Since becoming vegan, I feel that I’ve become a lot healthier and the IBS symptoms I used to get almost every day, sometimes agonisingly, have entirely disappeared. But veganism isn’t a magic path to perfect dietary health, and my biggest downfall at the moment is sugar.
My paternal grandmother had diabetes. Boy, did she have diabetes in a big way. Her blood sugars were frequently over 30 (they’re meant to be around 5) and by the end of her life, which incidentally ended in a bout of pneumonia rather than the long-predicted sugar-induced coma, she was being visited by nurses three times a day for scolding about her diet and expressions of amazement at her continued survival. I would rather not take the same chances.
My dad and his partner switched over to a broadly veggie-paleo diet some months ago. They eat minimal carbs, almost no sugar, high fat and high protein, and both report feeling a lot healthier and having lost weight. I don’t want to lose any more weight – over the last couple of years it has been dropping off without much effort on my part, and if I lose much more I’ll tip over into the underweight bracket*. But I do want to get rid of my sugar addiction, if only to see whether it gets rid of the random headaches and stops the degeneration of my teeth.
So yesterday, somewhat on an impulse, I decided to try going a month without sugar. There seem to be a lot of different approaches to a sugar-free diet; some people cut out carbohydrates entirely, some people avoid fruit, some people replace sugar with sweeteners like stevia or agave. I’m not taking any of these approaches; I’ll still eat fruit, even bananas and dates, but I won’t use replacement sweeteners because I’m trying to get rid of my dependency on biscuits, cakes and other nutritionally dubious snacks. And as for getting rid of carbohydrates… I’m vegan. If I didn’t eat bread, pasta, rice or other grains, I would simply not be able to get enough calories to survive without constantly chopping and munching vegetables. And probably not even then.
On the whole, it shouldn’t be too hard. I don’t eat dessert very often, and my main meals rarely involve sugar anyway. Today I made chilli, which would usually involve some dark chocolate and possibly red wine, but I subbed in cocoa powder and balsamic vinegar and it was delicious. Jars of pasta sauce are out but I can make my own more cheaply anyway and just not add the teaspoon of sugar. My breakfast porridge will be less delicious without a dribble of agave or a spoonful of sugar, but raisins and peanut butter are perfectly adequate substitutes. The biggest challenge will simply be resisting the temptation to buy and eat entire packets of biscuits in one sitting (something I do embarrassingly often).
I do have a game plan for when the sugar craving hits. Sugar-snap peas are delicious and in season at the moment; radishes were my go-to snack when I was dieting, back before my body found its dairy-free groove and shed a 10% weight surplus; cherry tomatoes burst delightfully and have a natural sweetness. If it gets bad, frozen bananas blended into ice cream are spectacular and much healthier than the soya-based commercial alternatives. I might even have another crack at banana and oat biscuits, maybe with some peanut butter to add some flavour and texture (last time I tried these two-ingredient cookies, I found them a bit bland).
It could be that almost nothing seems to have changed as a result of this slight adjustment in my diet, or it could be that I suddenly discover unexpected health benefits I had never anticipated. Either way I’ll let you know!
* I find it interesting but also depressing that despite the fact that I have been at a healthy weight for over a year and am heading towards becoming underweight, I still instinctively feel that I need to be thinner and am drawn to people’s stories about dieting and weight loss. It’s insidious, and frightening.