Thursday, September 1, 2011

Eliminating Sugar- Frugally, Naturally

For someone who tries to feed her family as healthily as possible, I've been feeding them food with refined white sugar for an awfully long time. And pretty much everyone knows, not just the "Health Food Fanatics" like myself, that white sugar is decidedly unhealthy. It's been linked to blood sugar surges and crashes, hyperactivity, obesity, diabetes, metabolic imbalances, candida, cholesterol, and weakened immune systems, among many other things.
Why, oh why, then, was I still buying sugar? Why, oh why, did I not eliminate it and replace it with something healthier?
For someone as health conscious as myself, using white sugar was more than just the slightest bit hypocritical.
But what kept me using sugar was the price. Sugar was cheap, only 35 cents a pound, and we like sweet things in our home. Other sweeteners, though I knew they were healthy, put me off buying them as they were exorbitantly priced. Honey locally is 5 dollars a pound, maple syrup roughly the same. Date honey, a "cheaper sweetener" is a whole $3.20 per pound. My frugal self cringed at paying these high prices. I just. couldn't. bring. myself. to spend that much money on sweeteners.
So while I was cutting out msg, white flour, food coloring, artificial flavorings, etc... I was still feeding my family something I knew in my heart of hearts to be vastly unhealthy.
But hey, at least its still healthier than high fructose corn syrup, right?

But now, now I decided at long last that I have to cut sugar out of our family's diet.
Come hell or high water.

Why now?
Well, what kept me buying white sugar was the price. At only 35 cents per pound, it was hard to resist... I mean, at least it was better than fake sugar, I kept telling myself.
But worldwide prices have one up, and sugar was certainly one casualty. Now sugar is running closer to 60 cents a pound locally, and each time I'd load up my shopping cart with enough sugar to last us until my next shopping trip, I would cringe at how much money I was spending on something that I knew was BAD for my family.
Gradually, I started making fewer and fewer things with sugar.
I had been making deserts for my family on occasion, homemade cookies and cakes, etc... but with sugar that costly, I stopped making things as often. Maybe once in a while, but I knew that while those treats were healthier than store bought ones as they didn't have preservatives or margarine or any other chemicals, they still weren't good for me or my family, and they probably were helping me stay at the weight that I was, so it was easier to cut them back and maybe make a batch of something sweet once every month or two.

But my kids like sweet. And they have their oatmeal in the morning with sugar. Lee even would ask me before tasting a food "Is that yummy? Does it have sugar in it?", convinced that only sugar would make something yummy.
I like sweet too. To get myself to drink enough (because I don't always enjoy drinking plain water, and I dehydrate easily so need to push myself to drink more and more), I would make lemonade, iced tea, all different things that contained sugar, to make them more enjoyable to drink than just plain water.

So we were still buying and consuming white sugar, despite the price, despite the unhealthiness of it.

We'd noticed in the past that when my husband would buy my kids little treats from the store, he'd give them a little bit of something, and they'd have melt downs, that they wanted more and more and more. We thought that maybe it was just because they were being greedy, that one wasn't possibly enough, but I had my doubts. That it was really the sugar in those candies causing them to act cuckoo.

The Final Straw
But what finally made everything clear and convinced my husband and myself that we need to cut out white sugar entirely was a good bye party.

Last week, because a friend of ours was moving away, our whole family went to a goodbye party in their honor. People had supplied and baked all sorts of yummy treats and goodies. Me, being gluten free, only ate the sushi, potato chips, and watermelon... but Lee stuffed himself with cookies, cakes, brownies, etc... I am not quite sure exactly how much junk he ate (as he was with my husband), but I know it was certainly a lot.
In the middle of a speech made in our friends honor, about their contributions to the community, my nearly 4 year old started having a freak out. My little well behaved boy, who usually is so calm, level headed, and mature for his age, started going cuckoo. Over stupidity. I don't even remember what it was about. Mike had to carry our kicking and screaming boy away from the party so that the speech could continue.
Eventually Lee calmed down, but half an hour later, on the way home, again Lee started having a meltdown. I don't think I could remember seeing Lee misbehave that much, be that angry, etc... He wasn't acting himself. At all. I didn't know this kid who was having a tantrum, a meltdown in the street. And it wasn't like anything had happened that set it off. He just started having a meltdown out of no where, over complete nonsense.

