If you’re a regular reader of this column, you know how I feel about added sugar. If you’re not, here the gist: It’s the No. 1 villain in the American diet.
Yet I’ve also confessed here that while I’m not a huge fan of chocolate, I’ll enthusiastically chow down on Twizzlers, Pay Days, Almond Joys and Cracker Jack.
It is a classic case of, “Do as I say, not as I do.”
So to avoid giving anyone the opportunity to call me a hypocrite, I decided to make an adjustment to my diet a couple of weeks ago and start doing all I can to avoid eating food with added sugar.
Key phrase: “All I can.”
I didn’t want to get all whack-a-doo about it, so I set some simple but not constricting rules. I’m doing all I can to avoid eating:
• Foods that obviously contain added sugar, such as candy, cookies, cake and doughnuts.
• Processed foods with added sugar, such as fruit yogurt and salad dressing (exception: ketchup).
• Food with sugar-in-disguise ingredients, such as maple syrup, molasses, honey, high-fructose corn syrup and the like.
What I’m not avoiding are foods with naturally occurring sugar, such as fruit and dairy. And because I’m not going full-Atkins, I’ll continue eating high-carb foods such as pasta, rice and potatoes.
I didn’t make a big deal out of my decision (until, of course, I announced it here in this column); I just started doing it. I didn’t want people asking, “How’s it going?” and making accommodations for my craziness.
And, boy, did they not make accommodations. Like a lot of offices, the Express-News newsroom is often candy central, with people bringing in tempting treats to share. (Literally as I wrote this paragraph, a reporter came by my desk to offer me a pumpkin chocolate mini muffin. I passed.)
Also, the Monday I started was also the first day of a weeklong goodbye celebration for a colleague. The celebration included cookies on Monday, candy on Tuesday, chips and dip on Wednesday – you get the idea.
I also went through the entire Halloween season without a single candy corn passing my lips.
At home, I’ve had to make some adjustments, too. For breakfast I usually eat half a bagel with peanut butter. I knew I had to replace the honey-roasted peanut butter, but what I didn’t know is that the bagels contain malt, molasses and honey, all sugar-in-disguise ingredients.
So now I’ve been spreading peanut butter made only with peanuts on either brown rice cakes or whole grain bread. Make all the hippie diet jokes you want, but they’re surprisingly tasty and they stay with me all morning.
It’s been three weeks since I started this little experiment, and I must say, it hasn’t been the hell I expected.
Crazy, right? But hear me out. Studies have shown that refined carbohydrates such as sugar and corn syrup can trigger food cravings not unlike the cravings experienced by drug addicts in need of a fix. Other studies have found that eating sugar lights up the same areas of the brain as shooting heroin. So if, after only a few sugar-free days, I noticed I was no longer reflexively reaching for the bowls of candy corn, M&M’s and the mini Milky Ways, would it be too much of a stretch to say I’d kicked the sugar habit, and it was no longer controlling me?
I’d love to hear from anyone on a similar journey, or who decides to avoid added sugar as a result of reading this column. I’m particularly interested in snack ideas beyond mixed nuts and dried fruit. That can get pretty boring after a while.
Finally, they say there’s nothing more annoying than a former cigarette smoker, so I promise not to harp on my new path too much, but if I start seeing (and feeling) big changes as I go sugar free – if I start losing weight, for example – I’ll let you know.
firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @RichardMarini