Snacktoberfest, the Hungry Dads’ annual event in which we review, for your reading pleasure, anything and everything we are snacking on in the month of October. It’s a glorious thing…usually. This year, the majestic tradition was “celebrated” in a shocking and controversial way. At the behest of my dear wife, Mrs. Gallon, and for the entertainment of the Hungry Dads community, I Hugh Gallon, HAVE SPENT ALL OF OCTOBER SUGAR FREE.
That’s right folks. No candy, cake, or spoonfuls of sugar to make the medicine go down.
Mrs. Gallon pitched the idea of eliminating, “processed sugar,” in the same spirit in which she recommended juice diet of 2015 or our vegetarian debacle of 2012. A challenge and cleanse of sorts. Snacktoberfest aside, October seemed like a good month for this experiment – it would be a victory to resist the temptation of pilfering pre-trick-or treating candy in the house. Before I began sugar-free October, I researched some established sugar free diets, like Atkins and Sugar Busters. But these seemed a little unhealthy, not allowing for any fruit. Plus, my goal was not to lose weight. So I went about creating my own plan.
Hardcore fans will recall Episode 34 in which I “gave up candy” for several months under the order of the Food Court’s Judge Rod Budget (Episode 21). However, I made it my mission to find loopholes and limit the definition of “candy,” as much as possible* (e.g. chocolate chips technically weren’t “candy,” but rather “baking ingredients,” thus were acceptable on my ersatz “no candy” diet.) Here, I created a more sincere, prudent set of rules, eliminating processed sugar and most sugar in a way that was attainable and healthy (or at least not unhealthy).
Hugh Gallon’s “No Processed Sugar” Rules:
- No refined sugar (including “sugar in the raw” which is really just sugar)
- No sucrose, dextrose, or artificial sweeteners. These items are not only a huge loophole, but also often gross tasting and not healthy in my opinion.
- No honey, no juice, no dried fruits. These things are arguably “natural.” But they are essentially just another version of refined sugar and could be huge, sugar-laden loopholes making the challenge largely moot.
- No prepared or packaged foods with added sugar. Packaged foods had to show “0 grams of sugar (maybe less than 1% in some cases) AND the ingredients list could not mention sugar, fructose, or dextrose listed anywhere.
- Foods with “naturally occurring” sugars were permissible (fruit, milk, nuts), which admittedly can be high in sugar, but they are digestible in their natural form. And, as unhealthy as I am at times, I refuse eliminate foods that offer essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, etc.
- Eggs, meat, potatoes, French fries, Burger (no bun), Cheese (most – mozzarella is noticeably higher in sugars)
- Wraps (certain types)
- Butter, salt, garlic, spices, oil, mustard, vinegar, gravy (gravy made from juices of home cooking)
- Seltzer, unsweetened iced tea, coffee, milk (especially whole milk which is higher in sugar but natural and very satisfying)
- Cashew Butter, sunflower seed butter
- Pickles, Nuts, plain potato chips, bananas (bananas are big indulgence as they are loaded with sugar, but kept ‘em as a natural, healthy “indulgence.” Hey, they are a fruit man!)
- Hard liquor
- Pizza, pasta (most)
- Breads (most)
- Condiments & sauces (most)
- Soda (obviously)
- Non-specialty peanut butter
- Packaged snacks (most)
Weight loss – I didn’t set out to lose weight, but I did – a little – about five pounds.
Appetite, mental state, and energy – I had heard that cutting out sugar caused headaches at first, then you feel amazing in the end. I felt neither extreme, perhaps because I kept fruit and milk in my diet. I ate more often, but less each time. I noticed that my energy level was more even during the day, which makes sense. No sugar spikes and smaller, more responsible portions. I felt a little healthier at the end of the month, but I didn’t feel so good that I was ready to continue the experiment.
Perseverance, sustainability, and cravings – The novelty and excitement in the beginning made cutting off processed sugar pretty easy. As the weeks dragged on, I got tired of eating the same things and exhausted by trying to find new foods that fit my rules. I was emotionally craving sugar and comfort foods for sure. I made it to the end of October, but I was ready to get back to some sugary foods.
