Searching for “fat-free” food items and “100-calorie snack packs” is all the rage for Americans trying to shed a couple of pounds or to be health conscious. But is this necessary? Is fat the reason for our obesity epidemic? While too many unhealthy fats may be one probable cause of Americans' obesity, sugar is where one of our biggest problems lies.
Too much sugar isn’t just bad, it’s addictive. Dr. Mark Hyman, told CBS News sugar is eight times more addicting than cocaine. When you stimulate the pleasure center in the brain, which is what sugar does, your dopamine levels will spike and you will crave it more and more. The American Heart Association’s recommended daily sugar consumption for women is 100 calories a day (6 teaspoons) and 150 calories a day (9 teaspoons) for men; however, the average American consumes 22.2 teaspoons per day.
To experience first-hand what the sugar craze is all about, I decided to eliminate sugar from my diet for seven days.
In order to successfully complete my sugar detox, I knew I needed to be prepared for the week. I began by researching various bloggers' journeys to their sugar-free lifestyle to better understand what I was in for. By no means did I believe I was a sugar addict, but I do enjoy sweets every now and then. During my research, my perception of my apparently “low-sugar diet” completely changed. I quickly learned many foods I didn’t think had high sugar contents did.
Next, I began to prepare what I was going to eat. I put together a grocery list of foods and went to my local farmer’s market and grocery store to ensure my fridge was stocked. For the purpose of this experiment, I eliminated fruit from my diet due to its high sugar content. However, it’s important to note the sugar in fruit is different than the refined sugars found in processed foods.
When reading nutrition facts labels, it’s important to be aware that sugar can be masked by many different names. Look out for “syrup,” “malt,” and anything ending in “-ose.” In addition, look out for “fruit juice” and “fruit juice concentrate.” Also note, organic sugar is still sugar.
Some of my frequent foods I eliminated from my diet included Special K protein bars, granola, bagels, potatoes, plain Greek yogurt, sauces, condiments, and salad dressings. Once my fridge was stocked and I knew what to eat and what was off limits, I was ready to begin!
During the week, I monitored my diet by keeping a food journal. While I did not keep track of nutritional information, I did list the individual food items and beverages I consumed daily. In addition, I kept track of my weight each day.
On Tuesday, Aug. 4, I began. From Tuesday through Friday, I was in the office from 9a.m.-5p.m. at Medical Daily. During this time, my diet stayed very consistent. For breakfast, I had two eggs over easy or hard boiled eggs and a cup of plain oatmeal. Before lunch, I snacked on a mix of raw nuts. For lunch, I had spinach or a spring mix with a variety of tomato, avocado, and green pepper topped with either tuna or grilled chicken. I dressed the salad with pepper, olive oil, sugar-free balsamic vinegar, and lemon. I consumed my dinners at home and they usually consisted of grilled chicken or ground turkey with a mix of vegetables on the side. After dinner, I would usually snack on nuts or homemade kale chips.
Before beginning, I was curious if my energy levels would be lower during exercise, but I was still able to complete my daily routine at the gym each day. On average, during a work day I consumed 4.5 500mL bottles of water, 1.5 cups of green tea, and 1.5 cups of hot water either plain or with lemon.
On Friday, Aug. 7, I began my menstrual cycle, which again worried me if I would have enough energy, especially because I was consuming less calories than my body was used to. However, I was fine. Friday through Sunday is when things weren’t as easy. During the week, I was used to the same routine. Wake up, catch the train from New Jersey to Manhattan, go to work, catch the train from Manhattan to New Jersey, go to the gym, sleep, repeat. I was eating my meals and snacks at pretty much the same time and in the same setting each day. On the weekend, things were not as in sync as my weekdays were. While I love change, the change of the weekend really threw off my no-sugar consumption.
I spent Friday and Saturday night out with friends. During this time, I was tempted to indulge in greasy-late night foods after long nights out, but I stuck through. Late Friday night, I ordered grilled chicken and pickles, and Saturday night, I didn’t even snack. For Saturday’s lunch, I ate out for the first time all week. I went to Neptune Diner in Astoria.
Flipping through the menu, I was less than shocked to find everything had sugar. I ordered the “Egg Platter,” which was really just a bed of lettuce, topped with four hard boiled eggs, tomato, and green pepper. It also included potato salad and coleslaw, which I stayed away from. During the weekend, my food journal wasn’t by my side so I neither kept diligent track of what I was consuming nor did I weigh myself.
On Monday, Aug. 11, I returned back to work and was back on track. It was the last day of my sugar-free week. I ate my usual breakfast and snack, but added in brown rice with my lunch and dinner. All week, I never felt bloated and ended up losing about about 2.5 pounds.
What I Learned
Overall, my sugar-free week was a great experience. The biggest takeaway I got was a detailed look into my prior eating habits. Eating and living healthy is important to me, and this detox gave me the opportunity to see where my eating habits could be improved. This also really opened my eyes to why my seemingly healthy diet at college hasn’t been working for me and, in fact, isn’t so healthy after all. Some of my favorite, go-to foods at school have extremely high sugar contents: vegetable stir-fry, hummus, Naked juice, veggie sausage breakfast sandwiches on bagels, and lime-flavored carbonated water — not to mention, the sugary chasers and late-night weekend snacks.
Are you thinking about trying to eliminate sugar from your diet? Going cold turkey is definitely not for everyone. Instead, try adding one less sugar packet to your morning coffee, ditch the salad dressing, and make a homemade dressing, or drink one less soda per day. Slowly, eliminate more and more.
So now that this is over, what’s next for me? I neither plan on chowing down on a dozen doughnuts nor do I plan on completely eliminating sugar from my diet, but I do plan on keeping a healthy balance. I plan on saving those sugary foods for rare occasions. I also plan on finding a variety of foods and easy recipes to include into my now-sugar-conscious diet.