From July 11 to August 11, Colin and I took on a no sugar added eating challenge. We went for 30 days (actually, 31) without eating anything that had added sugar. If you had told me that I could survive for a week without chocolate before this, I wouldn’t have believed you. But we made it – an entire month without chocolate, candy, sushi and anything else with sugar in it!
What is no sugar added eating?
For us, no sugar added eating was not eating anything that has sugar or sweetener added to it. We were eating naturally occurring sugars, like the ones that are in fruits and dairy, but nothing that sugar had been added to. This also included avoiding sugar-free sweeteners (like Stevia) and natural sugars (like honey or cane sugar). And did you know there are over 50 different names for sugar? Well, there are and it is exhausting to have to search for them on ingredient lists.
Why did we do it?
The main reason we took on the no sugar added challenge was just to see if we could do it. Will power and keeping promises to myself is something I struggle with. Too often Colin or I will suggest getting dessert or skipping a workout and the other person will cave and we’ll spend the night watching Netflix with ice cream. I never in a million years thought I could go without sugar for a month but I did, and it’s really cool to know I could do it.
We also took on this challenge to kick-start some healthy eating in our lives, learn what has sugar in it (everything!) and try out some new recipes. We didn’t expressly do it to lose weight or as a new lifestyle we want to adopt permanently.
What did we learn?
For starters, EVERYTHING has sugar in it! This was not just about skipping dessert or saying no to pie. We had to pass on many things such as: all processed meats (except prosciutto), most pasta sauces, most breads, most condiments, most snacks and granola bars, etc. We even had to buy new soy sauce and new minced garlic because ours had sugar in it.
We also learned that this challenge was hard. It can be really tough to stick to no sugar added eating, especially when you’re going out to eat or really just want to order a pizza after a long day (all pizzas have sugar in them). But it helped to have our meals planned and good snacks available. We learned a lot about healthy cooking and new recipes.
Was it worth it?
Yes and no. It was great to complete the challenge and keep that promise to myself. And it was eye-opening to learn what has sugar in it and to take on some new recipes. But, to be honest, we didn’t really feel all that different. Neither of us felt more energetic; in fact, sometimes we were more cranky without the sugar. There were some dark days, like that time I almost had a breakdown in Walmart. Our skin didn’t magically clear up (not that it was bad beforehand) and we didn’t drop tons of pounds.
To be fair, we also didn’t weigh or measure ourselves at the start of the no sugar added challenge. Colin weighs himself every now and then and does think he lost some weight. I’m not sure if I did. And if I did, it’s not noticeable. But we weren’t really doing this to lose weight. And I can’t expect one month of no sugar, after eating sugar for the better part of 26 years, to make that huge a difference.
Recipes & photos
Here are some of our favourite no sugar added eats from the month!
Colin and I love a good breakfast sandwich! We had to make a few substitutes to make this one sugar-free, like finding special no sugar added bread (hint: go to the bakery and not to the packaged breads) and using sugar-free salsa instead of ketchup. But still yummy with eggs, cheese, avocado and prosciutto!
Egg cups! Beat eggs in a bowl with milk, add in whatever ingredients you’d like (we did spinach, peppers, prosciutto and cheese), and pour into muffin tins. Bake and enjoy! We did a big batch, kept them in the fridge and reheated a couple each morning.
Just a fancy egg scramble really: added some peppers, spinach and prosciutto (but forgot the cheese!).
One morning I forgot to make my overnight oats and so settled for Colin’s quick oats. They weren’t nearly as good. But they were made much better with apples, blueberries and raisins.
Breakfast smoothie! We even bought a new blender to help with these no sugar added drinks. This smoothie has milk, yogurt, spinach, hemp seeds, a bit of peanut butter, strawberries, blueberries, bananas and cherries.
No sugar added (and no flour) pancakes: 2 eggs, 1 banana, pinch of baking soda, pinch of salt, and as many blueberries as you can fit, drizzled with natural peanut butter. Hint: these pancakes don’t stick together as well as the flour ones so make them smaller so they’re easier to flip.
Scotch eggs! Colin and I were inspired to make Scotch eggs after enjoying them at Pender Harbour. Of course, in Pender Harbour, they’re made with Cornflake crumbs and dipped in ketchup. We actually had to make our own bread crumbs because all the store-bought ones had sugar. So we took our no sugar added bread, toasted it, and used the food processor to make crumbs. The meat is Italian sausage (a nice kick of flavour) and we dipped it in salsa.