Habit change? – I won’t cut out sugar entirely, but the experiment proved that my health can improved with far less sugar, whilst still eating the foods I like – albeit less often. Unsweetened tea is good. Bread can be avoided a bit more. Candy needn’t be ingested daily. Ketchup isn’t necessary. I logically knew this stuff before, but hopefully my threshold for self-control has permanently readjusted for the better after this stunt. Of course November and December are the real challenges. Not only are the holidays looming, but my house is full of the sweet stuff: (a) Halloween; (b) a visit from my mother bearing snacks; (c) remains of a birthday candy gift scam; (d) leftover sheet cake in the freezer from my son’s birthday. There have never been so many sweets in my house – its like during October, a natural predator was removed from the ecosystem resulting in an overpopulation of sweet snacks.
Walking and Eating – My favorite pastime, walking and eating, was affected by this sugar free thing big time. So many of the best walking foods are sugar based, bread, based, or are just packaged junk foods.
Looks like “Self-control-vember,” is next.
* Loopholes and workarounds during the “candy ban,” included copious amounts of these technically “non-candy” items: cookies, chocolate chips (a baking items), spoonfuls of cake icing, marshmallows (also a baking item), and s’mores, and chocolate syrup straight from the bottle.
A quick review of the foods I ate (and a few I didn’t) during my odd Snacktober:
Xtreme Wellness! Wraps – wraps replaced bread, but not all wraps are sugar free. Thank god these are XTREME when it comes to being sugar free. These are pretty tasty, although my taste buds could sense that slight lack of sugar yielding a mildly unpleasant aftertaste that got old buy the end of the month.
Cured meats – Lots of pepperonis and charcuterie were totally on the table. These Vermont Minis were an exception. They had a full 1g of sugar per serving, so I had to leave them behind at the store and get some regular old pepperoni.
Plain potato chips – To my pleasure and surprise, these uber-processed potatoes, usually, do not contain any added sugar or notable sugar content. Flavors like BBQ and Sour Cream and Onion lay on some sugar, but a quick check of most labels yielded plain chips as a-OK.
Mongolian Fire Oil – Cottonseed and sesame oils infused with chilies, garlic, onion, and ginger. That’s exactly what it tastes like. This was a special purchase made after a few weeks. My tongue needed a new flavor, so I took a chance on this fire oil. Believe it or not, its not super spicy. Its got a mild, delightful spice to it that subsides very quickly. You can put it right on your meat without fear of ruining your taste buds.
Simply Organic Doritos White Cheddar – Holy $hit! These are sugar free! Really? How? I don’t know. They taste almost exactly like legit Doritos. The whole thing may be a farce like Seinfeld’s froyo expose. Its either a sham or a miracle of science. Either way, we enjoyed two bags of this stuff during October.
Simply Organic Tostitos Blue Corn – The nutrition label passed the test and I almost bought them. But then I saw that the less fancy, bargain-priced Santitas. Sorry Tostitos!
Hummus – In a world without most condiments, hummus is king. Known for making raw vegetables tolerable, hummus also worked for me as a dip for my wraps and meat.
Eating Out (Shake Shack/Nathans) – Avoiding sugar in my case meant avoiding bread. Fortunately here in NYC, there are carb-free, gluten-free folks who demand things like breadless burgers. So I was able to get Shake shack burger wrap, fries, and iced tea. All within the rules and super tasty (worth the 25 minute wait for this “fast food.”)
Potatoes – In retrospect, I didn’t rely on potatoes as much as I should have. Baked potatoes with butter, cheese and other stuff would have made for some great meals. Unfortunately the potatoes in my house were not for eating, but rather were bring used to power this clock.
Red meat – like chicken and eggs, an essential way to eat sugar free. And as with chicken, somewhat less enjoyable without my favorite sauces. I had to cook it more carefully with flavor in mind, since I couldn’t just drown out the char with BBQ sauce like a usually do.
Eggs – This experiment reinvigorated my appreciation for eggs of all types – hard-boiled, scrambled with cheese and other stuff, over-easy, etc. (didn’t get to try soft boiled – sorry JW the Beef and Burger Baron!). The various ways to prepare them offered some nice variety. I also learned to enjoy them without ketchup like a grown up should.
Chicken – Good old fowl was a staple on this diet. Easy and filling. The only hard part was finding tasty ways to prepare it without certain sauces (BBQ, teriyaki) or breading. Oil, vinegar, butter, salt, and garlic were all great, but did get repetitive after a while.
