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Bye-Bye, Sugar High

Reporter Megan Feldman Goes Without Refined Sugar. Her Life May Never Be The Same.

When my doctor recently recommended I stop eating refined sugar as part of a broad plan to curb a bout of allergies and eczema, I didn't think it'd be such a big deal. "Sure," I said, thankful it wasn't something more integral to my diet, like wheat or dairy, "I don't eat much sugar, anyway."

I had no idea what awaited me.

The first stop was Einstein's. Obviously I wouldn't order a cinnamon roll or a muffin, but a bagel should be okay. Just to be sure though, I asked the manager.

"Oh yeah," he said, "There's sugar in all of them."

Great. So that means no bread except for the organic sprouted wheat I buy at Whole Foods, or as my brother-in-law likes to call it, Whole Paycheck. Fine. "How about the turkey chile then?" I asked. "That doesn't have sugar in it, right?"

The affable manager retrieved a book of ingredient lists and scanned it. Then he looked up at me with an apologetic frown. "Actually, I'm sorry, but we don't have anything without sugar in it." No salads, no soups, no breads without sugar. None. Alrighty, then. Guess I wouldn't be coming here anymore.

Over the next few days, I went to places like Café Express and Panera to find that virtually every salad dressing except blue cheese and ranch are made with sugar, as well as most pasta sauces. At Pei Wei, the only sugarless sauce in the kitchen is the super-spicy "blazing" one. After spending more than an hour at the grocery store scanning the ingredient lists of dozens of items, it was clear that pretty much any packaged food--unless it's from a health food store--is loaded with added sugar, especially the dreaded high fructose corn syrup.

Damn.

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According to the USDA, U.S. consumers eat about 74 pounds of added sugars per year, or 23 teaspoons each day. That's more than a 30-percent increase since the early eighties and equates to 460 daily calories that supply no other nutrients. While sugar's role in fueling type 2 diabetes and obesity and overweight-related conditions is the best-known problem with America's love affair with sweet food, a quick search turns up scores of studies and professional articles suggesting links to other problems, from hyperactivity and addiction to colorectal cancer

I'm sold on the whole no refined sugar thing, but acceptance doesn't make things easier. As the days go by, I get used to asking waitstaff about ingredients and hauling bags of nuts and fruit with me to work instead of running to 7-Eleven for cookies. I go to S&D Oyster Company for a birthday party and order the broiled snapper--so far so good--but fall off the wagon as soon as they bring out the bread pudding (it was well worth it, though). The next day it's back on the sugarless horse, and I'm dutifully eschewing the birthday cake and Sprinkles cupcakes and ginger bread that some heathens have brought into the office.

I actually notice that I'm starting to want sweets less and less, and after years of putting sugar and creamer in my coffee, I don't mind it black.

We'll see how long it lasts.

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