bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


#Sugarfree me


Now that it’s over, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts and experiences during my sugar-free experience.

After one week:

It’s been much easier than I expected. The biggest challenges have been mornings and dessert after supper. There are only two cold cereals available that don’t have any added sugar so I’ve been relying on smoothies (my maximum one serving of fruit a day), steel cut oats, and toast (no sugar) with natural peanut butter. Instead of my usual small glass of coconut water, I’ve been having plain kefir. For morning snacks at work, instead of fruit or a bar, I’ve been having cheese and crackers (again, not many without added sugar, low sodium triscuits fit the bill), vegetables and hummus, avocado with Herbamare, or mixed nuts. After supper I’d been in the habit of having a cookie or some chocolate. I must confess that I’ve been snacking on chips far too often in the evenings since giving up sugar. However, I find that teas work as a great substitute for a sugary snack. I’m loving the Stash chocolate orange, Traditional Medicinals organic ginger and some of the David’s teas (some have sugar so I have to be careful).

While I can give up sugar, I can’t give up baking on my days off. Instead of something sweet I made crackers (rosemary gruyere puffs) one day. They were so yummy! Who needs sugar? That being said, I’ve already planned my Easter Sunday baking: a recipe for lemon sticky buns I saw recently. Mmmm….

While I haven’t felt too much like I’m missing out, I think that my subconscious may be missing sweet treats as I’ve had a couple of dreams where I scarf down cookies, either in guilty defiance of my self-imposed sugar ban or forgetting about it entirely. Very interesting. I can’t recall ever dreaming about secret cookie snacking before.

One evening my boyfriend picked up the evening take-out from The Canteen (a delicious local sandwich shop that also does a different take-away most evenings). The meal included dessert, some sort of profiteroles by the looks of it. He had forgotten about my sugar ban so he lucked into two desserts. I was a little bit envious, but had some tea and Beanitos to compensate.

Two weeks in:

Why do I follow so many people on twitter who tweet links and photos of delicious baked goods? I’ve been emailing myself lots of links to recipes to try after this experiment is over.

Have purchased a new herbal tea. Some kind of berry flavoured thing. It’s pretty tasty.

Sorry if this is TMI but… I usually have terrible cramps when I get my period. Debilitating. This month, I had some slight cramping, took one ibuprofen and they went away without resurfacing! I don’t have them horribly every month, but more months than not, so I’m not sure that this was due to my sugar free diet or just a coincidence.

I’ve heard so many people say that when you quit sugar that you’ll go through withdrawal. I haven’t experienced that. I’ve felt fine, perhaps even a little better, than usual.

Made some quick cooking oatmeal bread today, couldn’t have a day off without baking something! The recipe called for just a couple of tablespoons of honey so I omitted them and it turned out fine – yay!

Three weeks:

I’ve noticed that I follow some people who share a lot of recipes, often for sweet baked goods, on twitter. Some of these people are dietitians. While I’m amassing a collection of recipes to bake when I’m back on the sugar, I’m also questioning how appropriate it is for RDs to be sharing copious recipes for less than healthy food. It’s almost as if we feel the need to buck the stereotype of puritanical healthy eaters. Yes, we all indulge in treats, but should we be essentially pushing these foods on others?

Went to the Bulk Barn for some snacks and made the sad discovery that nuts are really the only option there for people avoiding added sugar. I love nuts but was gazing with longing at the peanut butter M&Ms and sour watermelon gummies that my boyfriend purchased. I did find some fun snacks at Winners: seeded crackers, veggie straws (not super healthy, but tasty!), roasted edamame, and sesame roasted seaweed snacks.

Eating out is a little tricky. Avoiding sauces and dressings. I don’t usually eat out very often but somehow it happened that I had three meals out over the past three days! I must confess that I decided that ignorance was bliss as far as bread products were concerned. I just couldn’t do my burger without a bun or pass up the amazing toast at brunch.

Three and a half Weeks:

ONLY TWO MORE WEEKS(ISH)! Not that I’m counting or anything… It’s really not that hard. Although, I can see how it would be difficult if I was one to use more packaged foods. Sugar is insidious in a lot of foods that you wouldn’t expect, and very high in a lot of others. It’s in nearly every cracker, cereal, snack bar, protein bar, sauce, salad dressing, etc. I nearly bought a bag of cracked black pepper chips the other day and then I saw sugar in the ingredients! Who woulda thunk?

Pinterest pushed out a list of eye roll inducing pins to me last week on how to “ditch sugar for good” and “sugar is the new fat”. Yes, most of us can stand to curb our sugar consumption but there’s no need for the fear mongering. I’m all about consuming everything in moderation and I don’t see the need to completely eliminate sugar on a permanent basis.

In my desire to bake on my day off today I made these sugar-free scones. I didn’t add the raisins because they’re concentrated sugar but I did add a few frozen berries for flavour and they turned out pretty good! Tomorrow I’m making a savoury french toast for breakfast with a sugar-free cheese beer bread I made. If nothing else, this experiment is forcing me out of my safe breakfast zone.

