkey.  Keep in mind he was a hard core sugar addict.  In his own words...

"I threw all the sugar out of my kitchen.  Then I threw out everything that had sugar in it, cereals and canned fruit, soups and bread...I was shocked to find the shelves were soon empty...I began eating nothing but whole grains and vegetables.  

In about forty-eight hours I was in total agony, overcome with nausea, with a crashing migraine...I had it very rough for about twenty-four hours, but the morning after was a revelation.  I went to sleep with exhaustion, sweating and tremors.  I woke up feeling reborn.  Grains and vegetables tasted like gifts from the gods.

The next few days brought a succession of wonders.  My rear stopped bleeding [he had hemorrhoids], so did my gums.  My skin began to clear up and had a totally different texture when I washed.  I discovered bones in my hands and feet that had been buried under bloat.  I bounced out of bed at strange hours in the early morning, raring to go.  My head seemed to be working again...My shirts were too big.  So were my shoes.   One morning while shaving I discovered I had a jaw.

To make a long, happy story short, I dropped from 205 pounds to a neat 135 in five months and ended up with a new body , a new head, a new life...That was in the 1960's [the book was written in 1975].  Since then I have been sugar free.  I haven't been near a doctor, a hospital, a pill, or a shot in all that time.  I haven't touched as much as an aspirin."

I included this rather long quote not to convince you that if you give up sugar the same thing will happen to you, but to show where his passion and interest in this subject comes from.  He's not a doctor.  He's just someone who changed his life by cutting out sugar, researched like crazy to learn what he could, and put his findings into a book for people like us to read.

The book goes on to give an extensive history of sugar and it's impact on early civilizations.  Those sections were pretty heavy and a bit too much detail for me.  Beyond those chapters was some even more interesting stuff.   Here are some tidbits about sugar I gleaned from Duffy's book that I would like to share.

Processed sugar is like refined flour and "polished" (white) rice in that part of the plant has been removed (fiber), leaving only part of the complete grain or cane.

~ "Removal of natural vegetable fiber produces tooth decay, disease of the gums, stomach trouble, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, and diverticular disease.  Removal of proteins causes peptic ulcers."

~ "Man-refined sugar is eight times as concentrated as refined flour, and eight times as unnatural...It's the unnaturalness that deceives the tongue and appetite, leading to over consumption.  Who would eat 2 1/2 pounds of sugar beets a day?  Yet the equivalent in refined sugar is a mere 5 ounces.  Over consumption produces diabetes, obesity, and coronary thrombosis among other things."

~ Raw sugar and brown sugar are not healthier.  "All are made the same way- molasses is added to refined sugar." 

~ We joke about people being sugar addicts, but the definition of addiction is "persistent, compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful" (Merriam Webster).  Hm.  Does it sound like anyone you know? (Other than me, of course.)

~ During the very early days when refined sugar was first used, it was doled out in pinches.  Just like cocaine.

~ The biggest sugar customer in the U.S. is the food processing industry.  Not surprising.  The second largest customer?  Can you guess?  Can you?  The tobacco industry.  Think on that one.

~ After cutting out sugar, some people experience less of a need to use insect sprays and many women experience less painful menstrual cramps.

A few tips from Duffy on cutting out sugar:

~ If you can, go cold turkey, removing all sugar from your house (read labels- it's in almost everything).
~ If you need to, you can wean yourself off processed sugars by using natural substitutes like honey.
~ "The more vegetable protein used in place of animal protein, the easier it becomes to forget about sugar, pastries and such."

In case you're wondering, I haven't imposed my sugar avoidance on the rest of my family.  Well, except that I no longer make sweets just for them.  I will take a dessert to a potluck or someone's house.  I just don't eat any of it.  I still make them baked oatmeal (I eat granola) and use some jam in their yogurt and in PB&J.

While I haven't felt the need to re-create many desserts using natural sugars, I have had great success adapting a couple salad dressing recipes that I hope to share with you soon.  Cutting back wherever you can seems to me to be a very smart move. Pin It


  1. Excellent book. I have been stress eating since our move, but we're in the house and it's another level of our 'change'. OUr diet has been so out of wack.
    I'm so impressed with your results, right down to the episode marked the week you've partook.
    it's evil stuff. wrapped in a 'coca-cola & a smile'.
    An acceptable addiction to most.
    Thanks for posting this.

  2. Thank you for this post...I am really working on cutting out sugar completely and I KNOW it's have motivated me to get back on that wagon!! I have heard about that book and after reading your post, I am going to buy it after I write this comment! If you find any great recipes for desserts that DON'T involve sugar, I hope you will share! Have a great weekend..

