Eirene suggested it just before pancake day and I thought – yea, why not? My daughter Sophie was also in for the ride (albeit encouraged by the £20 she could spend on Easter swag incentive we offered) I could do with loosing a few lb’s and cutting out sugar will help right? I didn’t expect it to be a walk in the park but some of the reasons that made it hard came as quite a surprise. Now with less than 1 week to go I thought I’d jot down a few notes from the field.
We didn’t do any planning or forethought into this journey, instead, on day one of lent, we found our first struggle was with the definition of what we were doing. We quickly learned that sugar is almost ubiquitous. I learned that sugar goes my many names.. most of them ending with ose; glucose, fructose, dextrose, galactose and sucrose. This was the first tricky thing. Were we to give up ALL forms of sugar? We liked the notion that we were doing this to promote better health in our diet and as a result to become healthier, but fruit’s got fructose in it and, well.. fruit is good isn’t it?. Also – galactose, or ‘milk sugar’ is present in (you guessed it) milk. Hmm..
Because we had Sophie our 10 year old along for the ride, the ‘healthy’ aspect was paramount. The idea of cutting out two of her major food groups didn’t sit well with us. This was when the definition turned from giving up sugar for lent to giving up ADDED sugar for lent. This at least gave us the ground rules and boundaries to work with. Game on. We were OK to eat things that had naturally occurring sugars like milk and fruit.
Supermarkets were the next hurdle. We quickly became obsessed with reading labels. Expert at scanning the small print for sugar in its many guises.It seems that even the simplest of products have had sugar snuck in. For instance; pizza. Frozen pizzas all have dextrose in them for some bizarre reason. I inquired at the fresh pizza counter and the helpful lady checked the ingredients for me – all of the over the counter fresh pizzas contain sugar. I scoured further, even the ‘free from’ pizzas contain sugar. Undeterred thought, the best outcome happened when I learned to make my own sugar free pizza. (00 flour base, passata and fresh basil sauce, grated cheese + mozzarella, spinach and Prosciutto topping for the record. Super nice!). Most of our cooking is from base ingredients anyway, so this hasn’t had a major impact, but I do miss a lot of easy comfort foods. It surprised us how even some base ingredients have sugar in them – like a seemingly innocuous packet of bacon. Not all packets of bacon, but still – it amazes me.
Sausages were a big problem. Eirene could not find a single sausage in the whole of Asda that did not contain sugar. She told me she’d looked at every packet that was there and they all contained sugar – from the high end to the value frozen. All. Contained. Sugar… In Waitrose however she found several sausages with no added sugar to choose from – even their own brand Waitrose Essential sausages didn’t contain added sugar. Other staple things that I struggled with were wraps and tortillas. Most normal bread is OK.
KLIX vending machines. We’ve got these dotted around the building at work. I get 10 free per week (and typically blag spares off colleagues who don’t drink tea when I run out.) Giving up sugar in my tea was hard enough, but the most annoying things was that even the their, milk, no sugar has 0.1% sugar in it. Why? Who’s really going to notice the difference? I suppose I am an edge case consumer – but KLIX – you are lying. 0.1% is not ‘no sugar’. It’s the same story with their ‘no sugar’ coffee – I’ve been drinking black coffee, and to be honest, have developed a bit of a taste for it. I’ve also taken to taking my own (Yorkshire Gold) tea bags and milk in to work (I need tea on a morning).
Nipping out for a quick bite at lunch – from (eg) Tesco local wasn’t that easy either. All of the sandwiches were off the menu, as were their pastas and a salads. Vegetable samosas and a banana was my go-to lite bite.
Restaurants – particularly the boutique street food style vendor was pretty hard hard to interface with. A lot of places tend to have a book with all the ingredients in – I’m guessing to check for food allergies when asked and I found most places really helpful when I asked them about it. Fish and chips without mushy peas was the hardest hurdle. Not having puddings in restaurants also a struggle. We’ve had a lot of cheeseboards. I had a lovely chat with some Muslim chaps who were running a delicious chicken shawarma van in Leeds. They were really interested in Lent. They told me the tahini sauce was sugar free (and it was really nice! another new food discovery).
Celebrations are tricky.. Celebrations all seem to involve sugar. At work there’s quite often a random celebration, typically marked with cake, a box of sweets or chocolate. It’s even quite vogue to pimp big meetings with a box of sweets lately and if someone’s over visiting us from our Californian office, they’ll often bring chocolate. My defense mechanism for a sweet-tooth attack this past few weeks has been Coke Zero. It’s been my go-to sweet tasting crutch these past few weeks.
We allowed ourselves 1 day off. It was Annie’s 4th birthday, and, well. Excuses aside, there was cake. Eirene said she felt rough on the night and next day. “Sluggish and cloudy, like a hangover.”. I personally didn’t notice much other than not enjoying tea again the next day. So to wrap up – I’ve learned a lot about added sugar. I’ve learned that I can live without it – I might live without more of it than before as a result but it’s not life changing. I do feel generally healthier – placebo effect? I dunno but I have lost half a stone. Oh and finally, Beer doesn’t contain any added sugar. Water, malt, hops, yeast. That’s it. Nor does wine. These facts helped.