Why (and how) we cut out refined sugar.

Salted Caramel Cookie Crumble Bars from the Paleo Baking at Home cookbook

Sugar is everywhere, hiding in places you'd never think to look (like bone broth, bread, savory sauces).  Sugar is a known neurotoxin, linked to anxiety, weight gain, heart disease, and even cancer. If a food or drink is processed at all, it likely contains sugar. If you read labels, refined sugar can masquerade by many different names including white sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, and sweeteneres ending in "-ose" (including fructose, maltose, sucrose, dextrose). 

When I was pregnant with our son, Liam, in 2012, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. I was already a pretty healthy eater (or so I thought), so the diagnosis came as a surprise. But when I started reading labels and realizing how many grams of sugar I was inadvertently consuming, I realized I needed to make a change. What I didn't realize at the time is how cutting back my sugar intake would revolutionize how I felt from day to day. 

There is a lot of research available on the neurotoxic effects of sugar, including its strong link to anxiety. Here's one article you might find helpful. Having experienced anxiety and now no longer dealing with it, I couldn't agree with this more. 

Fast forward to today. I cut out refined sugar from my diet about 3 years ago, and my family has been refined sugar free for over a year now. We've noticed we don't get sick nearly as often as we did (honestly, hardly at all). We have more balanced moods with no blood sugar crashes. We all have more energy. We experience less cravings. For us, this small change has paid off in big ways. And with the natural sweeteners we now use, we don't even miss it!

For me personally, I've experienced more regular monthly cycles, less bloating, and so much more energy. Until you really become intentional about learning how much sugar you're consuming, you may not know!

What do we use to sweeten foods? 

Instead of refined sugar, we primarily use honey, pure maple syrup, and coconut sugar. All three are lower on the glycemic index scale than refined sugar, so they have less impact on blood sugar levels. (Side note: Agave nectar used to be a popular choice, but research now shows it closely mimics refined sugar as it is high in fructose, so isn't a great alternative.) You'll quickly find that if you're substituting these natural sweeteners into recipes in place of sugar, you may not need to use quite as much as these sweeteners taste sweeter. 

For baking recipes that call for sugar, we usually substitute a combination of maple syrup and coconut sugar, and usually less than the recipe calls for. You may need to do some trial and error with your favorite recipes to see what works. But be encouraged that even our 11-year-old (who loves to bake) has been able to successfully bake all of our favorites by substituting natural sweeteners. 

What are brands that don't contain added sugar?* 

  • We love Simple Mills products for snacks. They use natural ingredients (including sweeteners), and they taste amazing!
  • For baking, we use Lily's Chocolate Chips (they come in a variety of flavors and taste delicious!).  
  • We enjoy Nutpods coffee creamer for at-home lattes. And instead of expensive coffee shop drinks, we make coffee and tea at home and sweeten them with honey or maple syrup.
  • Hu Chocolate is sweetened with coconut sugar and their chocolate bars are so good. 
  • We are enjoying this paleo baking cookbook—Paleo Baking at Home—that Liam got for Christmas. None of the recipes contain sugar, but they are all sweet and taste so good! Our son Liam's goal this year is to bake through the entire cookbook! He's six recipes in with about fifty to go. 
  • We use jam that's sweetened with fruit sugar
  • For salad dressing, I love Primal Kitchen brand
  • We've made this Healthier Twix Bar recipe multiple times using Lily's chocolate. It's sweetened with date paste in the middle and is such a treat! 

*Be cautious about "sugar-free" labels. Generally, those contain artificial sweeteners like aspartame, which could have links to cancer and other health issues.

But what do we do at restaurants or when eating at friends' houses? 

We do our best to avoid sugar, but we know going in that we will likely consume sugar somewhere (even if we try to avoid it by not ordering dessert) and that's ok. If I do eat dessert, I expect to have a sugar crash... and it definitely feels more pronounced than when I was consuming sugar regularly. 

Final thoughts: 

This is just our journey, not health advice. But maybe it should be. ;) If you're interested in this, I do recommend cutting sugar out completely for at least two weeks to see if you notice a difference!

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