Family goes for a year without sugar

Inspired by a video exploring the damage caused by sugary foods, one family went without sugar for an entire year—and lived to tell about it.

Freelance writer Eve Schaub had always been interested in food and health, but it wasn’t until watching a video by Dr. Robert Lustig, “The Skinny on Obesity,” where the University of San Francisco pediatric endocrinologist detailed the dangers of fructose on the body, that she decided to make a change for her family.

“This was like all of a sudden someone had pulled back the curtain and I was seeing things in a way I’d never seen before,” Schaub, of Pawlet, Vermont, told “Everywhere you go there’s food… and everywhere there’s food, there’s sugar. I wanted to do something that wouldn’t just impact our family, but others as well.”

In 2011, Schaub, her husband Stephen and daughters Greta and Ilsa, ages 11 and 6 at the time, embarked on a year of sugar-free eating. Schaub blogged about the time and now has a newly published book, “The Year of No Sugar.”

Fruit, not fructose
As Schaub and her family embarked on their challenge, the focused primarily on eliminating fructose, or fruit sugars, from their diet.

In her book, Schaub explains that when the body processes fructose, the liver produces uric acid and fatty acids. Too much of these byproducts can lead to gout, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, and obesity.

“You could go your entire life and never have fructose and be okay,” she said. “Fructose doesn’t register. You eat and still feel hungry, but still want more, that’s the danger.”

However, whole fruits, which contain fiber and micronutrients, were allowed.

“That’s really the best way to have fructose, in its original container… the way nature meant to have it,” Schaub said.

While Schaub considered herself to be generally healthy, she realized she was actually making a lot of assumptions about the ingredients in the foods she was purchasing.

“I thought, ‘I know what’s in tortilla,’ but I didn’t know! I started being really militant about reading absolutely everything I’d been missing,” she said.

The biggest grocery challenges for the family were finding replacements for fruit juice and bread. Many foods are sweetened with fruit juices and only one out of the 250 varieties of bread at their local supermarket did not have added sugar. However, after doing some research and finding the brands and products they could trust, shopping was much easier.

“When I first went shopping, it took twice as long as it used to, but that quickly went away,” Schaub said.

The family also discovered that even basic cooking ingredients contained hidden reservoirs of the sweet stuff.

“I’d go to make a recipe that called for Worcester sauce, but ingredients have ingredients! Worcester sauce has sugar!” she said.

Dealing with cravings
Going without sugar gave Schaub the chance to understand her food cravings better. In the past, she used food as a reward, a consolation, to mark an occasion. But, during the year of no sugar, Schaub found non-food-related ways to fill emotional needs.

After a couple weeks, the family adapted to their new diet and cravings lessened.  They also instituted a rule – partly designed to keep all members on board –  that they could eat one sugary treat a month. But over time, they found they didn’t even need it.

“We went for so long without, when we had it again, it tasted too sweet, too syrupy, not desirable. We had a bad reaction,” Schaub said.

Interest in their monthly treat started to wane as early as spring and summer, but by fall, felt more like a chore. In September, her husband requested she make a favorite banana cream pie. After three bites, Schaub had a pounding headache, had to lie down and brush her teeth to get the sugary taste out.

Being healthy without going overboard
Throughout the year, Schaub and her husband made a conscious decision not to focus on weight-loss related to their sugar-free diet – partly to ensure that their two daughters didn’t take the wrong message from the experiment. Though they consulted with a physician before starting the plan, they didn’t take baseline blood tests or weigh themselves during the year.

“The last thing we wanted to do is to encourage [our daughters] not to eat, to encourage anyone else not to eat,” Schaub said.

After their year ended, Schaub struggled with figuring out what the family’s new “rules” would be and what moderation now meant for her family. Now, they continue to avoid products containing unnecessary sugars (such as crackers, sausage, tortillas), and when they do have treats, she finds herself satisfied after just a few bites.

Overall, the year taught Schaub and her family that it’s important to read every ingredient, question foods people tell you are ‘healthy,’ and avoid drinking sugar.

“Then you can make their own choices but have the information you need,” she said.