  3. Very interesting information! I cut out sugar years ago, but once in a while it will start to creep back in and I have to check it. We still use sucanat on occasion and honey, but we consider these treats and limit their use as well. The only time of year that I abandon my sugar intake is December. By January, I'm physically sick and in pain and must go cold turkey to recover. I've got to find a way to balance that better during the holidays - it's obviously the culprit!

  4. Thanks for this post. It has got me thinking about attempting the same thing. I'm gonna have to check out your posts on sugar free recipes and such. I'm glad you found a balance that works for you.

    One question (which you may have answered somewhere on your blog already), do you use sugar in your canning? I am planning on making some strawberry jam soon and I've never made it without sugar.

    Thanks again. I'm going to have to check out that book and ponder if this would be a good step for me to take.

  5. Natalie, I am not aware of any jam or jelly recipes that don't call for sugar. The sugar helps preserve the fruit. There are low sugar options- I know sure jell has a low sugar alternative- the box is marked such.

    You won't find any sugar free recipes in my dessert section yet. I haven't felt the need to pursue them much. I am working on substituting honey for sugar in some non dessert recipes like granola (already in my recipe index) and salad dressings.

    If you want to preserve your strawberries without using sugar, you can do what we do. Wash them and crush them, then stick them in the freezer. They are great on top of oatmeal, granola, yogurt or homemade ice cream (one of the indulgences I am going to allow myself this summer).

    Readers, jump in! Any other thoughts/ideas for Natalie?

  6. Thanks Thy Hand, I actually just ordered the book from Amazon (plus a few other fun books, too!

    Question to anyone, have you used the low sugar pectin? Does it work as well?

    Good idea about the freezing. Frozen peaches are the best, too!

  7. Natalie, I have used the low sugar sure jell in the past and that's all my mom uses. It sets up just fine and works well- the only difference is that it calls for less sugar and tastes less sweet (although still plenty sweet). Others should jump in and offer their opinions, too.

  8. I applaud you for your efforts to escape from sugar. We made a dramatic change to our diets quite a few years ago that included eating very little sugar. I can tell you we both have never felt better, and are more convinced than ever that a simple diet filled with "real" foods can make a huge difference in ones health.

    As to Natalie's question, I made the most wonderful and thick huckleberry and raspberry jams last fall using apples for pectin and honey as a sweetener, I also made a huckleberry/grape syrup using the grapes to help thicken it. Both turned out really well and had the right consistencies.

    For example, if I were to make 4 pints of huckleberry jam I would use 3 large apples or 2 with 12 ounces of apple concentrate and a sweetener such as honey or stevia...if any, we normally use honey (sparingly). That, and about 7 cups of huckleberries or blueberries.

    Reducing at a fairly good boil for just over 60 minutes should give you a nice thick jam. The higher the heat the quicker and thicker the jam will become. Huckleberries can be a tough one to thicken.

  9. 2 weeks before a race I cut out ALL junk food and treats... and it DOES make a difference in how I feel. I have actually cut down on the amount of candy I eat over the past few months... and I agree... every little bit helps!

  10. I use Pomona's Pectin, I have only used the low sugar recipe but you can make the jam with no sugar or honey.

  11. While I know sugar is crap, I'm lost as to what to put in my morning coffee. I'm thinking honey wouldn't really be that good. Ideas?

  12. K, I made your stuffed pasta shells last night for dinner and L.O.V.E.D them!! Yummm, thanks so much for the recipe! I love this motivation for decreasing my amount of sugar. I love to make jam in the summer and fall and I only use a fraction of the recommended amount of sugar just for this reason.

  13. I need the Sugar Blues book. I had afriend with cancer who drastically changed her diet and is doing so well that everyone is amazed. We all really need to realize sugar is a poison, and we are addicted.

  14. Sugar's not a poison. It's just something we're not genetically meant to have in large amounts. For some of us that translates into cutting it out entirely. For others, no, and that is okay and not my business. Anyway, one could argue that anything we over-use is a poison. The thing itself isn't an enemy; it's our (well, for some of us) bondage to / dependence on it.

  15. Amy with the coffee question, I'm not a coffee drinker, so I don't think I can help you. Except to say that I think you should do a little taste test with honey and maple syrup (Don't they sell maple flavored creamers- or am I imagining things?) and report back:-).

  16. Agave nectar is great in coffee!

  17. Maple syrup - when I was a kid, we had family that lived in Maine, so they would always send big packages of maple everything. One day I overdosed on maple. I could never smell/eat anything maple again without getting the heebies. LOL
    I'm noticing that if I use flavored coffees as opposed to plain, the need for excessive 'sweet' lessens. Maybe the smell (I bought snickerdoodle coffee) makes up for the psychological sugar 'need'.
    I'll give the agave nectar a go, though!


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