Changed taste buds. Better sleep.
After a month
without sugar, the (completely unscientific yet very
compelling) anecdotal evidence is in from some of the more
than 3,000 folks — myself included — who tackled the Star
Tribune’s 28-Day Sugar-Free Challenge.
challengers said they found that going for a month without
added sugar (no cookies, no cake, no fructose-laden sauces)
made them feel better. Even if, like Maple Grove participant
Tim Deets, they’re “not claiming perfection.”
“I think my
energy level is more balanced over the day,” he said. “I
have not seemed to get the midafternoon crash.”
benefits of reducing added sugar can go beyond energy.
have found that cutting out added sugars can boost metabolic
health and reduce the stress that consuming the sweet stuff
puts on organs including the pancreas and liver, according to
a scientific review by SugarScience, a site run by health
scientists at the University of California, San Francisco.
University College London researchers and others have also
found that accountability is a powerful motivator, something
that the members of our closed Facebook group demonstrated as
they supported one another, banding together to figure out how
to get through tough moments and stay positive. A look at data
from the monthlong, very active group showed that the posts
that garnered the most comments were often ones from folks
seeking help or in need of encouragement.
All told, the
group created more than 23,000 posts, comments and reactions
— from recipes for cheese-stuffed dates to suggestions of mayonnaise
brands without added sugars. Some were thrilled to discover
that sugar-free peanut butter tasted so good. Others found
that many of the packaged breads made without added sugars
tasted like “cardboard.”
February, many participants reported — in the Facebook
group, in e-mails and even phone calls — that they were
sleeping better, and that troubles such as inflammation, night
sweats and aches and pains lessened as the month went on.
aches and pains have greatly diminished,” said Kathy Obler
of St. Paul. “After a couple of sugarless weeks I can hardly
believe these are my knees!”
fog that went with the roller-coaster quest for sugar is
gone,” she said. “Now the overly sweet treats I loved have
lost their appeal.”
noticed physical changes. Many reported simply feeling
positive about being more in-the-know about what they were
eating and drinking.
“I found it
eye-opening. Added sugar is in what I considered to be pretty
healthy food,” said Paula Doll-Wildenberg of St. Paul. Being
part of the challenge taught her to be a “better consumer by
reading labels more carefully.”
Hanson-Busch of New Prague said she was shocked to learn how
much added sugar she had been regularly consuming.
drink pop, so that was easy, but smoothies and blended coffee
drinks were frequent purchases for me,” she said. “I feel
like I can continue to pass on products that have added sugar
or other sugar substitutes and hope it leads to better food
And like Wynn
Martin, many in the challenge found they actually enjoyed
eating more vegetables and fruit and less processed and
“It was a
good change in our house,” said Martin, who lives in
This was what I
ended up liking most about the challenge, too — the fresh
foods we added to our shopping list. Cucumber slices instead
of crackers. Fresh pineapple and mango instead of blondies and
brownies, with no whining from our kids.
We also managed
to (mostly) wean our youngest off ketchup, although some of
this effort was undone when, out to eat as a family, she saw
that red bottle on the table before we did. (My efforts at a
homemade, date-sweetened ketchup were completely rejected, as
were date and cocoa “brownie” bites.)
When the Star
Tribune decided to host this challenge, our hope was that
we’d learn about the added sugar in packaged foods, sauces
and condiments, which would spur us to create new, healthy
habits to keep sugar consumption more in line with current
wasn’t one of the goals, but we did hear about it from lots
of folks taking part. Many said they dropped a few pounds
(this was true for me), while some said the scale didn’t
change at all. Others, like Hanson-Busch, said they lost a
dozen pounds or more.
Some of the
most inspiring feedback we’ve received has been from those
who are newly empowered to permanently take charge of how and
when added sugar makes its way onto their plate.
always been pretty conscientious about what I eat, but have
never avoided sugars like this. It has been eye-opening,”
said Mary Swanson Senneka.
challenge has made me more deliberate about what I eat. I will
go back to eating sugars. I love a piece of dark chocolate now
and then or a cookie or ice cream. But I think that I now want
to be able to decide when I consume sugar — my choice on the
chocolate, not a manufacturer deciding to put it in soup.”