Many people who have cut back on sugar say they find their new eating habits more pleasurable. We interviewed Kim, designer and developer at TAKINOA, who has started to cut added sugars out of her diet as much as possible.
Added sugars, of one kind or another, are almost everywhere in the modern diet. But it’s entirely possible to eat less sugar without sacrificing many — if any — of the pleasures of eating. A typical adult should not eat more than 50 grams (or about 12 teaspoons) of added sugars per day, closer to 25 is healthier.
Actually, it’s been even longer than that! This journey started in the summer of 2021 for me… COVID was still very present and – like with so many others during this time – I became more and more aware of my physical and mental health. I wanted to feel clean and in control of my health.
I’ve always been sensitive to processed and sugary foods. My brothers and I grew up in the US, where there is sugar in pretty much everything. As kids, our mom had a little cabinet full of sweet treats. Unfortunately, these were not meant for us, but for a childhood friend who was diabetic and visited our house regularly – occasionally he would need these sweets to manage his blood sugar levels. So, whenever he came over, we would watch our mom reach up to open the cabinet, take out what we at that point thought to be delicious and off-limits snacks, and give them to our friend. At that time this felt like torture – now of course, we are all grateful to have had our sugar consumption limited. I remember this one day where our mom picked us up from school with doughnuts, as a surprise. Of course, inevitably, this led to a total sugar overdose – our bodies noticeably wanted nothing to do with the doughnuts. So maybe my sugar-free journey started more like 20 years ago?
As an adult I would often feel bad or even a bit sick if I ate something too sugary or too indulgent. So when COVID hit and it became more important to me to strengthen my immune system, cutting out sugar almost seemed like the obvious first step. I started checking labels to see if the items contained sugar and was surprised to see how many of the products we consume on a daily basis are full of it. Learning that companies put sugar in so many items is something I couldn’t just unlearn. So now I’m that person in the store reading every single product label. Gaining more awareness about what I put in my body – even aside from sugar – has really been the biggest shift for me.
I suppose the benefits vary from person to person. For me personally there were things that changed pretty quickly, like my skin clearing up, or my energy levels stabilizing, since there were no more massive spikes or crashes due to excessive sugar consumption. But more than that, cutting out sugar has made me more intentional and proactive with what I put into my body. It’s almost like a new-found and much deeper respect for my body on the one hand, but also for unprocessed, high-quality, local and seasonal products on the other. Cooking has become a bigger (and very fun) part of my life, since this way I can easily control what put into my food.
I really believe that this process is more about understanding what’s in the products you consume daily than anything else – so actually becoming aware as a first step. More concretely though, I started by cutting out the obvious things like sweet drinks and sweet snacks. Our bodies are addicted to sugar, so the first three weeks are the most difficult – after that it just gets easier. With time (and a lot of label reading) I slowly started to also drop products that have even a little bit of sugar. My goal was to consume as few processed products as possible, since these not only often times contain added sugars, but also have little to no nutritional value. At some point my mindset switched and it became a fun challenge to find alternatives! Fruits obviously became a great relief during sugar cravings. Even though they of course contain fructose, they deliver so many great things at the same time, such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fibers, etc. – and all of a sudden I noticed that I would feel “all sugared out” after a pear. Never thought I would say that.
Additionally to the points I mentioned before, I think it’s about sustainable change – I would rather be “good” 75% of the time for a long time, than be “good” 100% of the time, but just for a month. For me it made a huge difference that I didn’t give myself too much of a hard time if I wasn’t perfect all the time. If I went to a friend’s house for dinner and they served me a delicious sugary dessert, I would be excited to eat it and I enjoyed every second of it! At the beginning I was probably a bit more strict, since I was also working on kicking the sugar addiction. Now I feel that the key to me being able to keep my sugar consumption low in a sustainable way hasn’t been completely forbidding it, but trying my best to keep my sugar consumption low, while continuing to learn more about myself and what sugar does to me. This has actually made the process so much easier for me personally, because the drive to change now comes more from the inside and less from the outside. So I suppose taking it step by step, learning about the products you consume, understanding your body and being nice to yourself during the process!