Four weeks:

I ate some sugar. I’m sorry. No, I’m not. We had yet another snowstorm on Wednesday and in the face of about 70 (more) centimetres of snow I said “screw it, I’m baking cookies” as one does. I made an exception for the one day. I had some Baliey’s in my coffee and about four cookies (toasted coconut cashew chocolate chip) and I regret nothing. Interestingly, I didn’t find they tasted too sweet and I didn’t feel any worse for having eaten them. I got right back on the wagon the next day. Bringing some of the remaining cookies in for coworkers and leaving the rest for my boyfriend to take care of. I regret nothing.

Week 5:

I’m ready for this adventure to be done. Sticking with it though because I’m stubborn (shocker, I know!) and because I think that the longer I do this, the easier it will be to keep my sugar intake low when I’m done.

One evening after supper I had a wicked craving for dessert; preferably chocolate. I managed to stave off the craving by eating a spoonful of peanut butter with raw cacao nibs. Not quite what my taste buds were looking for but it did the trick.

I’ve become annoyed with the fact that there is no trail mix without dried fruit or chocolate. It’s either mixed nuts or sugary trail mix. No in between. Planning on hitting up the Bulk Barn to create my own but there must be others who would like a lovely mix of nuts and seeds. Get on that food manufacturers!

Six weeks:

On the home stretch!

Did I mention that I found some chocolate in the linen pantry leftover from my Christmas bake-a-thon? I did. Pretty much right after I went sugar-free. I left it hidden there because I knew if I told my boyfriend about it he would eat it all before I could get back on the sugar. I got my period the other day (cramps and all, so much for my hope that going sugar-free was alleviating those) and he was out and I kept thinking “I could eat those Smarties and no one would ever know about it”. I didn’t though because I’m far too stubborn for that, but it was a little touch and go for a while.

If nothing else, this experiment has forced me to be more creative with breakfasts. I’m a big fan of cereal, and I usually have shredded wheat, but it’s a bit meh on its own so I would normally top it with granola. I’ve been having a lot of variations on steel cut oats and smoothies, as well as some savoury breakfasts. I also created a delicious pudding: blend together a frozen banana, heaping teaspoon of cocoa powder, a bit of canned coconut milk solids, plain yoghurt, and peanut butter. So good!

Easter Sunday:

Made those lemon sticky buns for breakfast (see photo above). Yum! It feels strange not to have any foods off limits or to have to check ingredient lists for sugar.

While I’ll be reintroducing sweets into my usual diet following this experiment, I intend to continue to be much more cognizant of the amount of sugar that I’m consuming and try to limit my total, and added sugars each day. As I always say “too much of anything is bad for you.” While I don’t believe that sugar is toxic and to be entirely eschewed, I do think that many of us, my past self included at times (including on Easter!), consume it to excess.


Follow Friday: sugar-free challenge


Photo Sugar City by What What on flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

For the past several years I’ve adopted a different diet for Lent. This year I’ve decided to try going sugar-free. To be fair, not completely sugar free. I’ll still be consuming naturally occurring sugars in foods such as fruit and yoghurt. However, I’m going to be giving up all added sugars. This means no chocolate, baked goods, candy, honey, maple syrup, dried fruit, etc. No, I’m not religious, I just find it to be a good opportunity to try new things and experience ways of living that can help me be a better dietitian.

Anyone want to try to do this with me this year?

If you’re interested, as much as I wasn’t a huge fan of the Fed-Up movie, they have some helpful resources on their website. I have a feeling that this may be the most difficult challenge yet.


National Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast and other unnecessary food holidays

Last week someone shared this tweet from the Cleveland Clinic:

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Not ideal from a provider of healthcare. I’m sure many children are getting more sugar from breakfast cereal and juice in the morning but that doesn’t excuse the fact that ice cream is not a balanced breakfast and the Cleveland Clinic should know better.

That got me to thinking about food holidays. It seems to me that most of these holidays promote unhealthy foods, foods that really need no promotion. I decided to do a little number crunching.

Based on the food holidays listed on Foodimentary, I added up all of the food holidays, all of the holidays promoting unhealthy choices, and all of the holidays promoting healthy foods. Out of 475 food holidays, 250 were for unhealthy foods (e.g. candy, doughnuts), and 81 were for healthy foods (e.g. kale, almonds). Do we really need all of these days devoted to promoting treats? How about we start a new calendar of food holidays promoting a different whole food every day? We don’t need to encourage anyone to eat ice cream, especially not for breakfast.

