Title: A Year of No Sugar: A Memoir
Author: Eve O. Schaub
Genre: Non-fiction memoir, Food
It’s Dinnertime. Do You Know Where Your Sugar is Coming From?
Most likely everywhere. Sure, it’s in ice cream and cookies, but what scared Eve O. Schaub was the secret world of sugar–hidden in bacon, crackers, salad dressing, pasta sauce, chicken broth, and baby food.
With her eyes open by the work of obesity expert Dr. Robert Lustig and others, Eve challenged her husband and two school-age daughters to join her on a quest to eat no added sugar for an entire year.
Along the way, Eve uncovered the real costs of our sugar-heavy American diet–including diabetes, obesity, and increased incidences of health problems such as heart disease and cancer. The stories, tips, and recipes she shares throw fresh light on questionable nutritional advice we’ve been following for years and show that it is possible to eat at restaurants and go grocery shopping–with less and even no added sugar.
Year of No Sugar is what the conversation about “kicking the sugar addiction” looks like for a real American family–a roller coaster of unexpected discoveries and challenges.
My opinion about the Year of No Sugar fluctuated wildly while I was reading it, from hating it tremendously, to thinking it was mildly okay towards the end.
The basic premise of Schaub’s memoir is a sound one…sugar IS everywhere. I just came off of a month of following the Whole 30 plan, used by many, including myself, as a dietery reset to get back on track towards eating a whole foods, healthy diet. During the Whole 30 you cut out many things: grains, dairy, alcohol, corn, soy, legumes, and sugar. While I modified slighlty – I kept in brown rice and quinoa – the hardest aspect of Whole 30? Cutting sugar.
Because.It.Is.Everywhere. Practically every condiment contains sugar: pickles, ketchup, mayo, relish, etc. It’s in salad dressings, chicken and beef stock, sauces, deli meat, breads, bacon, sausages, pasta sauce, prepared soups, sushi, smoothies…it is literally everywhere.
After Schaub discovered this after watching a Youtube video by Dr. Robert Lustig, she decided to set off on living a year without sugar, including her whole family in the experiment. Now this is where I started to have major problems with the misleading title and concept of her book.
Because they didn’t live a Year of No Sugar. Hell, with all of the exceptions, I’m not even sure they lived a week with no sugar. Eve makes a distinction between fructose and dextrose. She cut out fructose, including fruit juice (preferring to eat fruit in its natural form). But, from the way her memoir is written, it sounded like most nights of the week, she still made a dessert. Her exceptions included:
- The family had one dessert per month that contained sugar
- Each family member could pick one exception per person, a sugary food that didn’t count and which they could have at any time throughout the year. Eve chose wine, her husband Diet Dr. Pepper, and her two girls jam.
- The kids had a third exception: they had autonomy outside the home, when their parents were not present (i.e. birthday parties, school, etc), to make their own decision on whether or not to eat any sugary treats offered.
Having just come off of the Whole 30, the very best thing that I did to help cut sugar cravings was to follow the guideline of not allowing any substitutions that resembled dessert. No gluten-free angel food cake made with coconut “sugar” and almond flour. No banana “ice cream” or avocado chocolate pudding or raw brownie bites. The idea behind the Whole 30 reasoning is that indulging in sweets – even with no sugar added – is reinforcing the behaviors that you are trying to change. I was skeptical, but at the end of 30 days I can see with absolute certainty that my taste buds have completely changed as far as sugar is concerned.
Later in her memoir, Eve started baking with dextrose. All told, from the way the book read, it seemed like they ate more desserts during their Year of No Sugar than our family did before embarking on the Whole 30. She spends most of her time in her memoir describing the various ways she tried to sweeten her foods without breaking her resolution. Ultimately, the whole book feels wildly arbitrary and hyper-controlling all at the same time.
She also puts forward a dangerous idea: that cutting out sugar may be the magic cure-all for all of Western societies ailments. Life is not that simple. Meanwhile, the family had no problems indulging in other unhealthy foods during the Year of No Sugar.
The writing style is engaging in fun, but I can’t support the majority of the content. And when you get to the end, there is a lovely recipe section, but what recipes does she include? Desserts. Not only her “unsweetened” desserts (made with dextrose), but the recipes for her once-a-month sugar treats. I found it all highly ironic.
I successfully cut out all sugar for more than a month, and since that month ended, I have only had a sugary treat once: dark chocolate with almonds. It fundamentally changed the way my body tastes sweets, and I plan on continuing long-term with a drastically lower amount of added sugar in my diet. I will keep using the packaged foods I found that do not contain added sugar as a replacement for like items that do contain sugar, and save the sugar intake for a true, high-quality treat every once in a while.
For those looking to cut back on sugar in packaged products, I recommend the following items:
- Salad dressing, Cindy’s Kitchen Barcelona Vinaigrette is a great pre-made option.
- Trader Joe’s Kettle Cooked Chicken Soup for a gluten-free, sugar free prepared soup
- Chicken stock: Imagine Organic Free-Range chicken stock
- Trader Joe’s Chile Lime Chicken Burgers (these are particularly good in a lettuce bun with guacamole)
- Rao’s Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce
I picked up Year of No Sugar purposely after finishing the Whole 30 to help me stay motivated to keep sugar out long-term. What I found was that this book didn’t help that goal in any way, but I did discover that I alreadym have the motivation I need to keep on this path. Yay for self-empowerment!