Help for a month without added sugar.
December 14, 2017 3:43 PM   Subscribe

I’d like to try and go without added sugar for the month of January. I love all sweet things. If you’ve done this (or not), can you give me some guidance?

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions and don’t necessarily need to lose weight or stop sugar for obvious health reasons. But I know I love it a little too much. Right now I’m storing chocolates and cookies in a box in the trunk of my car, to help me from diving into it (it would require putting on pants and going down to my building’s parking lot). That’s probably not a healthy habit.

Other than sweets, I eat mostly plant based. I eat plenty of other nutritious carbs - fruits, vegetables, beans, and grains, and am ok cooking basic things. I rarely eat meat, hardly ever eat eggs (unless they’re in baked goods), and ditto for dairy (unless it’s ice cream). I need some suggestions for how to deal with the cravings, creative “healthy” swaps and tricks with fruit.

Drinks are not my vices - I drink coffee/tea without sugar, and hardly ever drink soda or juices. I enjoy a glass of wine from time to time, however. My vices are definitely cookies, cakes, ice cream, brownies, and so on.

Are there any resources to help get me through this? Facebook groups or message boards? Good recipe sites or product recommendations for a “healthy” sweet fix, made completely from fruit? Or is that a bad idea altogether and will it make the cravings worse?

If you’ve been down this road, please share your experience and wisdom with me!
posted by raztaj to Food & Drink (34 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Once you're off sugar for a while, it's likely that you'll need less sweetness to satisfy cravings. I avoid added sugar as a general rule and I find fruit - especially raspberries - to be a pleasing sweet treat. It doesn't require special tricks, just rinse it off and put it in your mouth.
posted by adiabatic at 3:51 PM on December 14, 2017 [10 favorites]

Best answer: For me, sweet/carb cravings are a self-reinforcing thing. When I went on one of those all fat, vegetables, and protein type diets a few years back, I only craved carbs and sweets for about a week. Once I stopped eating them, the desire went away. It turns out that eating fats, proteins, and fiber in reasonable quantities is quite filling and satisfying. My one concession to a creamy sweet taste outside of fruits was a dollop of ricotta cheese with a splash of vanilla after dinner as a replacement for normal dessert.
posted by xyzzy at 3:53 PM on December 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've gone off sugar a few times though never for more than a couple of weeks. The first few days have always been absolutely brutal. I just feel terrible but after that it becomes really easy.

Personally, I find fruit helps with the cravings for cookies, candy etc. I'd recommend getting the best fruit you can to help deal with the desire for sugar. It is even better if you make it a bit of a treat in its own right. For instance, perhaps you don't buy berries that often because they tend to pricey, I'd go ahead and load up on berries.

I also find that salty/fatty things help with the cravings as well. I've been eating a lot of crispy chickpeas lately which really help.

Good luck!
posted by nolnacs at 3:54 PM on December 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I did NO sugar/starches of ANY kind for about 4 or 6 MONTHS last year (medical reasons, bacterial overgrowth in my gut.)

The cravings go away after about 3 weeks.

If you're still eating fruit, it's SUPER sweet and sugary on it's own and eating it instead of cookies should be fine after about a week.

For me it was about replacing it with texture and salty food (I also have to eat a high salt diet, your diet may vary.) Cinnamon and other rich spices can be good and feel "sweet" even though they aren't. So if you are eating fruit, make fruit choices that are similar, frozen bananas can be made into ice cream, you can roast fruits to caramelize them without added sugars, frozen blueberries taste like a smoothie, etc.

Honestly though, it's just a thing you have to power through. You may feel tired or cranky for a bit, and then it evens out.
posted by Crystalinne at 4:06 PM on December 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My go-to snack is salted peanuts with raisins. The sweet + salty evokes candy! I have also heard about people dipping bananas in unsweetened cocoa. Oh! And you can make a fantastic banana ice cream just by freezing peeled bananas and then whirling them in a food processor till they reach ice cream consistency.
posted by xo at 4:08 PM on December 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Pickles. Sour is the cure for craving sweet.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:13 PM on December 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

I see that you're a woman. Obviously I have no idea if you're on the pill or not but I found when I was, it would give me huge sugar cravings (and depression, anxiety and suicidal tendencies but I digress). Once I went off it, the cravings and all other symptoms disappeared almost entirely. I went online to find out if this is a known thing, and sure enough, it is. I don't know if this helps or not. I still enjoy the occasional sugary treat but I don't neeeeed it like I used to and going off the pill made cutting out sugar a breeze.
posted by Jubey at 4:15 PM on December 14, 2017

Best answer: I haven’t been thrilled with frozen bananas in a food processor, but I do make smoothies with frozen fruit, water, and a tablespoon of cocoa powder (with the fruit being frozen, it has a milk shake consistency, but I have a fancy Blendtec blender, which is basically a Vitamix without the hype). After eating that a few times, it tastes sweet enough without sugar. I also now eat oatmeal with just blueberries and raspberries as a sweetener. I think it’s just a matter of getting used to it. I used to put lots of sugar in smoothies, and now that sounds kind of disgusting to me.

