I’ve always admired the Test Nesters. By “always”, I literally mean ever since I can remember my sugar dusted childhood beginning. I was the youngest of the neighborhood gang and therefore probably the most annoying tag-along, but ever since my first successful cartwheel under the instruction of the Test Nesters (then 4Hers), I felt like I belonged. I’m thrilled to contribute to such a sweet blog.
Speaking of sweet, this is what they’ve asked me to blog about. Ya see,… I’ve got history with sugar. It really has become a sticky topic that my life revolves around. The history starts with finding out that there is such a thing as the American Association of Candy Technologists. Yeah, for real…a whole national group of food scientists focusing solely on candy! Sign me up! Ok, so I did sign up, and they must have sensed the sugar surging through my food scientist veins as they graced me with three years of sprinkle coated scholarships. Oh, and they have plates of candy out for breakfast at conferences—I like these scientists!
Flash forward 5 years to today. I’m studying the crystallization of sucrose in Wisconsin in hopes to become a Master of Sugar Science (that unfortunately won’t be the actual degree title). I still go to AACT meetings, but I’ve also been experimenting with removing refined sugar completely in my diet. …What?!?!
Back in July I wanted to see if I could go one week without eating refined sugar in any form. In our lab we are surrounded by candy, and in July, the National Confectioners Association holds their two-week industry candy course in our lab. Imagine the very first room that they go into of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory (the one with the chocolate waterfall), now subtract out the oompa loompas, insert undergrad assistants, and you’ve got the picture of our lab during this time.
Avoiding sugar was no small feat! I was determined though, and made it through the first week easy as pie. Feeling pretty proud of myself, I decided to extend the challenge to one month, and to add a restriction of refined flour to the list. Just when I thought this was going to be impossible, Leslie introduced me to a whole new world of baking with these: http://www.thetestnest.com/2011/06/black-bean-brownies.html I just reduced the amount of sweetener and switched it for Splenda and I was set to succeed!
I won’t sugarcoat it and say that week two was like week one. Week two was rough! I can attest that sugar is addictive, and I was madly addicted. The second week of the sugar fast was spent taking 4-hour naps in the afternoon (thanks also to the flexible schedule of a grad student), popping Tylenol to kill the headaches, and turning my phone off as to not let the world know how utterly unpleasant I was. Like I said, it was rough…but it was worth it. Once I got over that hump of sugar withdraws, I started to feel better. Better than ever actually. I had discovered a new level of energy, the ability to sleep hard and fast waking up refreshed, and a loss of 12 pounds. **I need to add here that this wasn’t done for weight loss, nor should one expect such a loss in three weeks. I had racked up those pounds over the previous winter by dining on leftover coffee shop pastries after my closing barista shifts. It went on fast so I’m glad it came off fast too.
Before I knew it, the month was up. I celebrated by making a delicious four layer, 30-something pound cake for my mom’s birthday. I did, after all, get my full set of sweet teeth from her. This baby had over 2 pounds of butter in it, and enough sugar to balance that out!
This was the first break of the sugar/flour fast. I made it half way through a piece of thin and crispy taco pizza and two bites into the cake and I was done. I had expected that coming back to the refined side might take time, but I was not expecting such painful initial results…an instant stomach knot and a pounding headache! Don’t be fooled though, this cake was good, so good that I took the effort to ease back into it the next day. Eventually eating sugar again was normal and pain free.
Going back to eating sugar and flour gave further evidence of the benefits that I had experienced of being sugar free. My energy levels started to dwindle and sleeping was not so efficient anymore. I should have stopped here, but I was terrified to go through week 2 again!
I let six months pass and decided to give this deal another try. I figured that doing a ‘sugar cleanse’ every six months would be refreshing, so the New Year’s resolution for 2012 started with another month without sugar. I would have loved to clear my schedule for week two to allow for more napping and less communication with the world in anticipation for my not so pleasant sugar withdraw attitude, but week two happened to hold my first graduate fate determining committee meeting. Oh, and they wanted me to bring snacks…so they got these, which are terrifically delicious and semi addictive made with Splenda and cranberries instead of chocolate chips.
Surprisingly week two was not as painful as it was in July. Actually, nothing was really too painful about it other than preparing for the meeting presentation which ended up going well J It was just a little difficult to explain to a group of professors in the food industry as to why I am not eating sugar, yet spend every day working with sugar in the lab.
It is possible that this past month has been easier due to being more equipped with solutions, and my body may have retained a little bit of training from July yet. Since the month is up, I’ve decided to continue this loosely until April. “Loosely” is due to the jar of peanut butter I had waiting in the pantry that was not going to be thrown out! Also, I’ve decided to keep dark chocolate in the mix for a weekly treat. Other than those, I plan on remaining sugar free.
The benefits of being sugar free clearly outweigh the pains of it; otherwise I wouldn’t keep doing it. If higher energy and better sleep isn’t convincing enough, weight loss is likely to happen depending on current reliance on refined foods, but I’ll also report that in the past month, I’ve not lost any weight at all by cutting out sugar. I’ve also started lifting heavy again though too. My skin is much much clearer and bright, and my digestive tract is well…operating at a higher and more regular capacity. I’ve also noted that since July I have not gotten sick at all, even in the slightest sore throat or runny nose sort of way, and I seem to recover much faster from working out and even scrapes and scratches heal faster. The body just seems to run a lot better overall!
There are a few foods that have become new staples around the kitchen. If you plan on taking the sugar free plunge, I suggest stocking up on: FRUIT (whatever is in season is best, but I also eat frozen blueberries like candy), baby carrots, unsweetened vanilla almond milk, nuts, dried cranberries, chickpeas (to make these), sugar free black bean brownies, sweet potatoes, sugar free gum, and the most delicious raw brownies in the universe…
I have not jumped on the hippie raw bandwagon, but these babies are so-darn-good! I could see myself trying to go raw for a month (or maybe just a week) just for kicks. It might be fun to play around with some raw recipes!
There are a lot of good recipes that I could post, but just do some searching on Pinterest (or follow me there) and you can find more than enough to satisfy your unsweetened sweet tooth. I do still use Truvia in my coffee, tea, and a few recipes. Eventually I hope to not rely on sweet things at all, but that is not looking promising in my career confection direction.
With that, I recommend trying to cut out refined sugar for a while, but not forever. I still stand firmly that moderation is key and that sweets and candy can be enjoyed on occasion as a treat. You can count that I will always have a stash of dark chocolate somewhere within reach, and I will not feel guilty about it…ever.