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Living a ‘Year of No Sugar’

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Writer, cook, and mother Eve Schaub managed to get her family to agree to eat no sugar for an entire year. More specifically, during all of 2011, she, her husband, and her 6- and 11-year-old daughters attempted to avoid eating sugar. She wrote about her experiences in a blog which she then developed into her first book, “Year of No Sugar,” published by Sourcebooks last month. There were a few exceptions to the rule — the family could eat one sugary dessert together every month, and her daughters could eat whatever was given to them at their school, as long as they told their mother about it.

When Schaub says no sugar, she doesn’t just mean the usual list of culprits — cake, candy, and ice cream. She means anything containing fructose. Schaub says she was first warned about the dangers of fructose from watching a YouTube video by Dr. Robert Lustig, professor of Pediatric Endocrinology at University of California-San Francisco, called, “Sugar: The Bitter Truth.” In his video, Lustig says, “fructose is a poison … and fructose is in sugar — all kinds of sugar.”

According to Schaub, “Lustig calmly drops facts like precision bombs” such as,

• “As a society, we all weigh 25 pounds more than our counterparts did 25 years ago.

• Even as our total fat consumption has gone down, our obesity has continued to accelerate.

• Americans are currently consuming 63 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup per year.”

Another person Schaub refers to in her book is David Gillespie, who didn’t eat sugar for a year and lost 90 pounds. He chronicles his year without sugar in a book called “Sweet Poison: Why Sugar is Making Us Fat.”

In the beginning of her own book, Schaub creates a list of facts in which she presents evidence that fructose should be treated as a health hazard just like cigarettes. Besides citing Lustig and Gillespie as her sources, she uses statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Journal of the American Medical Association to make the following statements:

1. “All sugar (i.e. table sugar, fruit juice, maple syrup) contains fructose.

2. Fructose does not satisfy hunger, so you eat more food than your body needs.

3. Fructose may not be used by any of the cells in our body, except the liver.

4. In processing fructose, the liver produces bad things: uric acid and fatty acids.

5. Too much uric acid causes gout and hypertension.

6. Too many fatty acids cause nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (cirrhosis), cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and type II diabetes, and obesity.

7. The clustering of two or more of the four conditions above is called Metabolic Syndrome. Virtually unheard of only a few decades ago, one in five Americans suffers from it today.

8. Additionally, circulating fatty acids have been proven to speed the growth of cancer cells.”

From what I could infer from Schaub’s book, no one in her family has a weight problem, but she was so concerned about the food her family was eating, and she was so inspired by Gillespie’s book, that she convinced her family to not eat sugar for 12 months starting on Jan. 1, 2011.

Underestimating the amount of sugar in processed foods, Schaub initially spends a lot of her time in supermarkets reading the ingredients on product boxes. She is in shock when she finds fructose in products she never imagined would contain it — bread, salad dressing, mayonnaise, soup, even chicken broth. When she goes to sub shops to get sandwiches, Schaub finds there are glazes and additives (i.e. sugar) on the meats.

Restaurants are just as hard for her family. On one of the first excursions out during the year of no sugar, the family had to leave several restaurants because of the lack of available food not containing sugar. Frustrating the staffs at these restaurants with their no-sugar requests, the Schaubs were finally able to eat in a local German restaurant, which can accommodate their no-sugar policy with a plate of wiener schnitzel and noodles.

It seems that no matter where Schaub and her family go, fructose is pervasively present. For example, when Schaub looks over the breakfast menu at her daughters’ school, she realizes that 97 percent of the items that the school cafeteria serves the children for breakfast have fructose in them. Let’s not forget about the drug industry. How many kids do you know who take gummy vitamins daily? Another shot of pure fructose.

This inevitably leads to Schaub cooking every meal from scratch. She tries to find sweeteners without fructose to cook with to sweeten some of her meals and is surprisingly discouraged by the lack of options. She researches coconut water, carob chips, and agave as possibilities, but she later learns they all contain fructose.

Finally, Schaub comes home exhausted one evening without a planned meal and serves her family a bag of frozen Bertolli chicken with cream sauce and bow-tie-shaped pasta. After the meal, she reads the ingredient label and discovers a word she didn’t know: dextrose. After consulting with Dr. Lustig, she finds that dextrose is the Holy Grail she had been searching for — a non-fructose sweetener.

Before you know it, she buys a huge jar of dextrose from Amazon.com and starts adding it to all sorts of foods to make them taste sweet. However, by July, the entire family finds they can no longer finish eating their monthly sugar-laden dessert choices because of their excessive sweetness.

When Schaub and her family travel to Italy for two weeks in August, they realize the fructose dilemma is really an American epidemic. For example the family doesn’t have to ask the waitstaff in the restaurants if sugar is in any of the foods, because they can taste the authentic freshness of the ingredients. When the family eats their August dessert in Italy, they can actually taste the ingredients as Schaub recounts, “The apple strudel tastes likes apples; the birthday chocolate pie tastes of pastry and cream. No explosion of sweet; no King Kong-sized portions.”

Honestly, I was disappointed by the number of pages Schaub devoted to describing how she could make desserts with dextrose, the reasons behind why her family chose their monthly desserts, and how much she craved foods with sugar in them.

I was hoping to read more about the unsweetened foods she was cooking for her family. I finally got my wish at the end of the book when Schaub describes how she makes spaghetti and meatballs, which involve her baking bread to use in the meatballs. She also makes her own sauce by adding cans of diced and crushed tomatoes together with a whole bunch of other fresh ingredients.

Nevertheless, I still hold Schaub in high regard. She sews her girls’ Halloween costumes, grows a garden in her backyard (so she can use the plants in her recipes), cooks everything from scratch, cans her own jams, and then eloquently writes about it all.

So what does 12 months of eating no sugar lead to? In sum, Schaub becomes a better cook, the family feels healthier, and her children are less sick and less absent from school. Even Gillespie remarks in his book, “Sweet Poison,” how sick American kids get right after Halloween. On a personal note, Schaub notices she can go to the bathroom regularly at least once a day. Forget the fiber bars — just eliminate fructose from your diet.

After their year of deprivation, the Schaub family settles back into a routine of moderation in 2012. Schaub finds she doesn’t need to eat foods coated in sugar anymore.

“Sodas, ice cream sundaes, carnival cotton candy all now strike me as slightly gross,” Schaub writes. “However, I can order the mango sticky rice at the Thai place and simply enjoy it.”

Schaub also admits that she used to bake desserts for people to show her affection for them, “a concrete manifestation of love.” Now she knows she has other options.

For more information about Eve Schaub and her new book, visit her website eveschaub.com/.

Allison Plitt is a freelance writer who lives in Queens with her husband and young daughter. She is a frequent contributor to New York Parenting.

Updated 4:38 pm, December 9, 2016
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