Cheese – Most cheeses were great, zero sugar options. This Laughing cow, however, noted a full gram of sugar, so I passed on it. Notably, mozzarella cheese, also had sugar listed, so I just opted for other, harder cheeses that were sugar free.
Sunflower Butter – I knew that peanuts were okay by my rules, but peanut butter is undoubtedly processed and many brands have added sugar. Even the “all natural” peanut butters left some doubt. So I opted for some other butters. Sunflower butter is pretty good on texture, but you won’t be fooled by the taste. Not much sweetness to speak of. But its tasty and filling on a wrap or on a spoon without being a sugar bomb.
Funyuns – Favorite of Rod Budget almost passed the test with less than 1g of sugar, but a look at the ingredients list showed sugar, albiet pretty low down. Still, it was a Funyun-less October for me.
Plain Corn Chips – Check the labels because some (not all) corn chips can pass the sugar free test. Santitas did. Que lastima!
Munchos – Just noting these distinctly, since they are almost, but not quite, potato chips. In my limited milieu of options, even the subtle texture difference brought by Muncho’s pureed and reconstituted potato substance, was a welcome change of pace.
Pork rinds – Here’s a snack I’d seldom pick up if not for limited options. But this experiment has renews my passion for pork rinds. They are a nice change of pace from chips and yep – the traditional variety are totally sugar free.
Bragg Organic Apple Cider Vinegar with the “Mother” – Based on the recommendation of a friend, I paid extra for this fancy apple cider over the store brand. It was totally worth it. I have often marinated with vinegars of various types. This one was awesomely flavorful in a way I’ve not had before. (its also good as a salad dressing with some oil, or with some other stuff in it, good for a sore throat).
Regular peanut butter – Nope. Sorry. Peanuts are okay, but peanut butter, like juice, is just a little to sugar punched and un- natural to pass the test. I suffered through the less sugary cashew and sunflower butter.
Almonds – Raw not too sugary and totally natural. Even though they are killing the water supply in California, I was happy to have almonds on hand during my month of need.
Classic Lays and Lays Simply Says Sea Salted – The nutrition labels passed the test and I almost bought them. But then I saw that the less fancy, bargain-priced store brand chips, which also passed the test. Sorry Lays!
Yellow mustard – Mustard is an old friend for dieters who want some flavor. Mixed with vinegar or oil, mustard packs a lot of flavor without any sugar. Thank you mustard. We love you.
Popcorn – An unsurprising option for a health kick. Not as tasty as potato chips, but nice as an alternative. I was even able to find a few cheese flavored, herb flavored, and chipotle flavored popcorns that remained sugar free, so lots of variety here. Although, like the wraps, my taste buds missed the slight hint of sugar that you’d find in a more traditional flavored popcorn.
Beans – I had planned on eating beans more during my sugar free month. But I quickly figured out that I didn’t really like beans. Baked beans are okay. But they are okay thanks to sugar. I probably should have found some good spicy bean recipes or something. But I defaulted to meat mostly. Sorry beans.
Cashew Butter – Tastes better than sunflower butter and almost as good as peanut butter. I opted for a brand that assuredly had no added sugar. This officially met the standards of my diet, but I had to be responsible about it since it did (naturally) pack a decent amount of sugar in it. Still, I considered cashew butter to be one of the few indulgences I had.
Vegetables – Gotta eat ‘em. Don’t love ‘em. Gotta eat ‘em. Natural. Low in sugar. Don’t love ‘em. Gotta eat ‘em. These Steam’ables (did we need the apostrophe?) Edamame are undoubtedly amongst the most delicious of vegetables.
Dill Pickles – like beans, I had expected pickles to be a huge savior in sugar free snacking, acknowledging that certain types, like Bread and Butter were unacceptable based on sugar content. But y’know what? I got sick of pickles really fast. Like three days with a few pickles each and I was done for the month.
Packaged side dishes – most convenient packaged foods at he grocery store had sugar included, so meals were usually from scratch. But a look down the health food aisle yielded some sugar free prepared foods, like this Hodgson Mill Garlic and Herb Quinoa and Brown Rice. Totally tasty and fancy. Make tonight a quinoa night, won’t you?