Sunday, December 4, 2011

My Sugar-Free Experiment - and Pumpkin and Almond Loaf

The more I read about sugar, the more convinced I am that I should give up sugar. So I decided I would during October and November, as an experiment. I wanted to see if I would have more energy and fewer cravings. Don't dismiss the idea of quitting sugar! Read on to find out more.

Quite a few people have influenced and enlightened me with respect to sugar. I first started thinking about quitting sugar after reading Sarah Wilson's posts at the beginning of the year (here's the first one). Also there was a short item from Gwyneth Paltrow in her newsletter (don't mock, please). Then I read this article in April in the New York Times by Gary Taubes, "Is Sugar Toxic?". I began to read David Gillespie's blog and in time, ordered his book, Sweet Poison. Here are a few things I have learned.

1. Our bodies don't have an appetite control for fructose. We have insulin to control our body's reaction to glucose, and it helps regulate our hunger. It tells us when we have had enough glucose and we feel full. We also have a hormone called CCK that regulates our intake and use of fats. It's the one that tells you when you've eaten enough cheese. (Do you know that feeling? After a few hefty slices, it's almost impossible to keep eating more cheese. CCK is telling you to stop.) Our bodies have no such regulator for fructose, though. It's possible to keep eating fructose and never feel full. This is a problem! Fructose is converted directly to fatty acids (and then body fat) without hinderance. And eating a lot of fructose increases our insulin resistance, which then compromises our ability to convert glucose and may lead to type 2 diabetes. Here's a short introduction to how our bodies deal with sugar (from Eating Rules).

2. Fructose is found in refined sugars, unrefined sugars, and fruit. Hence many natural and processed foods contain significant amounts of fructose. Here's a list of all major sweeteners and which sugar molecules they contain (from Eating Rules). (There was a follow-up post about Stevia.) In simple terms, virtually everything you eat that tastes sweet contains fructose.

3. I'm addicted to sugar. And I want to stop my addiction. I want to say goodbye to my afternoon cravings and my irrational-without-chocolate days. (Is sugar more addictive than cocaine?)

As a result, I started an experiment. I have been sugar-free for the most part of these last two months. My birthday was in October, so I took a break from being sugar-free. As David Gillespie says, "Party food is for parties." And I wanted to celebrate my birthday! Also, I took a school trip to rural China in November, and the menu was "take it or leave it" while we were there. I didn't question what I was given and ate it all. And I've slipped into sugar a fair few times as well due to withdrawal cravings. Still, I have eaten a tiny amount of sugar (for me) and I'm proud of it.

But I am a baker and I love to snack. When I look around the web for sugar-free recipes, there are a lot of blogs who tout themselves as sugar-free. However, what they mean by "sugar-free" varies. Some bloggers are "refined sugar-free", so they use honey, coconut sugar, or maple syrup, since they are deemed more natural. Others prefer to use artificial sweeteners such as maltose, xylitol, or sucralose (Splenda). Still others sweeten with only fruit, such as dates or raisins. None of these definitions of "sugar-free" are what I am looking for.

In time I have realised that what I was really looking for were recipes that aren't made with any sugar, natural or otherwise. The goal of my experiment was to change what my tastebuds want. I don't want to trick myself with artificial sweeteners. I wish to attune my body to enjoy non-sweet foods. What I really want is baked goods to snack on that are not sweetened at all.

I decided to make a pumpkin loaf with no sweeteners and started looking for a recipe. In the end, I could find no recipes that were unsweetened. So I did something that now seems blindingly obvious but it took a long time for me to think of. I just used a common recipe and simply left out all the sweeteners. How bad could it be?

Somewhat predictably, this tastes exactly like a normal sweetened pumpkin quick bread, just without the sweetness. I found that my newly-calibrated tastebuds quite enjoyed a slice that actually tasted like pumpkin and not sugar. With a little butter or cream cheese it makes a delicious breakfast. It's not dessert, but then again, it doesn't purport to be. Though that didn't stop me from eating it for my after dinner "sweet"'; thanks to the vanilla, cinnamon, and other spices.

Unsweetened Pumpkin and Almond Loaf
makes one loaf, about 10 slices

3/4 c (165 g) sour cream, Greek yogurt or plain natural yogurt
1 c (200 g) pumpkin (or squash) puree
1 egg
2 T vegetable oil
1 t vanilla extract
1 1/4 c (120 g) quinoa flour
2 t baking powder
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t each ground ginger, nutmeg, and cloves
1/4 c chopped almonds

Mix together the sour cream or yogurt, pumpkin, egg, oil, and vanilla in a large bowl.
Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.
Pour into a loaf pan.
Bake at 350 F (180 C) for 50 minutes.

What's your relationship with sugar?

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