Last but not least is my trusty breakfast go to: overnight oats. Here’s how you make it: combine 1/2 cup of rolled oats with 1/2 cup of yogurt, 1/2 cup of milk and 1/2 a mashed banana. You can also pour in some hemp seed or chia seed, and add peanut butter. Screw on the lid and leave it in the fridge overnight. In the morning, empty into a bowl and microwave until warm (or you can eat it cold). Stir in raisins and top with berries!
Lunch & dinner
We wanted to make Asian lettuce wraps but most Asian sauces are sugar-full. So this one is a little lacking in sauce because I think all we could use was garlic, sesame oil, ginger and soy sauce. But it was still yummy, especially with the snow peas, carrots and cucumbers.
We did lettuce wraps round two when the handmade burgers I was making crumbled apart. So we threw them in lettuce and added some tzatziki sauce (aka one of the only no sugar added sauces). Later, we bought real burgers and did this meal again.
Shockingly, nachos are sugar-free. Usually we put BBQ sauce all over our chicken but since BBQ sauce is full of sugar, we improvised and Colin mixed together some spices to make a taco mix. We added peppers and cheese on top of no sugar added lime chips et voila!
This was an orange chicken recipe I found online that was okay, but not the best thing in the world. The sauce is made from orange juice, orange zest, ginger, garlic, cornstarch and red pepper flakes. It was pretty tasty, and definitely better than a peanut chicken dish I made later (gross!).
This has got to be one of my favourites. I am a huge fan of poke bowls. I would eat one every single day if I could. So on my birthday, I was pretty bummed to not be able to eat my favourite food and to not be able to enjoy any birthday cake. But Colin surprised me with all of the ingredients for a homemade poke bowl! He even looked up a recipe for ponzu sauce. It was yummy and so sweet of him to recreate this for me.
Trout in a lemon garlic sauce on brown rice with broccoli – easy and delicious! We did a few simple meals like this like our pork chops with sweet potato and broccoli. We even had no sugar added apple sauce to put on the pork chops.
Carnitas tacos! I’m really proud of this one. We made pulled pork in our Instant Pot (thanks dad & Ali for the birthday present) but couldn’t use BBQ sauce like we usually would. So Colin whipped up some cool spices and made us a really delicious pork. We turned it into tacos adding cheese, lettuce, peppers, avocado, mango and pineapple. We used corn tortillas, as most of the flour ones have sugar. Hint: to make corn tortillas taste better and not fall apart, fry them in a little bit of oil first.
Another simple but tasty no sugar added meal here: sweet potato, corn and turkey skewers.
Eating out while doing no sugar added is incredibly challenging. But I did find a workaround to enjoy some of my favourites. Sashimi (raw fish) is sugar-free and, surprisingly, so is tempura. I thought the batter would have sugar in it but it doesn’t.
There was one night about a week into our no sugar added challenge that Colin and I were both really craving pizza. We looked up every pizza delivery place we knew and every single one had sugar in their pizzas. We then went to the store to look at the pre-made doughs and those all had sugar too. So, we decided to make our own. We made pizza dough from scratch (pro tip: use your Instant Pot to rise it in half the time) and created our own pizzas. They were really delicious and lasted forever!
Another simple meal and a treat for us to enjoy steak. Colin made steak on the BBQ and then grilled up the veggies and we had a delicious no sugar added summer dinner!
A summer salad at Colin’s mom house with lettuce, cucumber, peppers, carrots, feta cheese and blueberries. I did manage to find one salad dressing, a raspberry vinaigrette, that was no sugar added. But, of course, I forgot it at home. So I just used some mashed avocado and a little lemon juice as my dressing for this.
We actually didn’t make pasta until the very end of our no sugar added challenge. I thought it would be easy but there was only one pasta sauce in the entire grocery store that didn’t have sugar. So we used it, added chicken, shrimp, peppers, spinach and some leftover beans and broccoli, and enjoyed!
One of my favourite meals was this Thai green curry that we made. I think I loved it so much because we didn’t have to do any substitutions. The green curry paste and the coconut milk were both sugar-free. We added our chicken and veg, and topped with rice. Hint: if you’re meal planning and don’t want your rice to get soggy, put the wet curry in the container first and then put the rice on top.
Snacks & dessert
That may look like delicious chocolate soft serve ice cream and you might be thinking, “No way is that no sugar added!” But let me assure you, it is. Did you know pure cocoa powder is sugar-free? Sugar is added to cocoa powder to get the chocolate we know and love. So to make this soft serve, blend frozen bananas with cocoa powder (hint: cut the bananas into slices before freezing to make blending easier and so you don’t have to try and peel a frozen banana). I also added a little milk and yogurt to thin it out. You’ll want to eat this immediately before it starts melting to enjoy the soft serve consistency. Do not freeze it because it gets really hard and not so tasty. You can also add peanut butter or other non-cocoa flavours!
