One-week challenge: (added) sugar

by | Dec 31, 2013

Added Sugar

Added Sugar

Last month, I introduced a one-week challenge asking participants to eliminate dairy products and have them track their process.  The results can be found here.

This time around, I find it fitting, since many of us have probably overindulged on sweets during the holidays (including yours truly because even those of us who know better don’t always do better), that the one-week challenge be to minimize or eliminate all sugars and syrups that are added to food during processing or preparation. In other words, if it’s listed as a separate ingredient on the food label, it’s an added sugar and should be avoided during this challenge. You can find out more about what is considered an added sugar on the USDA website.

As I’ve mentioned before, experimenting through trial and error is a great way to figure out what may or may not work for a person. Not many other food products have such high health risks—with the scientific evidence to back it up—as added sugar does. According to the American Heart Association, “[e]xcessive consumption of sugars has been linked with several metabolic abnormalities and adverse health conditions, as well as shortfalls of essential nutrients,” so I invite you to join me for one week, from Thursday, 1/2/14 – Wednesday, 1/8/14, to find out how we react to eliminating sugar from our diet. As a thank you, anyone who participates in this challenge will be entered into a random drawing to win a FREE one-hour nutrition consultation with me ($125 US value).

What you need to know: while we will be focusing mostly on eliminating added sugar during this challenge, naturally occurring sugars can sometime cause problematic spikes in a person’s blood/glucose levels, especially for anyone with insulin resistance. Naturally occurring sugars will not be listed on a product’s label (such as lactose in a carton of milk or fructose in a package of frozen blueberries) and whole fruits and vegetables don’t come with a label, so I’ve created a list here that you can refer to if you’d like to cut back on some of the foods that have higher-than-preferable amounts of naturally occurring sugar in them. My personal rule of thumb is not to eat—or eat in extreme moderation—anything with more than 15g of sugar in the “sugars” column or with a score of 11 or higher in the “glycemic load” column because these will add up over the course of daily servings and I likes me fruits and veggies. A more comprehensive list can be found here, thanks to Harvard University. 

What you need to substitute: while added sugar is a carbohydrate and supplies you with 4 calories per gram of energy, it does not contribute to your daily nutrients, so there’s nothing you’ll need to substitute to make sure you’re getting the vitamins and minerals you need.

Should you choose to take part in this challenge, please e-mail me or enter a note in the comments below. I will ask you to take a starting weight (which you will not share publicly) and keep a daily log of your progress including any issues that arise or seem to lessen. You may document your progress in the comments here daily, if you wish, though, at the end of the challenge, I will send you an anonymous survey to complete and then post the results on this blog.

Thanks in advance to those of you interested in participating. I look forward to seeing what this challenge holds for us!

Photo credit: Calorie Count


  1. Katie (@katalia)

    Oops, I forgot to link to the brownie recipe I referenced above.

    They really do taste like fudgey brownies — note if you use peanuts as the nuts/nut butter, you will want to add more oil since peanuts don’t have as much oil as hazelnuts. I have successfully made them with almond butter/grapeseed oil and peanuts/grapeseed oil in the past. Peanuts are nice because you get the peanut butter chocolate combo!

  2. Katie (@katalia)

    Day 7 (early): Man, giving up sugar this time around has been harder for me. Not because I eat a lot of processed foods with sugar in them, but mainly because my sweet tooth has been acting up … I’ve been craving my smoothies that don’t have sugar but do use honey/agave. I’ve been craving greek yogurt with honey (which is funny because I don’t eat yogurt much anymore … cheese is my main dairy habit that I just can’t kick). I’ve been craving anything with a little oomph of sweetness. I think it’s because my normal eating habits and daily routines got so out of whack over the holidays that my body is just off. I am getting back on track, though, and am glad to have this challenge to jump start that. I am also doing a whole foods cleanse starting in a couple weeks, so it’s been nice to get the sugar out of my system ahead of that. I may make the sugar-free “Marry Me Brownies” to celebrate the end of my sugar-free week. They’re damn tasty without added sugar, but they do have agave and stevia (I don’t like stevia, but it’s not too bad in this recipe). When I cook for myself, I gravitate toward recipes that use maple syrup, honey, or agave instead of processed sugar … I hope to at least stick with that for the foreseeable future.

    Thanks Dina for facilitating this week!

    • DishWithDina

      Katie, I am celebrating by diving into a bucket of Nutella when this is over, so I support your brownie-making and loved the recipe! (I may play with it a bit one day–maybe use mashed banana or avocado or applesauce. Will keep you posted.)

  3. DishWithDina

    Well, today, I’m feeling it–the cravings and the munchies. It could just be boredom, but I’ve been really busy all day, so I don’t think that’s it. Perhaps I am, indeed, coming off the perpetual sugar high I’ve been on since 1987 when I ate everything in my friend Lisa’s house after our high school graduation parties and then just kept going. What strikes me right at this moment, however, is how fearful I’ve become of the end of this challenge. Much like giving up smoking, it’s hard to be moderate with something I’ve been addicted to for so long, so it’s best just to walk away and not look back. The issue here, though, is that it might be a challenge to replace or do away with entirely some of the foods I enjoy that have added sugars, albeit low amounts, like my maple-nut oatmeal and dark chocolate. Is it possible I can have it both ways when all is said and done? We shall find out…

  4. DishWithDina

    Day Three: Thanks again to the snow and cold weather outdoors to keep me from giving into any sugar cravings today. Actually, the cravings haven’t been that bad. I think it’s more the habit than the addiction for me and I’m feeling pretty good about spending time looking up and preparing healthful recipes instead. Unfortunately, I have a sinus headache today (I don’t believe it’s from sugar withdrawal), so I can’t tell just yet if any symptoms have arisen or been alleviated. To be continued…

  5. DishWithDina

    I hear ya, Katie! Today’s been going well for me so far. Even though I’m always eating something sugary at some point during any given day, Fridays are usually “treat night.” The saving grace is that there’s too much snow and it’s too chilly to venture outdoors after dinner for dessert, so I am glad for that.

  6. Katie (@katalia)

    I’ve given up sugar quite a few times over the past few years both as part of elimination diet challenges in partnership with my healthcare provider and because I decided to focus on whole foods because my eating habits were a bit out of control. Giving up sugar is usually a huge challenge for me … I have a sweet tooth! But, my most-recent sugar-free challenge started in early October of 2013, and that time around it was much easier to stick with. I found myself craving sweets less and less, and having to use fewer “crutches” such as dried fruits and honey. After a few weeks I didn’t have any cravings and was in a fairly sustainable place of avoidance. However, with the holiday season, my sugar consumption definitely increased, so I am excited to go back to being sugar-free this week. So far, it hasn’t been much of a struggle, but I need to remember to be mindful of what I am putting in my mouth … while my house is full of whole foods and healthy snacks, not all of them are 100% free of added sugar.

  7. Creature_NYC

    I can attest to the “raging sweet tooth.” Good luck!

  8. DishWithDina

    Day One: anyone who knows me knows I have a raging sweet tooth, so this challenge is especially important to me because I want to finally break myself out of this addiction (dessert three times a day is not normal). This morning was easy as I don’t normally put sweetener in my coffee or tea, but, after lunch and dinner, I usually crave a little something-something. I don’t want to focus on it–mind over matter–but I’m prepared to struggle a little and my strategy will be to remind myself I’m trying to eat healthfully, so stay tuned…

I’m Dina R. D’Alessandro, MS, RDN, CDN. I am a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in New York City, and I provide nutrition counseling to women.

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