No added sugar? During the holidays? Are you crazy?

My office just completed our first physical activity challenge. I was a founding member of our wellness committee and this was our pilot wellness challenge with an extremely limited budget. The challenge ran for eight weeks and participants strove to meet their self-determined goals for daily steps and minutes of physical activity. In addition to these activity goals, we also created weekly nutrition challenges that progressed in difficulty. The final week’s nutrition challenge was to eat no added sugar for three days.

Added sugar means it is not found naturally in the food (such as fruit and dairy). Added sugar accounts for a lot of extra calories (read: weight gain) among Americans and is of little nutritive value.

Dietitians often preach minimizing added sugar and being aware of where it lurks. After this challenge, other dietitian participants shared with me their surprise in just how challenging this was (“I was about to eat a Wheat Thin then remembered there was sugar in it!”). It was great to hear their realization of the “walk the walk” concept. This is why dietetic interns are often urged to sample various nutritional supplement drinks during their clinical rotations–if you’re going to prescribe or promote something to your patients and clients, you should know what it’s like.

Here is what I ate for those three days as well as my thoughts and reflections on the experience. I made a point to include processed foods and go out to eat to truly challenge myself and demonstrate the feasibility of eating processed and restaurant food and not making a mess of your diet.

2015-12-14 16.12.20

What I ate

Day 1

Breakfast: Green Smoothie
Unsweetened almond milk
Vega One
Banana
Kale
Spinach
Morning Snack: Oatmeal
Rolled oats
Milled flaxseed
Walnuts
Almond butter
Stevia
Lunch: Canned Soup Packed from Home

Amy’s lentil soup
Nancy’s unsweetened organic cultured soy yogurt + “just fruit” strawberry spread mixed in
Peas
Clementine
Dinner: Soul Bowl @ The Chicago Diner
Blackened tofu
Black beans
Steamed kale
Mashed sweet potatoes (confirmed no sugar added by restaurant)
Chimichurri sauce
Cabernet
Evening Snack: Herbal Tea

Day 2

Breakfast: Green Smoothie
Unsweetened almond milk
Vega One
Banana
Kale
Spinach
Snack: Oatmeal
Rolled oats
Milled flaxseed
Walnuts
Peanut butter
Lunch: Frozen Meal Packed from Home
Amy’s Vegetable Korma
Nancy’s unsweetened organic cultured soy yogurt + “just fruit” blueberry spread mixed in
Clementines
Dinner: Tacos at Home
Corn tortillas
Black beans
Mushrooms
Green bell pepper
Onion
Canola oil
Salt & spices
Avocado

Day 3

Breakfast: Green Smoothie
Unsweetened almond milk
Vega One
Banana
Kale
Spinach
Snack: Oatmeal
Rolled oats
Milled flaxseed
Walnuts
Peanut butter
Stevia
Lunch: Taco Bowl Packed from Home
Brown rice
Black beans
Green bell pepper
Onion
Canola oil
Salt & spices
Avocado
Nancy’s unsweetened organic cultured soy yogurt + “just fruit” blueberry spread mixed in
Clementine
Dinner: Pasta at Home
Whole-wheat linguine
Marinara (no sugar added)
Upton’s Italian Seitan
Asparagus
Olive oil
Garlic
Salt & pepper
Evening Snack: Herbal Tea

Changes I made

-No dark chocolate after lunch and/or dinner (most often “and”, let’s be honest)
-Swapped chocolate chips for stevia in my oatmeal (been on a chocolate chip kick lately, it’s goooood), or just eliminated the sweet ingredient all together

Challenges I encountered

-I missed my daily dark chocolate square after lunch and after dinner with my tea
-I went out for my friend’s birthday and it was challenging not getting dessert to celebrate
-I went hungry before my evening workouts because I wasn’t prepared with afternoon snacks that did not contain sugar (my desk drawer stash of Clif Bars were off limits and my apples for this purpose ended up being mealy and gross)

Tips for others

-If you ever do a food challenge like this, make sure to thoroughly meal and snack plan in advance (unfortunately busy work and personal life hindered me from doing this like I normally do)
-Learn forms of sugar (yeah, maple syrup is sugar) so you know what to look for
-Read ingredients labels (even if it says “no high fructose corn syrup” on the front of the food package, be sure to read the actual ingredients list for other forms of sugar)
-Go unprocessed (easiest way to achieve no added sugar is to make everything from scratch—although unrealistic for most of us)
-When you eat processed foods, make them minimally processed (which means the food uses ingredients you would use at home, such as Amy’s soups and frozen meals)
-Eat fruit to get your sweet fix
-Focus on what you are eating rather than what you are not (don’t pout about the lack of dark chocolate, be happy that clementines are in season)

While I don’t think it’s realistic or even necessary to eliminate all added sugar in one’s diet, it is important to be aware of what foods have added sugar in order to minimize your intake. Getting in the habit of reading ingredients labels is a good practice. Know what you’re eating. Typically if you are following the guidelines of a general, healthful diet with treats in moderation, this shouldn’t be an issue.If you do find that you consume a lot of added sugar and have strong persistent sugar cravings, consider working with a registered dietitian nutritionist!

Read more about how to start a workplace wellness program in a guest  post I wrote earlier this year. It won a blogging contest for a group of Chicago dietitian bloggers!

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>