I just didn't get it. Mike and I thought that it just must be that Lee was very overtired, and decided that the moment we got home, Lee would take a nap. We didn't understand exactly why he was so tired, as he went to sleep at a normal time
Of course, when we got home, Lee didn't take a nap, no matter how hard we tried. And as time went on, he was behaving better and better. Until he was his perfectly well behaved, angelic self again.
Which made no sense if his tantrumming was because of being overtired. Because the longer he wouldn't nap, the more tired he would be, and the more he'd be misbehaving.

Mike and I decided that it wasn't a shortage of sleep that caused Lee to behave so out of character.

We realized that this must be the blood sugar crash that comes after a sugar high from eating too much sugar. Because Lee certainly ate a lot of sugary snacks at that party. Something he doesn't usually eat. And oh boy, did we pay for letting him eat that.
Not everyone's body reacts the same way to eating sugar, but it certainly was obvious to us that this was a sugar crash.
(I happen to have some blood sugar issues myself- so it wouldn't be surprising that Lee inherited a sensitivity to sugar like I have.)

After that day, Mike and I agreed, we do our best to eliminate refined sugar from our diets. We always knew it was unhealthy, but that tantrum certainly helped us see that much more clearly, and gave us the push to make a change.

What We Won't Be Using
Deciding to use healthier sugars means spending more money on expensive sweeteners, which is something that is hard to swallow financially, but I know is important for our health.
Because of this, its tempting to just get the "next most expensive" type of sugar, because its "obviously healthier" than the white sugar, but that's not what we'll be doing.
I can get brown sugar for only twice the price of white sugar. But is it worth it?
Brown sugar is more healthy than white sugar, but still has all the same problems. Why is that?
Because brown sugar IS white sugar. They just add more molasses into the white sugar, which changes its taste, and adds the nutrients found in molasses. But it still is white sugar, with all the problems. Still causing the same blood sugar issues as well as all the other health issues related to white sugar. You just get the added bonus of ingesting some nutrients together with this bad food, instead of eating white sugar with no nutrients added.
I won't be spending twice the price to get molasses with our white sugar. I want to avoid white sugar entirely.

I can also get date honey relatively cheaply- for only $1.92 per pound. How did this differ from the $3.20 a pound date honey? One look at the ingredients will let you know- in addition to date syrup, it also contains white sugar and water. Date syrup diluted with a sugar syrup.
No way. Uh uh.
I'm not spending more money on "healthy" sweeteners so that we can eat white sugar in another form.

And of course, the one things that I'm certainly not going to be using- fake sugars. I don't care whether they come under the name Splenda/sucralose, aspartame, acesulfame K, or saccharine, they all are decidedly more unhealthy and pose more of a health issue than white sugar, and will never enter my house. If I think white sugar is bad, fake sugars, in my opinion, are the devil incarnate, and I'd rather my kids eat nothing but white sugar for an entire meal than take even one bite of something containing those artificial sweeteners.

So what will we do for sweeteners?
That really is the good question. I'm exploring that and will be posting about it on my blog as I figure out what sweeteners I deem healthy enough to use, but not too expensive either. I certainly don't have a complete list.
One thing I do know is that there are certain sweeteners that I will consider using.
Real date honey. Not mixed with sugar syrup, the more expensive kind.
Maple syrup.
I would consider sucanat, but I'm not sure it is available in my area at all. I'll have to look into it.

Fruit sweeteners. This means any pureed fruit, all natural fruit juices, or any other source of sweetener made entirely from fruit. 

Of the above list, the ones I want to be focusing on the most are fruit sweeteners. Honey, date honey, and maple syrup are all very expensive here, and I don't want to use much of them, as I know they'll break our budget.
Fruit, however, I can get cheaply in season, forage, or many other things, and I'm sure I can come up with creative ideas to sweeten with fruit. 
I already have one idea that worked out really well that I plan on sharing with y'all very soon. Something that cost me nothing, tastes amazing, and is pretty healthy.

But most importantly of all, I am going to be trying to cut back on the amount of sweet my family has in general. Instead of replacing sugar with another more expensive sweetener, if I can get my family used to eating less sweet, and not expecting sweet all the time, I'm sure it'll be healthiest, and for those less frequent times that my family will eat sweet, I can afford to use the more expensive sweeteners, as they'll only be used sparingly.
So that's my mission for now.

Which foods am I unsure about?
Some white sugar free families use these sweeteners, but I'm not sure that I will be, as I have mixed feelings about them.

Stevia. Some people swear by it.They use white powdered stevia sometimes, which honestly, looks so processed and isn't pure stevia that I have a hard time believing it is healthy. Even the stevia leaf, which I bought a while back from the health food store, is still sitting in my cupboard unused, a) because I don't know how to use it b) because it has a funky aftertaste and c) I have heard something about stevia messing around with people's hormones, but I don't know.

