I can’t imagine telling my three kids that we’re banning all products with sugar: No more ice cream, candy, heck, ketchup. Well, I can imagine it, and my quick retreat from the notion after hearing screams of “child abuse!” from my teens.
But Eve Schaub hung tough. She imposed a “year of no sugar” rule on her two daughters — with her husband’s consent — at least partly because she thought it was a great title for a book. “I was a writer, and I had been looking for a new project to focus on,” she wrote in her new book, which she did in fact name Year of No Sugar.
Three years ago, Schaub and her family cut out a list of 13 added sweeteners, including high-fructose corn syrup, agave, honey, artificial sweeteners, and fruit juice. They even banned maple syrup — and they live in Vermont.
The book would have been more compelling if Schaub and her family had an urgent reason to try the dietary change like a recent diagnosis of diabetes or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
“We had no problems that we were looking to solve,” Schaub told me. “We didn’t need to lose weight, and we were all pretty fit and healthy.” In fact, they had already stopped buying products with high-fructose corn syrup.
After watching a 90-minute YouTube video featuring obesity researcher Dr. Robert Lustig — whose best-selling book Fat Chance blames the rise of hidden sugars in foods for the obesity epidemic — Schaub became convinced that added sugars were akin to cigarettes: an addictive poison that was potentially deadly when consumed in excess.
The book provides a quick explanation on how the liver breaks down the fructose in table sugar into fatty acids that can lead to liver disease, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and obesity.
For Schaub, the pay-off was having more energy after she quit sugar cold turkey. “I was happier, more energetic, and way less prone to sudden, debilitating attacks of I-feel-crappy,” she wrote.
But, I pressed Schaub, couldn’t you have just made an effort to cut back on sweets? Did you really need to go to the extreme length of banishing every brand of tomato sauce, cracker, and bread that contained even a single gram of added sugar per serving?
“Moderation is a really difficult term to define,” Schaub said. “It’s easy to be on a slippery slope, and I wanted to find out how hard this would be. I saw it as a big adventure we were going on as a family.”
And, of course, it made for a more interesting memoir. Her tale about a date night with her husband that was ruined by the plethora of sugar-containing items in every restaurant they went to — from Panera to a local German establishment — would have been funny if it wasn’t so depressing.
By far, though, Schaub’s biggest challenge was dealing with the disruptions in her daughters’ lives. They had to turn down candy, soda, and doughnuts offered by their teachers and school friends on a regular basis.
In the interest of family harmony and to “try to avoid at least a portion of the future therapy bills that we’d be incurring,” Schaub said she and her husband decided to institute exceptions to their ban, allowing a sugar-filled treat once a month; if a family member had a birthday, he or she got to pick the dessert. Each person also got a personal exception, a favorite food with a moderate amount of added sweeteners that they just couldn’t give up, like ketchup, diet cola, or jam.
The girls were also allowed to decide for themselves whether to have cake at friends’ birthday parties -- as long as they ‘fessed up to their parents about what they ate. Halloween was a particular challenge. “They were each allowed to have one piece of candy from trick or treating,” Schaub said.
She did find creative ways to make treats for her family like fudge brownies and coconut cake made with dextrose, a corn sugar that’s one-third as sweet as table sugar. She said she emailed Lustig to ask about its health effects, and he told her it was fine for the body since it was a form of glucose (the simplest sugar) and not fructose. Still, it didn’t sound kosher to me.
Even with those exceptions, Schaub said she lost her taste for sugary foods to the extent that she couldn’t eat more than a few bites of a super-rich banana creme pie that she made for her husband’s birthday. “It was so sweet that it was not appealing,” she said. “I also got a pounding headache from the small amount I ate.”
While the family is now free from their “sugar bondage,” as Schaub called it, they still limit their intake of added sweeteners. “We don’t buy sugar-rich foods in the grocery store or drink sugary beverages, but every once in a while, we have a special treat,” she said. “That’s the way sugar was once consumed in our society.”