Mango and blueberries – one of my favourite combinations!
This is a no sugar added mug cake. Sure, it doesn’t look pretty. But this baby got me through a lot of tough nights when I really wanted a dessert. All you have to do is mash up one banana (the riper the better) with one egg and a spoonful of cocoa powder. Stir and mash until they become liquid. Then, pop it into the microwave for 90 seconds. Presto, you have a mug cake! It’s the same consistency as a sugary mug cake but not quite as sweet or chocolate-y. But when topped with berries, it’s actually really delicious.
We also tried our hand at making popsicles. I was super excited about making them, obviously forgetting that I don’t really like popsicles. They tasted okay but I would’ve prefer them in smoothie form. This one was: yogurt, milk, strawberries, blueberries and bananas.
And Colin’s popsicle was just orange juice and blueberries!
This no sugar added snack is an open-face grilled cheese sandwich topped with apple slices. I love the combination of cheese and apple – so good!
I’m a weirdo. I don’t like tomatoes. I don’t like them in salads, on burgers or on their own. I’ll tolerate them in sauces but I won’t seek them out. But I love bruschetta! I don’t know why but I really do. And I really loved making fancy bruschetta for myself with no sugar added French bread, mozzarella cheese and avocado.
Pre-challenge, Colin would take a fruit cup to work every day. But since fruit cups are filled with sugary juices, we decided to make our own. So this is just a mini fruit salad complete with grapes, blueberries, kiwis, oranges, strawberries and cherries.
Tips for no sugar added eating
- Before the challenge started, I went through our cupboards, fridge and freezer and taped up anything that had sugar in it. It was a good way to make sure we didn’t mistakenly grab something sugar-filled and a great introduction to the big lesson I would learn: sugar is in everything!
- Meal planning is so crucial to successful no sugar added eating. We made sure that we had time to go to the grocery store, plan out our meals, cook big batches, and portion things out in containers so that sugar-free meals were always ready for us.
- Do some research! There are lots of no sugar added recipes online and it was actually really fun to look through recipes and try them out in our kitchen.
- Save all the different names for sugar on your phone so you can quickly look something up when you’re at the grocery store. Grocery shopping is a long process and it’s all about reading the labels. Eventually, you find what you’re looking for and the next shop is faster. It’s also best to just go with items that have five or fewer ingredients since it’s easy to tell whether or not there’s sugar and those foods tend to be healthier. If you have to read through 30+ ingredients, odds are one of those things is sugar and the rest are crap for you anyway!
- Have snacks on hand. It’s so important to have no sugar added snacks in the house. I relied on a good stash of fruits, veggies, Larabars (only the apple ones), cheese, crackers and other options to help stop me from running to the store for a sugary fix.
- Eating out is hard. Going to other people’s houses for meals is hard. There are temptations everywhere. It’s very hard to know if the food is sugar-free. And people will tell you it’s “just a little sugar” to try and get you to eat it. We tried our best to look up restaurant menus and nutritional guides online (not always available) and to pack our own food. It’s tough to be social when you’re doing no sugar added eating but it’s not impossible.
Well, right after our no sugar added challenge ended, we indulged in a sugar day. That meant Tim Hortons breakfast, poke for me, a burger and fries for Colin, and enjoying some chocolate and ice cream. But after that, things settled down again. We were glad to be able to re-introduce things like honey garlic sauce and ketchup for our eggs. But other things, like starting the day with oatmeal or eggs instead of toast, and snacking on fruit and veg, have stuck.
I’d love to do another 30 day challenge in the future. I think it would be really cool to do 30 days of exercising daily or 30 days without carbs or gluten. It’s a good way to challenge myself and bring some healthy ideas into my life.
But for the long-term, I’d really like to get to a place of intuitive eating and just living a healthier lifestyle where I don’t have to have carbs for each meal or dessert every night. I don’t want to restrict and I don’t want to jump on a fad diet. I truly believe there is no such thing as inherently good or bad food. I’ve definitely lived with body and food issues and it’s something I want to work on. I hate the idea of passing onto my kids one day the idea that they can’t have a cookie, that bread is bad or that their worth is at all tied to their weight and what they look like. That all sounds so toxic. And if I don’t want it for my future children, then I also shouldn’t want it for myself.
So no sugar added definitely isn’t a long-term eating plan I want to keep up for the rest of my life. I don’t think it’s healthy to be that restrictive. But I do think it was a good challenge to take on and I’m proud that we did it.
Could you go no sugar added?