Year of No Sugar, A Memoir by Eve O. Schaub

Over spring break I read Year of No Sugar by Eve Schaub.  Ironically I finished on Easter (which she talks about as surely one of the biggest sugar holidays).  In the book Eve takes her family on a sugarless journey after hearing esteemed obesity expert and pediatric endocrinologist, Dr. Robert Lustig‘s YouTube video, Sugar, The Bitter Truth talk about the dangers of sugar.  It is great that Dr. Lusitg’s research and words can reach so many (over 4.5 million view and counting) and empowered this family to take on this challenge.  And the challenge is not only to avoid sugar but also agave, syrup, fruit juice, and any other added sweetener.  Eve is also empassioned by, and  meets David Gillespie, author of Sweet Poison: Why Sugar Makes Us Fat.  Because of this research on the dangers of sugar, and specifically fructose, are so important to this family’s project and the book I wish I would have seen the Dr. Lustig talk and/or read the Gillespie book before reading Eve’s book.  But remember I was on break and actually poolside.  Now that I am home and back to my computer, I will.

I liked Eve’s writing style – honest, warm and witty.  I especially enjoyed reading her 10 year old daughter’s journal entries about her thoughts on the no sugar project.  When I unwrapped my copy of the book and my 10 year old son saw the title he was very concerned and immediately asked “Are we going to do that?”  So I can imagine what Eve and her family went through to survive this challenge and year.  I already seem to some as the health food nazi as I cook,pack, order, and of course, teach, about healthy foods.  This would likely send my children over the edge.  And actually Eve wondered about whether her kids would then resent her and go for sugar overload as soon as they had the chance.

It was interesting to read about the challenges and changes that happened over the year of no sugar.  By no sugar, this also means no agave, no syrup, no fruit juice, or any other added sweetener.  Eve talks about everything from poop (more frequently), and absentees from school (fewer sicknesses), to changing palates and tastebuds.  There were also lots of discussion, and agonizing over the no sugar rules and what was an exception.  One dessert per month.  Kids could make choices at school functions and birthday parties.  Dad still got to drink Dr. Pepper.  (That one baffled me).  Then there was their italian vacation.  (What no gelato?)  While the project and book is about no sugar, really what the family found out is that it’s hard to avoid.  There were  many hoops they had to go through to make food without sugar, and even harder to eat food without sugar while at a restaurant or any venue or house outside their own home.  The book certainly made me think.  Our family does not eat what I consider an excess of sugar by any means.  However I do like to bake with my kids and I find it healthier than buying processed baked goods.  And I teach my kids to go for quality over quantity or quick satisfaction for all foods.  Such as skipping a carnival ice cream for a handmade cone of gelato at the local shop after.  But I also don’t always make my own marinara sauce or condiments.  And our family does like real maple syrup on pancakes.  And let’s not talk about our house specialty…s’mores.

I was a bit surprised by the recipes as a few have sugar and others have dextrose.  Obviously I need to listen to Dr. Lustig’s talk.  But I understand these were recipes they used to get through the year.  So those with sugar were for their monthly dessert, such as Great Grandma’s Hotchkiss’s Sour Milk Chocolate Cake.  Others were no sugar versions using dextrose.  Which by the way is not found in supermarkets.  I only found for purchase online for about $6 per 2 pound bag.  I must admit I have no desire to make any of her recipes.  Sorry.  I have some great no sugar recipes of my own.

I admire Eve’s family’s commitment but felt a little let down at the end, as did Eve herself.  What was going to happen after?  They made changes and the kids are well educated about the dangers and presence of sugar.  However the family’s diet like many other restrictions also had them feeling left out of life.  Funny how sugar plays such an important role in socializing when you think about celebrations, holidays and gatherings.  I was hoping for more of a revelation, and I think Eve did too.  But they had to get back to life.  Also focusing and living this project seemed very all consuming.  It’s easier to do and not think and write about 24/7.  In the end it’s all about moderation and picking your poison.  This book sheds light on our American obsession and hopefully makes readers want to learn more about avoiding sugar, making thoughtful food choices, and searching out the experts on the topic.

Here are a few of the things (excerpted below) Eve’s family took away from our their Year of No Sugar project.  (I know I’m definitely rethinking any juice in my house.)

Number one: don’t drink sugar. If we change nothing else in our culture, we should do this one thing. Not only will we be far healthier, but we’ll begin to realize what we are up against in the Sugar Wars: the ubiquity of sugar, the elevated degree of sweetness we’ve been trained to expect. Tellingly, this cuts out most of our society’s popular options: soda, juice, sugared teas, sports drinks, vitamin waters. What’s left? Water. Lots of water. More water. Milk. Unsweetened tea and coffee. And, due to its vanishingly small percentage of fructose, I hereby give you permission to include wine. You’re welcome.

Number two: read ingredients, always. We have come to a point where it has become all too clear we cannot trust the food industry to have our best interests at heart. The more packages, boxes and bags you read, the more amazed you will be at the number of things you buy, things that are not even sweet, that contain added sugar in all its myriad guises and aliases. Think you know your favorite tomato sauce? Chicken broth? Salad dressing? Cold cuts? I’d be willing to bet if you look closely, you’re going to be surprised. The good news is there’s almost always another brand, further down the shelf, thatdoesn’t contain that sneaky ingredient, if you take the time to find it.

Number three: order simply in restaurants and don’t be afraid to ask. Once you start to ask, you’ll be amazed at how much restaurant food has added sugar in it. And that’s assuming the staff even knows what’s in their own food, which is not always the case. The usual suspects? Dressings, glazes, broths, marinades and always,always the sauce.

Number four: make sugar special. Skip the crappy cookies someone brought to the office. Try having oatmeal with bananas and raisins on top instead of brown sugar. Save your sweet tooth for that oh-so-special something that’s really worth, you know, consuming a little bit of poison for.