I’ve really been enjoying participating in the Outside The Box Challenge. The challenge, organized by Rachel of Shedding It and Getting It and Leah of Your Nutritionista, has encouraged me to try new herbs, keep track of what I eat, make things from scratch, research where my food comes from and try new machines at the gym. It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve looked forward to each new challenge.
Until this week, when Challenge #8 was posted:
We’re challenging you to go without added sweetener for a whole day. We’re defining added sweetener as any form of concentrated sweetener, natural or not (this means maple syrup, agave, and honey are all no-nos!). This also includes artificial sweetener. Whole fruit is okay, as is any other non-concentrated food that happens to taste sweet. Watch for processed foods with added sweetener, though.
After reading that, I did what any mature, healthy food-seeking, challenge-loving person would do. I immediately messaged Rachael and Leah on Twitter and told them that they were crazy for thinking I could give up sugar. And then I complained to Brian about it. And then I overthought every food choice I made for 2 days (one of which I spent eating ice cream and chocolate). I mean, I grew up in a house where we always had dessert after dinner. I’m the type of girl who has m&m’s in her purse “in case of an emergency”. I’m still confused about why Brian doesn’t sweeten the iced tea (though I drink it either way). I enjoy going meatless. I try not buy things that contain High Fructose Corn Syrup. I like cooking from scratch. I buy low-salt whenever I can. And yet, asking me to give up sweetener for a day seemed ridiculous and impossible.
Then I did it: I gave up added sweetener for an entire day. And I made some interesting observations in the process.
- Some really good foods don’t contain sugar (at least as far as this challenge was concerned). Produce is yummy. Soy sauce, herbs and seasonings (cinnamon, adobo, etc) can go a long way adding the flavor sugarless meals are missing. Plain yogurt, oatmeal, rice and nuts are also good choices.
- Some foods you might not expect do contain sugar. We were rather shocked to find that all of the varieties of Campbell’s Selects Soup which we purchase (because I thought they were so virtuous) contain sugar! And our lone can of condensed Campbell’s Tomato Soup has High Fructose Corn Syrup! All the Chobani flavored yogurt has sugar (not surprising, but still saddening).
- I missed tea. Granted, I had my morning cup of tea, but after 2 days of attempting black tea without sugar, I opted for green tea on the day of my official challenge. And it made me sad, because tea (with milk and sugar) is one of my favorite things-a staple, a comfort, part of my routine. Tea without sugar just doesn’t do it for me.
- Not everything needs sugar. I wasn’t thrilled with my morning oatmeal. I gave up putting sugar on it some time ago, but the dried cranberries I use are sweetened, so I went without them. I substituted a diced apple, but it wasn’t the same. Nevertheless, I could probably get used to it. And I didn’t even have to think about leaving sugar out of my dinner-the original meal I’d planned (stir-fry) didn’t have any.
In the end, I’m much more aware of what products in my pantry contain sugar, whether it makes sense or not. Lunch and dinner were fine, it was breakfast and snacking that was difficult. I craved sugar, but I think that was mainly a product of the fact that I knew I couldn’t have any. Given the realization that so many products contain sugar (or other sweeteners), I should probably be more thoughtful about what I add sugar to (in other words…I could probably shovel a little less into my tea).