Sugar Free for 30 Days: What Did I Learn
I went sugar free for 30 days. Well, let me clarify I went "added sugar-free" for 30 days because fruits have sugar and I love fruit! And fruits are good for you. I don't care what people say. But you might be thinking, "but Ivonne, you love donuts! How did you survive??" and you would be right. I love donuts and survival was only by a thread.
No but in all seriousness, it was difficult. Not because of my love of donuts, though that didn't make it any easier, but because of the amount of food items that have sugar added to them!
But let me take a step back and answer the other question that's probably rolling around in your head: why?
That is a good question. I went added sugar free because of my part-time job. I started working at an organization I worked at previously. They started focusing on food accessibility and health equity which is what I want to focus on in the near future and why I'm applying to grad programs so it was a perfect fit. What I didn't realize was the impact that the research that I was doing would have on me. Within the first couple of days of working there, doing research for a community meeting, I was shocked at the impact of having excess sugar in your diet can have on your body. I knew sugar was bad because it could lead to diabetes but there was so much more. Like how addictive sugar was, about as addictive as cocaine! Here's the video link that I showed the community members at the meeting. It's short and very informative. Just click here.
I realized that if I was asking community members that I was working with to reduce their sugar intake, that I had to try it out for myself. I don't like asking people to do things that I wouldn't do myself. But I thought, "I'm pretty healthy, how hard could this be?".
The Reality Check
I. WAS. SO. WRONG. Literally everything at the grocery store has added sugar: bread, non-dairy milk, pasta sauce, even ketchup. Yes, ketchup! I found that the video and research didn't exaggerate. 80% of everything in the grocery has added sugar. Along with double checking to make sure that things were vegan, we also had to start checking and make sure that things didn't have added sugar. My mind was blown. I did not realize just how much added sugar everything had. My thoughts of added sugar were donuts, soda, sugary cereal and frappucinos, all of which I hardly eat, except for donuts because, yum! But nope. It's in almost everything. Even in things that we thought were healthy and especially in processed foods which includes low- or no-fat anything. Because you know what they substitute the fat for to give it flavor: SUGAR.
After going to the grocery store the first week of our experiment, I felt a bit like it would be impossible and I have the means to support a healthy, almost fully-plant based diet. I have two grocery stores walking distance from my house. I have access to a car that I can take to drive to other grocery stores that carry more of what I want, read Berkeley Bowl which has an amazing bulk section. I started to think about the community members that I am working with. Granted, we're not asking them to go as far as I was going but we were asking them to think more about their food choices. But what happens when you really don't have a choice? When the only things walking distance from where you live are corner stores or liquor stores that only carry processed foods or very minimal fresh fruits and veggies? How do we ask people to eat differently when they can't change their situations, including where the nearest grocery stores are?
Food access is a big thing for me. I've written about it in the past on other blogs and it continues to be something that I keep in my mind. As a vegan, I ask people to lessen their meat intake for the betterment of their health, the animals and our planet. But I also do it with an understanding of our current food system and how fucked up it is. It keeps people hungry to keep market prices up. It keeps people hungry so that grains, soy and corn can be used to feed cows, pigs, chickens and other animals that end up on people's plates, only to lead them to bad health. And of course, let's not forget food swamps, which are areas and neighborhoods that have low-quality processed foods as their main source of nutrition. Putting all these layers together, no wonder people see veganism as a privileged way of life, because it is. Not just because of cost but also because of access.
Now, in my other life as a Community Organizer, I'm asking people to give up their consumption of sugar and realizing that the obstacles are the same. Processed foods have taken over in communities of color and it's hard to find anything else. To ask someone to think about their sugar consumption is setting them up to understand that what their eating is harming them and yet, they may have no other choice but to continue on the road they're eating.
Food As Politics
So, I'm done with my "no added sugar" experiment and it gave me more than I thought it would. It gave me an understanding of the obstacles that community members will possibly face as we're talking more and more about the negative impacts that sugar has on the body. But at least for me, on a personal level, I continue to be disappointed, though not surprised, by our current food system.
This journey led me to start reading more about how we got to where we're at on sugar, and just food access in general. I started reading Food Politics by Marion Nestle. Unfortunate name aside because Nestlé is the devil, it has been such an insight into food politics and why food is political. In our every day, we like to think that food is necessary; everyone must eat so to think that food is political seems counter because food is not a luxury. But unfortunately, it is. Well, at least good, healthy food is. When capitalism commodifies something that is necessary, it creates a gap, in this case a healthy food gap. This gap makes it so that rich people can afford to pay top dollar for health, while poor people are stuck buying what they can from what is within their price ranges which is usually highly-processed foods full of SUGAR! My no added sugar journey led me to further push my understanding of food systems and why I have this deep desire to change it.
Healthy food is a luxury. I believe that needs to change. As a vegan, I think this is imperative. Not only do people deserve to have healthy options and to live healthy lives but the animals that people consume because of class and access issues also deserve to live. I'm not saying that if everyone had access to fresh produce that people would be vegan or even plant-based. What I am saying is that we should support people in having access to fresh produce, no matter what they choose to eat in the end because health is a right. #freshproduceforall
No. more. added. sugar.
I got a lot from the last 30 days and I have so much more to learn. But what I learned the most is that I feel better. I sleep better. I eat less. I crave fruits more. I drink lots more water. And, of course, I'm giving a big fuck you to the corporate overlords who want me to continue eating their garbage.
Health, and particularly food, has become political to me in the last couple of years. And the way I see it is my health and self-care is radical, as the amazing Audre Lourde has been saying. The longer I live, the more time I get to work with the community, making changes to the system so that others can live quality lives.
So, no more added sugar. I'll still be eating donuts and baked goods every once and awhile because life is also about living, and eating donuts are life. But most importantly, it's really about being aware of what I'm putting in my body and finding creative ways to eat sweet treats without all the added sugar.
Have you ever given up on added sugar? What did you notice? If you haven't, are you willing to give it a try? Comment below!