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The other evening I was out with my brother and his girlfriend and she stopped at Starbucks to order an iced coffee. I haven’t ordered an iced coffee in years but it reminded me of the first time that I did from a Starbucks. I ordered my iced coffee, black, got a straw, took a sip, and was surprised to find that it was sweet. I went back up to the counter, thinking that there had been some mistake, apparently there was. It was my mistake for not specifying “unsweetened”. Since when did sweetened iced coffee become the default for iced coffee? They wouldn’t automatically put sugar in a hot coffee, latte, or espresso, so why assume that customers want their cold coffee sweetened?

This is a great example of what’s wrong with the food system in North America. The healthy choice is not the easy choice. I should have to ask if I want sweet coffee. Or add the sweetener myself. It shouldn’t be the default. That sweet coffee left a bitter taste in my mouth.

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Fed Up – Movie review


I went to see the movie Fed Up last week. I think that the overall message was a good one: cook more, avoid highly processed packaged foods. Because of this, I feel a little bit torn about being critical of it. However, I feel that it’s going to be “preaching to the choir” anyhow so bringing up my issues is probably unlikely to do much to impact ticket sales. And even with my issues, it’s worth a watch.

First issue: why did they have to include so many people with quackerific tendencies (such as Mark Hyman and Robert Lustig)? Fortunately, there were some credible people with backgrounds in nutrition (such as Marion Nestle). Why were there no dietitians? I’m seeing the examples of what the obese children were eating and proclaiming as “healthy” (low-fat cereal, Special K chips, NUTELLA DIPPERS) and I’m thinking that maybe the problem here is lack of education and understanding of what “healthy” is. One of the mums was saying that they had the tools, and knew what to do, so they were going to do it on their own as her daughter was too young for Weight Watchers. Well, if those are the choices that you think are healthy, then you clearly don’t have the tools. Any dietitian could have set things straight. But no, Fed Up had to go and conflate the issue of obesity with the issue of excess sugar.

I’ve said it before, and I’m saying it again no one nutrient is to blame in the obesity epidemic. Yes, indeed, too much of anything is bad for us but sugar alone is not what’s making everyone fat. The movie even talked about the true cause: the proliferation of inexpensive calorie-dense, nutrient lacking food everywhere we go. Our food system and environment. Why on earth they had to go and lose credibility by demonizing sugar is beyond me. Suggesting that sugar is the problem only provides the food industry with the ability to provide the “solution” by creating low-sugar and sugar-free foods. I can tell you right now that, that solution is going to work just as well as the low-fat, fat-free solution did. When you visit the home page for Fed Up the first thing you see is an option to sign-up for the challenge “sugar free for 10 days”. Not, cook supper and eat as a family for 10 days. Sigh.

Even though it was only a brief moment in the film, there was mention of how chefs like Jamie Oliver are going into schools and trying to help children to get excited about preparing and eating nutritious food. Yes, this is a good thing but I question how much more Jamie Oliver is a part of the solution than he is a part of the problem. Putting aside his lack of knowledge of nutrition, and his terrible lesson of teaching children to choose oranges over chocolate bars by forcing them to run around a track to burn-off the calories from their snack of choice, have you seen how many packaged foods he has in grocery stores? If the problem is unhealthy processed foods then a chef who is profiting from sales of said foods should not be too loudly lauded for his efforts to teach children and families about cooking on tv (which he is also profiting from). I’m not sure how much this differs from the much reviled McDonald’s selling crappy food but running a lovely charity like the Ronald McDonald House.

And why, oh why, did they feel the need to say “cook real food”. This is redundant. Who is cooking fake food? Just cook.

They also brought up the “calorie is not a calorie” argument. This makes me want to tear my hair out!!! A calorie is a unit of measure. Arguing that a calorie is not a calorie is like arguing that an inch is not an inch or a kilogram is not a kilogram. Yes, you should consume foods that contain vitamins and minerals alongside the calories but that does not negate the value of a calorie.

Okay… I’m almost done… The other issue I took exception to was the evidence presented that healthy eating is less expensive than unhealthy eating. They showed the cost for a fast food meal in comparison to the cost of a home made meal consisting of a whole chicken, rice, and veg. There are a couple of problems with this. One, the cost of the meal was based on what was used to make the meal, not what all of the ingredients would actually cost. You can’t just buy the exact amount of oil, rice, spices, etc to make one meal, you would spend considerably more to buy the full containers. Someone living in poverty might not have that money. And where the heck are they getting a whole chicken for only $5 and change!? Two, it presupposes that people have the skills, time, and facilities necessary to prepare a roast chicken dinner. Sadly, many people living with food insecurity (and obesity) lack these conveniences.

Did I learn anything while watching the film? No. Did I agree with everything in the film? No. Do I think it’s a worthwhile watch? Yes. Despite all of my issues with specific content, I’m still a supporter of the overall message to cook more food at home.

After writing this post a colleague on twitter (David Despain @daviddespain) shared a link to an excellent article critiquing the science in the movie.

…After publishing this post, a colleague informed me that the authors of the article (linked above) are actually a front group for the food industry. I still think that they made some valid points in their critique of Fed Up but this is a good lesson that we should question everything.