Still haven’t been able to quit sugary tea though, so I’m glad you asked this question.
posted by FencingGal at 4:19 PM on December 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've done this for extended period of time but in my opinion it easier to reduce gradually rather than go cold turkey, especially after the holiday food/treats season.
posted by twoplussix at 4:25 PM on December 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you aren't allergic, try a teaspoon of peanut or almond butter (no sugar added, obviously). That was my trick when I did a Whole30 a couple of years ago.
posted by singinginmychains at 4:25 PM on December 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I've done a sugar-free, no-alcohol month every year for the last 6 or 7 years. I also find that sweet cravings go away after about a week (albeit I don't have a big sweet tooth to begin with) and fruit makes a great substitute. However, in my experience part of the challenge is replacing the habit of eating sweets, maybe more so than craving sweet flavors per se . If, say, you're used to having a sweet after dinner every night or a cookie during your afternoon break at work, it helps to have something to stand in for that ritual that still feels rewarding. In my case I treated myself to tea and a bit of good cheese after dinner in place of wine and/or dessert. The substitution doesn't necessarily have to be food-based—since you drink coffee, maybe you treat yourself to getting coffee out more often that month.
posted by 4rtemis at 4:31 PM on December 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Also if you're looking for a sugar replacement to put on cereal or fruit or whatever that doesn't taste like gross artificial sweetener, Surkin Gold is pretty amazing. It would be expensive to bake with but it is an all natural 1:1 sugar replacement that tastes and bakes like sugar.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:31 PM on December 14, 2017

Best answer: I went added-sugar free about 9 weeks ago. It was hard for the first week but now it's fine.

I eat a lot of frozen blueberries - about a 500g / 1lb box a day. After a few weeks of that actual sugary stuff tastes sickly.

Seconding DarlingBri about sour. I made a powder from dried mulato chiles, lime zest, salt and citric acid and I sprinkle that over watermelon (you can probably just buy commercial Tajin - it's hard to find in Oz). Bam - sweet hit, but also a sensation of a craving being quenched (whereas actual sugar was just 'yay, now give me more sugar').

There are some good kombuchas on the market made with 'alcohol sugars' like erythritol, or slightly backsweetened with stevia (or both). Same deal - sweet-ish hit but quenching acidity.

Vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg taste sweet without adding sugar. They're great to add to fruit / soy / almond milk smoothies.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:32 PM on December 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

I've been on a super low carb/keto diet for most of the last few years. That means I eat no sugary foods or starches of any kind (including fruit and starchy vegetables). It's been game-changing for me in many respects.

If you are really having trouble wrestling with limiting sugary foods, I would strongly suggest cutting out all sugary and starchy foods, altogether. On one hand, there is pretty compelling evidence that sugar activates the same part of the brain that is involved in addictive behavior (ca. 18 minutes into this talk by Harvard endocrinologist David Ludwig.) On the other hand, complex carbohydrates break down in to glucose in your bloodstream, and for a lot of people sweets and starches are kind of "six of one, half a dozen of the other".

There is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate, so your body will do just fine without--although it's bound to be a big adjustment and it will take your body some time to shift to using other macronutrients like fat and protein as your main fuel. Reddit generally is a nightmare, but the /r/keto subreddit is incredibly helpful and supportive for people who are trying to cut out starches and sugars altogether. General themes are: track what you eat, make sure for the first few weeks you have plenty of keto-friendly snacks on hand (I like pepperoni, pickles, almonds, cheese...), and make sure to get enough salt.

If you do decide to go this route and stick to it for a month, you might have a few bumpy weeks, but typically within a month people lose a surprising amount of weight and notice a remarkable shift in the experience of hunger and satiation. If you're committing to an experiment, this is a good one to do. Good luck.
posted by Sublimity at 4:35 PM on December 14, 2017 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I have been sugar free a few times. I usually get horrible headaches around day two or three. Advil takes care of them. I have found that any amount of alcohol increases sugar cravings the next day. A nutritionist told me that sugar cravings are often an indication that you're not getting enough protein in your diet--something else to try.
posted by purple_bird at 4:49 PM on December 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've gone sweets-free for Lent a few times. For me, the sugar craving never completely goes away, but it does get better with time. Things that made it bearable:

1. Subbing out spicy/savory for gives a lot of flavor input without being sweet.

2. Allowing myself juice and hot chocolate (although maybe the sugar cravings would have gone away if I'd gone completely cold turkey - who knows).

