I've known for a long time now that Sugar and I are loathsome lovers.
It's been a love-hate relationship that stems as far back as I can remember. Basically, I love it, but it hates me. And yet, as a dejected but obsessed lover often does, I keep going back to it, thinking things might change, perhaps our relationship just needed to mature, or maybe I just needed to be better to it.
Since childhood, I've been a sugar addict. This was not a normal 'sweet tooth'. I remember stealing extra cookies from the jar, or sneaking extra ice cream from the freezer, to satisfy my intense cravings for sweets. In high school, after suffering from headaches and low energy, I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia, a diet which I adhered to for the next year or two, while living with my parents. As soon as I moved out, however, it was back to the same old stuff. I am just never one to turn down a cookie or piece of cake. That would, for me, be total sacrilege. That's an obvious violation of my entire belief system! And when I moved to Europe for four years, I plunged even deeper down the rabbit hole of amazing pastries and candies and waffles and gelatos. The never-ending supply of outstanding sweet treats was right at my disposal. Who was I to refuse?! Come on!
But because of this sweet tooth, and after doing much research, in and out of the doctor's office over many years, I realize that I've suffered from all kinds of maladies that stem directly from this overindulgence of sugar: depression, weight gain, headaches, low energy. Sugar is directly responsible for a good portion of my health ailments. Subconsciously knowing this, I'd occasionally go cold-turkey for a while, but like most abusers and their victims, it would wave to me from nearby pastry shops, promising great things, sending me into delighted euphoric highs, until I was firmly and unabashedly hooked again.
Well, I've had it.
There comes a point in a woman's life when you need to pick your self-worth off the floor and admit when your lover is treating you badly. And, for me, that time has come. The defining moment actually happened last month at the tail end of an evening enjoying a baking class with fellow foodies. In a very short time frame, we made -- and sampled -- about five very sweet desserts, not to mention washing them down with wine. It was, quite honestly, a night of poison for me. I woke up the next morning with the hangover of all hangovers--not from wine (of which I had very little) but from all of the sugar. It took me all day to feel better. That day, I picked up a book I'd bought six months prior, about those who have sugar-sensitivity, called "Potatoes Not Prozac", which talks about using food (not medication) to control health ailments, and it starts by removing health-destructing sugar from your diet. After reading even the first few chapters of the book, I vowed to not eat sugar for the entire weekend and 'try it out'. I felt so much better than I had in weeks. Truly. So, I decided then and there that I needed that to be a lasting feeling.
So, at long last, I broke up with Sugar.
Like it usually is after a divorce, I was sad and forlorn, not able to contemplate a future without it. That might seem overly melodramatic, but for someone who looks forward to the next sweet treat, it feels unreal to look ahead toward a life of possibly not enjoying those things again. But, as the sadness wore off, for the first time in a long while, I noticed that I feel energetic, clear-headed, and liberated.
I take inspiration from my gluten-free friends. If they can live without gluten, I can live without sugar. It's funny, though; I do not have one single sugar-free friend. Maybe, in announcing this change, I will meet more sugar-sensitive people who, like me, yearn for better sugar-free alternatives than just NutraSweet or Splenda. I will just have to experiment on my own for now, as most baking books out there don't really provide all the criteria I need for a sugar-free diet. I need recipes that provide sweeteners that are a) natural (no artificial sweeteners) b) have a low glycemic index c) don't use other simple sugars (white flour or white rice flour) and d) use sweeteners that have a neutral taste. Currently, I am experimenting with xylitol, stevia, and occasionally, I use a little bit of honey or agave (the latter two, in very small doses). Stevia is powerful and you don't need much; it's great for kick-starting the sweetness ratio of a recipe.
I've not only broken up with Sugar but, as I mentioned, also its simple carbohydrate cousins (which act like sugar in your system), such as white pasta and white bread. (Goodbye, French bread! Hello, rustic whole wheat loaves!) It won't be easy, especially when dining out, which is just about one of my favorite things to do. I'm sure I will end up simply indulging from time to time when alternatives just don't present themselves. But, as a general rule, in a day-to-day manner, I just know that I function better as a human being without sugar or simple carbs in my diet.
I've wanted to break up for years. I even went off of refined sugar for Lent. But that wasn't enough. I had to also stop with the simple carbs and also eat more protein. I hate to use the word "diet" but I don't know what else to call a 'new culinary lifestyle', but whatever it is, it is somewhat reminiscent of a diet for those who have diabetes. High protein, low carbs, no refined sugar, and watching foods and how they affect your Glycemic Index. (Anything over 55 GI is probably not good for a diabetic and questionable for a Hypoglycemic.)
I'm already pretty well-versed in adapting recipes, and experimenting with non-traditional ingredients, so I have no doubt that my foray into sugar-free baking will lead to fabulous fun. And pasta? Whole wheat for me tastes just fine. And rice? Well, I prefer brown rice anyway. For the most part, I'm good to go.
You'll be seeing all kinds of recipes for sweets in the upcoming months; I know I'll experiment like mad. Right now, I seem to have a continuing obsession for making sugar-free frozen ice creams, yogurts, and sorbets. If you see sweet recipes on this blog, just assume they are sugar-free. However, I will always add the sugar alternative, so that anyone can make it without buying special ingredients.
I'm sure I will be enjoying food in a restaurant that might raise my glycemic index a bit, and I know I will enjoy a glass of wine now and then (also has sugar). But daily use? Or overindulgence? Is over. I'm here to put a cap on this Sweet Tooth.
Like any breakup, I miss Sugar, but I have no doubt that I will find great partnerships with other lovely alternatives who treat me like a girl needs to be treated.
And this is where it all begins.
If you have any advice or resources for this newly unsweetened gal in Seattle, please... I solicit them.