Yesterday we finally ran out of regular sugar… and a bunch of other thoughts on sugar and food

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I thought I’d provide an update and a few reflections on my no-buying-sugar-for-the-year quest.

In some ways the changes from it have proven to be more gradual than I expected.  In other ways, the changes have proven to be much deeper and far-reaching than I expected.

I figured that not buying sugar would quickly equate to not having sugar in the house.  I didn’t take into account exactly how much we had to start with.

When I say that we finally ran out, I mean that we finally used up the small bag of refined white sugar we had that was actually labeled ‘sugar’.  We still have some sugar-containing things.

Remaining are two jars of honey, three(!) bags of powdered sugar, half a jar of molasses, a little bit of a jug of syrup, part of a bottle of chocolate syrup and part of  a small box of sugar cubes.

I don’t know why there are so many bags of powdered sugar.  It’s not even something that I use that often.  Although perhaps that is exactly why. At this rate, it may be a few more months until the house is really empty of sugar.  Or some things, like the powdered sugar, may just hang around for the whole year.

It can be so hard to pass up sugary things at restaurants.  And despite my goal, a few times I have gotten things with sugar anyway. 

I intended for this to be something that I stuck to 100%.  But it just hasn’t turned out that way.  There have been a few times that for whatever reason, I just went for a sugary thing.  There was the blueberry scone that I just couldn’t resist one morning at the coffee shop and a handful of other incidents.

I guess by saying that I couldn’t resist it, I am selling myself short.  Surely I could have resisted.  But I didn’t.

It seems best not to dwell over-much on my few slips and to instead take it as a point of knowledge making me aware of how much sugar is out there and the incredible pull that it can have on my brain.

Speaking of awareness, I am so much more aware of the amount of sugar in so many of the foods available.

Now that I am looking for it, it seems to be absolutely everywhere.  Cake, cookies, ice cream, cheese cake, soda, muffins, syrup on pancakes, jam, and all sorts of other things.  Then there are the things that we don’t even think of as sweet foods: yogurts, salad dressings, spaghetti sauce, lunch meat, breads, bacon, most of the supposedly ‘healthy’ breakfast cereals, et cetera.

It’s sick to realize how saturated our food is with the stuff.

Since I’ve been reading ingredient lists obsessively, I’ve also become disgusted by many of the other ingredients that are listed.

I read the ingredients that were in a bottle of ranch dressing I had hanging around and when I really thought about what was in there, well, the ranch ended up chunked in the trash.  No thanks.

The cereal aisle is packed with cereal all the way down the aisle, with nothing but cereal from the floor to the tippy top of the shelf.  There are dozens of types of cereal.  The only two boxes I could find without sugar as an ingredient were Grape Nuts and shredded mini-wheats.  Even some of the things that seemed hopeful like the plain cheerios and the corn flakes had sugar.

Crackers were the same way.  The only ones I could find without sugar were Triscuits.  I don’t even really like Triscuits, but I bought them anyway.  Perhaps I don’t like them because they don’t have sugar, but I think it has to do with their strange woven texture.  Maybe they’ll grow on me though.

Ironically, after searching for sugar-free cereal, I would then take it home and sprinkle sugar on it.  This will have to stop now that I’m actually really out of sugar.  But I’m not sure I can imagine cereal without it.  I may just go without eating cereal at all from here on out.

Even putting sugar on things like Grape Nuts feels better than buying cereals already loaded with it because I am in control of how much goes on there… even if I put on too much. 

Despite the remaining bits of sugary things in the house here and there, my overall level of sugar consumption has dropped a lot.  No more Costco sized cheesecakes.  No more Eggos with syrup.  No more ice cream or boxes of sweet breakfast cereals.  Other than the few slips, I order things like omelettes instead of things like french toast when we eat out and I don’t get desert.

I feel notably less crazed for sugar.  I don’t have intense cravings any more and my brain just feels calmer about it. 

If I think about cheesecake, it certainly still sounds good.  It doesn’t make me feel like I need it though.  Walking past the cheesecake section at Costco doesn’t evoke a feeling of longing.  The thoughts of cheesecake don’t even show up all that often anymore.

Unfortunately, I will still eat too much sugar given the opportunity.  Especially if I’m hungry. 

At a recent celebration, there was a selection of cupcakes, cookies and brownies.  I felt the need to try one of each and then go back for a second of some of them.  I do think this may have been as much about the fact that I hadn’t had dinner as it was about wanting the sugar.

I also ate half a dozen donuts one day when my sister invited me to the donut shop.  This was not justified by hunger.  It simply had to do with binging on donuts.

When I do eat too much sugar, my sugar cravings start to come back very rapidly. 

The day after eating the donuts, I definitely wanted more donuts.  After eating the cupcakes, I wanted more cupcakes.  I might have even eaten a few more if nobody had been there to see!

It’s crazy just how addictive sugar really is.

My focus on sugar has led me to start learning more about the effects of sugar and about more general food-related topics.

I read some articles online about quitting sugar and all of the scary things that sugar does to one’s health.  Then I read a library book about it. (I’m not trying to convert anybody, so I have no plans on discussing the ‘evils of sugar’ here.  My own desire to have way less of it in my life is motivated more by my experience craving sugar than by any of the proven health risks.)

Then one day when I was searching for books on sugar, Michael Pollan’s name came up.  I had heard it before a few times, but never read any of his writing.  He mentions sugar quite a bit, but his books cover a much wider variety of food topics than sugar.  I won’t go into the details here other than to say that I would highly recommend any of his books and ‘Cooked’ has been one of the most fascinating things I’ve read lately.

This focus on food in general has started me searching for more wholesome foods and becoming more involved in what I eat.

I’ve been baking bread.  After learning about the things Michael Pollan had to say about flour and baking bread, I tracked down a five gallon bucket of fresh ground whole wheat to start using in my bread.  (The flour has it’s own story which may have to go in another post.)

I decided I wanted to get back to eating fresh, local eggs.  I remembered an experience I had quite some time back.  Somebody I knew with chickens had given me a few fresh eggs.  I made scrambled eggs with a couple of the fresh eggs and a couple of store bought eggs.

Looking at them side by side in the pan, the difference was striking.  The yolks of the fresh eggs were a rich yellowish orange color.  The yolks of the store eggs were pastel washed-out yellow color in comparison.  I felt sure that the fresh eggs were eggs as they were meant to be.  The store eggs were a pale comparison, probably lacking in vitamins and nutrients.

(Interestingly, store eggs often boast of their chickens being vegetarian fed like it’s a good thing.  Chickens are supposed to be omnivores.  They like to roam around and eat bugs.)

Anyway, I started looking online to figure out where I could get fresh eggs in Albuquerque and somebody had posted that they got theirs at the DeSmet dairy.  I had once heard this dairy mentioned in a conversation, but hadn’t given it much thought at the time.

Researching the eggs led to a trip to the local dairy to see the cows and stock up on fresh eggs, fresh milk (both raw and pasteurized) and fresh yogurt.  I cannot remember ever having raw milk before.

I met the lady that owns the dairy with her husband.  I met the cows.  I saw the cows being milked.  I saw the field where the cows eat real grass instead of grain feed.

OK, cows are a little gross and it felt a little weird to watch the process.  Milk is one of those things that most of us would rather not think too much about.

Maybe our food is something that we should think about.  If we’re not comfortable with the whole process that it has gone through to get to us, maybe we shouldn’t eat it.  

I’m a lot more comfortable thinking about the milk from the happy, local cows than from the cows at the giant dairies where they’re crammed in together, given antibiotics, fed things cows aren’t meant to eat with who knows what else happening that I don’t want to know about.

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