3. When I really needed a sweet thing, kettle corn or mangoes helped.

4. I would also substitute other sensory things...really wonderful textures or smells. This helped to an extent.

Good luck!
posted by christinetheslp at 4:54 PM on December 14, 2017

Best answer: Raw almond butter is great when you want something sweet. Raw is much better than roasted. No contest.

I was sugar free for many years, and it's great! Once you cut out sugar, you automatically cut out a lot of fat.
posted by jgirl at 5:02 PM on December 14, 2017

Best answer: If you’re into chocolate, unsweetened cocoa powder or cacao nibs are great with fruit.

If you tend toward bingeing, pomegranates occupy your hands and senses for a long time.

I have found I can often short-circuit a sweet craving with something fatty. That’s something to try if fruit just makes you want more sweet.
posted by kapers at 5:56 PM on December 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Another keto convert here! Seconding that the best way is go total-- no sugar, no carbs, no starch, and just power through the first couple weeks because they WILL be hard-- but then it's like breaking through a wall, suddenly you have much more energy, the cravings go away, and the weight falls off. At least that's how it was for me. Of course YMMV; everyone is different and it won't work at all for some people, I know. But it was life-changing for me and I wish I'd tried it all-the-way earlier, instead of fiddling about with half-way reduced carb diets.
posted by The otter lady at 6:24 PM on December 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: These comments are all very surprising. I give up sugar every year for Lent (six weeks) and it is TERRIBLE. I mean, i am miserable every day until it's over. The cravings never go away. And it's not like in my regular life, I gorge myself on donuts and cupcakes all day long. I'll have maybe a cookie after dinner or a granola bar in the morning, something like that. But I find when I give up sweets completely, I am irritable and I gain weight because I end up eating a ton of salty stuff to try and make up for the missing sweets.

I suggest moderation. Like, only eat sweets on the weekend. Or only eat sweets you bake yourself. Etc.
posted by silverstatue at 6:33 PM on December 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Familiarize yourself with the various names for sugar on labels. Sugar can be cane juice, agave nectar, corn syrup, honey, or things like rice malt, dextrose, maltose, etc.

I didn't specifically limit sugar but I did a very restrictive low carb diet for a few months and my palate changed after a couple weeks or so. Sugar tasted sweet and fried food tasted disgusting, to be honest (although I got over that, whoops). Sugar is linked to heart disease in the way that people erroneously thought saturated fat was, for instance, so this is a good idea. I should do it too.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:18 PM on December 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: One of the categories you eliminate in the Whole30 is sugar, so any related recipes will fit the bill for you. Absolutely agree on the frozen berries, and also how the cravings pass along with the afternoon highs and lows. Puréed dates as a baking ingredient in place of sugar works well!
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 10:22 PM on December 14, 2017

Best answer: You just need 4-5 days without sugar! After that it will be easy. I love sugar and all sweet things too, but if i stop for a couple of days after that i dont need it. Before i put sugar only in coffee, now i use honey :)
posted by movistar at 1:03 AM on December 15, 2017


I have done "no sugs Jan" for the past few years, and let me tell you, COFFEE is the thing that gets you through the first two weeks (the second two are fine, the cravings disappear then).

There is something about a well-made latte that completely squashes sugar cravings. Maybe it's chemical, or maybe it's just the feeling of having a post-meal treat. But it works. I only ever have one coffee a day so I'm not some sort of addict, but honestly, it is the best tool in my box for that month.