Agave nectar. I've heard some say its healthy. Other people saying its actually really bad for you. I have mixed feelings about this, as agave nectar is made from the sap of the century plant, something that grows around here, and I've even read about how to make my own agave nectar. I have a hard time believing that it could be bad for you if I can make it myself from foraged materials, but I'm torn...

My kids
Being as this is the Penniless PARENTING blog, I figured I should talk about the parenting aspect involved in this change I'm making in my family.
Especially as Lee's meltdown from sugar didn't happen from sugar he ate at home, but rather, sugar that he ate while out.
How do I make sure that my kids don't eat white sugar, and don't resent it either?

Fortunately, I don't think I'll have such a hard time with that.
Kids, especially when young, copy their parents. If their parents do something, they will want to do it too. If a parent indulges in things with sugar, they can't realistically ask their kids to avoid it and think that they'll a) be successful b) manage to not have their kids resent it.
The first step we're doing is that Mike and I both agreed that we're also not going to eat white sugar. Its a whole family change, not just my kids, so the kids won't feel like we're depriving them of something that is "special for grown ups". This is taking sacrifice from Mike's part, because he really likes his (sugary) ketchup, but until I make a healthier ketchup with no bad sweeteners, Mike won't be having ketchup with his food. (At least not when the kids are awake.)

The second step we're doing is to make sure we have yummy foods that don't have sugar. Snacks that the kids love that are flavorful, but not sugary. To stop getting them used to having sugar all the time. Because having some sugar leads you to crave more sugar, etc... but when you go without sugar, you don't crave it as much. When I make food that is delicious and Lee asks me "Mommy, is that yummy? Does it have sugar in it?" I honestly tell him "Yes, its very yummy, but no, it doesn't have sugar in it. Food can be very yummy even without sugar" and try to separate the aspects of sugar and yummy.

The third step we're doing is making sweet things occasionally for the kids that don't have white sugar in it, so the kids don't feel they aren't having any sweet things. I hope to eventually cut back on this as well, but not immediately. For now I think its important so that my kids don't feel deprived.

The fourth step we're doing is made easy by the fact that Lee a) is a pretty bright kid b) has a terrific memory (even better than mine- he reminds me of incidents that happened that I forgot about) c) is easy to reason with and d) is pretty mature for his age.
When Lee asks me for sugar, I've discussed with him why we aren't having sugar anymore. I reference what happened at the party, and ask him if he remembers how he felt. I remind him that he felt very icky and was in a bad, bad, bad mood, and the reason that happened was because he ate sugar, and sugar makes your body feel funny. I've explained to him that when sugar goes into your blood, you feel very excited for a little bit, but then afterwards, when the sugar isn't in your blood anymore, you feel so terrible and are so angry and in a bad mood that its not worth eating the sugar because no one likes to feel like that.
My sweet little son seems to understand my explanations very well; after my explanations he ceases asking for sugar. Of course, it does help that I tell him that that doesn't mean he can't have sweet things, but the sweet things he has should be things that grow naturally, and not that goes through a chemical process (of course, explained in his terms).
I don't assume that my explanations will work overnight, and I don't think I can stop him from ever eating sugar again. If he goes to a friends house and they want to give him a freeze pop, I won't say no. I just don't want him overloading on sugar either.
What I want most of all is to bring an awareness to my children's mind about the bad effect sugar has on people, so that they can make the choice not to eat it, instead of me forcing it on them.
And yes, if we go to parties in the future, I'll bring along healthy, yummy snacks for him to eat so he doesn't feel deprived.
(It helps that my son is staying at home with me and isn't going to preschool like most other kids his age in our neighborhood. I don't think I'd have any success eliminating sugar from his diet if he was in class with 30 other kids who were eating sugary junk on a regular basis. I am providing nearly all of his food, so this makes it easier.)

I have many more post ideas about ideas to cut back on sugar, including recipes, ideas, etc... and I'll be using that icon at the top of this post. "Eliminating Sugar. Frugally. Naturally. The Quest."

If anyone wants to join me on this challenge and also eliminate sugar from their diet, frugally, and naturally, please let me know so we can encourage each other on our quests. Feel free to use that icon I made.

Does your family use white sugar? Why or why not? If you don't, what sweeteners do you use? What sweeteners do you refuse to use, and why?
How do you deal with children and cutting back on the sugar in their diets? Can you reason with your children on the subject, or do they have a mind of their own? ;) 

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