Sugar-Free September

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Today we come to the end of the fascinating social experiment that was Sugar-Free September.

As you know, I generally live a very low-sugar life. I use maple syrup and honey as sweeteners. Sugar makes me feel ick if I eat any meaningful amount of it. And super-sweet foods no longer appeal to me.

But I decided that Sugar-Free September should be a household-wide experiment. Matt was fairly enthusiastic. The children, predictably, were less so.

We started out well, with honey and apple muffins in their lunch boxes. Finding breakfast cereals they liked without sugar was a particular challenge, and there was NOTHING in ALDI that fit the bill. We ended up going to Woollies for Vita Brits for Rohan, while sourdough toast and vegemite was Callum’s breakfast of choice. Most breakfast cereals, even ‘healthy’ ones with wholegrains, are loaded with added sugar.

My own breakfast is usually a kefir smoothie, with fruit and grains. But sugarless breakfasts can be fun too. On weekends we had sourdough pancakes with banana and goats cheese, or bacon and eggs. So many ways to have a yum breakfast without the sugar.

School lunches were fairly easy to conquer, but the wheels fell off on Footy Day, when the PFA gave out donuts. This was the first real taste of deprivation for the boys. Callum bravely declined to order a donut, only to have his teacher set a task involving counting and comparing different colour M&Ms. He ended up giving his share of lollies to a friend. Rohan ordered a donut, probably hoping I wouldn’t bring the subject up, and after much soul searching and actual tears he gave his donut to a friend. Nobody died. We had apple crumble and cream that night for dessert.

What the boys did have trouble with, was telling people why they were declining certain foods. Having to say no to lollies or cake on the school bus was a particular issue for them. Callum reported that some of his friends were ‘being dicks’, waving sweet treats under his nose, but some of them were really good about it. The more supportive kids were the ones he handed his sugary contraband to.

Right in the middle of the month, Rohan attended a sleepover party. We talked ahead of time about what he would do, and I told him to just be mindful and see what options he had. There were no sugarless drinks supplied. Dinner was a barbecue, which he filled up on, but he didn’t want to turn down birthday cake or miss out on a toasted marshmallow. Otherwise he mostly ‘ate heaps of chips’ and left the lollies alone.

When asked about it, the boys reported ‘resisting temptation’ as the most difficult thing about going sugar free. They found it easy enough to avoid sugar at home, but much more of a challenge when at school or out and about.

They were surprised at how many everyday foods had added sugar. But going forward, they both think they will eat less sugary things.

Matt found it fairly easy, for the most part, and was able to stay away from the vending machines at work. I don’t know what the scales have to say, but he definitely looks like he has lost some weight.

For me, it was quite a challenge feeding everyone. It is pretty easy to go sugar-free on your own, but keeping a family satisfied without refined sugar takes some thought and preparation. Breakfast and lunchbox options needed to be re-examined. A hedgehog slice or choc-chip cookies, even home made ones, are full of sugar. The sourdough bread is unsweetened, but breadmaker recipes use sugar as an important ingredient which can’t just be left out.

Sugar-free recipes tend to also be dairy, egg and gluten free. I have no quarrel with wheat flour, and milk and eggs are a big part of our diet. Finding recipes that swapped out refined sugar without getting too far away from the basic recipe was not at all easy. Some I managed to adapt by myself. Some of the natural/organic/raw/paleo type recipes were complete disasters. The honey and apple muffins turned out great. The excellent sugarless chocolate recipe I was given, while high in fat, made a great chocolate substitute and was a very satisfying snack that could knock the munchies on the head with a couple of bites.

Turning a household away from refined sugar permanently would be a huge challenge in this world of fast food, basics that are unnecessarily sweetened and lollies as rewards. I think despite the tears and frustrations we all learned a lesson and got a bit of a look at just how big a place sugar has made for itself in our society. Getting my kids to believe that natural fats are good for you, but sugar is bad for your health has not been easy when the media and food marketing continue to use ‘99% fat free’ to suggest that certain foods are healthy, even if they are mostly made of sugar.

Tomorrow we will go out for ice-cream, I might even have some, and that will be another lesson in the experiment. Will the kids go sugar mad now that Sugar-Free September is over? Or will we all carry that niggling thought that maybe we should put down that chocolate bar, have an apple instead of a muffin and enjoy the natural sweetness and flavour of unsweetened foods?

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