That moment you're trying to work after lunch and can't concentrate? Out for dinner and everyone else is having dessert? Coffee. It is the best thing.
posted by greenish at 3:25 AM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I did No Sugar September and it was hard for the first 2 weeks then easier. (I’m trying to permanently do it M-F.) Once you start quitting sugar, you realize nearly everything not a whole food has sugar in it. It’s infuriating! I found the Buzzfeed No Sugar article with recipes v helpful. The snacks part especially. Good luck!
posted by Kitteh at 6:03 AM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yeah, echoing all the advice that it'll take a week or two for the craving to go down and then you'll really lose your taste. I find full-fat greek yogurt topped with fruit (my favorite is frozen cherries, defrosted) to be super rich and satisfying - it's almost like cheesecake. About now, apples are really sweet too, if you can get good heirloom ones - sometimes I get an apple so sweet it almost hurts my throat in the same way too-sugary stuff does.
posted by john_snow at 6:35 AM on December 15, 2017

Best answer: Surprised no mentions of Dianne Sanfilippo's 21 Day Sugar Detox (21DSD). I'm not sure of the best starting point, maybe the book? There is a new daily guide book being released early January. There is so much content online. Don't be put off by the slick website, she knows her stuff and provides practical and researched information, great recipes.
posted by RoadScholar at 6:59 AM on December 15, 2017

Best answer: Also, a smoothie made with a frozen banana, frozen cherries, and cocoa powder is kinda like chocolate covered cherries.
posted by FencingGal at 7:19 AM on December 15, 2017

Best answer: Start with one day. If you've got the kind of sugar habit where you have trouble keeping sweets in the house without thinking about them, one day off will go a surprisingly long way towards breaking that habit and bolstering your confidence. After the first day, try for a week. I find that a week or two is often enough to get my brain to a moderation point, while a month is more often than not an invitation to failure (I have one piece of chocolate and omg the whole month is ruined I might as well stop trying). My ideal is a mental state where I can eat what I want when I want, but I just don't want the sugary stuff particularly often. So it's a balance: you want to break the habit without making it a huge thing; sweeping changes and detoxes and long-term sugar bans generally make it a thing for me.

While you're doing this, anticipate hunger and keep nutritious, filling snacks at the ready, so you don't get into a state where you need to eat immediately and sugar is the closest thing at hand. Eat more protein and fat if you can. Since most of the sugary snacks I like are also high in fat, I find high-fat snacks to be a more satisfying substitute than sweet healthy foods. I can eat a ton of fruit and it will be delicious but just not right, while a small chunk of cheese often hits the spot. If you're not into cheese, raw almonds or other nuts are really good for this.

Honestly, I have never found anything to be a replacement for a good cookie, and you may not get to a point where you never ever want a cookie, and that's okay. But they do taste much better and are less addicting when they're a "sometimes food," and doing the above helps me get there.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:38 AM on December 15, 2017

Best answer: Herbal tea with licorice is naturally sweet-tasting.

Also, olives are a good snack.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:55 AM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You probably know what you're doing but I want to point out that with your current diet, you may be craving sweets because you're not getting enough energy otherwise. Are you charting your macros to confirm you get enough protein and calories? A mostly plant-based diet requires some finesse to meet the body's energy needs. I keep trying to go from vegetarian to vegan and I inevitably crave more carbs and baked goods.
posted by crunchy potato at 1:24 PM on December 15, 2017

Best answer: Medjool dates are better than candy.
posted by heatherlogan at 5:43 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If I stop eating refined sugar for a week or so I have no cravings. I rarely get the cravings.

I drink a Mexican Coke (cane sugar) about once every two months.

On diets I’ve eaten Craisins, no-sugar yogurt pretzels, a couple squares of a dark chocolate bar with almonds and salt. I’ve found that there are a lot of small bites or other foods that can substitute for sugary desserts. Mostly I just have to eat a couple bites to know that it’s “enough.”
posted by bendy at 10:15 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't recommend keto for *you*, unless you're willing to give up on the mostly plant-based part of your current diet. Vegan keto is theoretically possible but I've never known anyone who pulled it off and it's EXTREMELY restrictive (not to mention expensive, because you mostly have to eat fancy nut- or coconut-based vegan dairy substitutes and non-legume-based vegan proteins).

I have a lifelong addiction to fresh fruit--the more sugary/juicy the better--that I find turns into a standard sugar craving if I don't keep my house well-stocked with my favorite fruits. So that means watermelon, stonefruit, mangoes, berries in the summer; easy-peel clementines and grapes in the winter (not coincidentally I eat a lot more processed sugar in the winter). The fact that you're doing this in January makes it harder... fruit tastes best in-season, and if you live in the Northern Hemisphere you're not going to have a ton of choices in January. Frozen berries, mentioned above, are a good idea. Do you like citrus? I find oranges the most satisfying for sugar cravings, because they're so juicy and acidic (see above about sour substituting for sweet). You might be able to find Asian pear in the winter; it's sweeter, crisper, and juicier than normal pear.

Don't worry too much about eating "healthy" fruits like bananas and apples, unless you really love them. They're healthy because they have less sugar ;)
posted by serelliya at 12:50 PM on December 16, 2017

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