I have always laughed at people who suggest, in all seriousness, that fruit should be considered dessert. A slice of chocolate cake is dessert. Talenti banana chocolate swirl ice cream is dessert. But apples and peanut butter? Or frozen grapes? Insert eye roll here.
And yet, I found myself making a bowl of blueberries topped with unsweetened Greek yogurt and cinnamon as a nightcap multiple times over the past month, all in an effort to avoid added sweeteners (including artificial ones—more on that later) for 31 days.
Let me back up a bit. By the end of last year, I craved Halo Top or ice cream most nights after dinner…and gave into that craving more often than I’d like to admit.
So I decided to take control of the situation by doing the sugar-holic’s equivalent of dry January: a no-added-sugar January.
The “added” part is key—fruit and other foods with naturally occurring sugars were okay. The USDA recommends getting no more than 10 percent of your calories from added sugars—which comes out to a max of 40 grams if you’re eating about 1,600 calories a day. (The average American exceeds that daily limit by about 30 percent, according to the most recent stats.)
Whereas a banana’s sugar comes with nutrients like potassium and fiber, the high-fructose corn syrup in something like soda is just empty calories. “They don’t really give your body anything of value,” says Angela Lemond, R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. And, bummer alert, they can put you at a higher risk for scary conditions like diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and cancer.
Artificial sweeteners (like aspartame or stevia) and alcohol sugars (like erythitrol) aren’t necessarily better. While anything approved by the FDA is, in fact, safe, Lemond says these sugar substitutes can cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea. She adds that some research suggests artificial sweeteners may increase cravings for sweet foods. (Hmmm, so perhaps my semi-recent diet soda habit had something to do with my adult-onset sweet tooth?)
My goal with this challenge was to “reset” my taste buds so that I didn’t feel like such a slave to my cravings—and Lemond says I was onto something: “We crave what we eat, so if we start slowly changing the types of foods that we’re eating, you’re going to find that your taste buds will change.”
I figured that if I noticed any other positive effects in the process, hey, all the better.
So I had one last cookie on New Year’s Eve and braced myself. Here’s how my month of no-added-sugars went.