Some of you might remember Life Without Twizzlers as the name of the nutrition blog that I started shortly after my doctor put me on an elimination diet to try and get to the root cause of my extreme fatigue and dizziness. The elimination diet included, of course, the elimination of sugar. At first it was awful. Sweets were all I could think about. I used to eat Twizzlers once a week at a minimum. I was addicted to cookies and just about any form of chocolate. Suddenly I felt like I knew what it was like to try and quit cigarettes or alcohol. But the funny thing was, about two weeks into the diet, after I had gotten over the worst of the withdrawal symptoms, I didn't miss it anymore. Everything started to taste sweeter. A raw apple became a fantastic desert. Cinnamon rice cakes were just as good as snickerdoodles (well, almost). I stuck to my sugar-free diet for about eight weeks and then we figured out that my problem was gluten intolerance and so I was free to go back to sugar (although my doctor is a big sugar-free advocate and advised against it).
Since this experience I've used the "all things in moderation" rule to guide my sugar intake. I still don't eat many Twizzlers (maybe three times in the last two years?), but I do have my fair share of gluten free cookies, soy ice cream and Starbucks (yes, Starbucks AGAIN!). On the artificial sweetener front, I have also slipped back into a pretty bad Caffeine-Free Diet Coke habit after 18 months of swearing off Aspartame. It's funny how I give myself an inch and I'll take a mile...each and every time. But it's time to rethink my position on sugar and ESPECIALLY artificial sweeteners again.
Julie Deardorff, health reporter for the Chicago Tribune, wrote an article in Sunday's Trib about..."Life Without Sugar." Basically, we don't need sugar but our bodies are hard-wired to crave it. And the more you eat it, the more out-of-whack your palate gets because things taste less and less sweet. Alternatives like brown rice syrup, honey and maple syrup are better alternatives (although still sugar!) because they are less processed. However, with an increasingly calorie-conscious society, food companies opt for cheaper and more widely accepted artificial sweeteners. These sweeteners are just plain ole' SCARY. They're chemicals people! Aspartame has been linked to a host of ailments, including cancer, autoimmune disorders and digestive distress. Concerns have been raised over the long-term safety of Sucralose (Splenda) and Whole Foods won't even carry any products containing it because the company doesn't believe there's enough balanced information. Yikes.
So, what to do? I still believe in moderation and don't think I will ever go back to a completely sugar-free diet. However, I am making the commitment to cut out all artificial sweeteners beginning in April (I have to finish my 12-pack of Diet Coke first!). I will also make an effort to cut out 80% of all processed sugar and cut down other sugars by about 50% or so. Depending on how I feel, I might even want to take it further. We'll see. Stay tuned for my posts in early April as I start my journey. In the meantime, I'd love to hear...what's your take on sugar and artificial sweeteners?