Sweet Comfort Without Sugar

Everyone has that one food that sends them off track. For me, it was the sweet comfort of fancy coffee drinks. I was never a Starbucks girl, but a former lover of Dunkin’ (and I was flunkin’).

To be completely straightforward, a Sage reader suggested that I detail out my weight gain from 100 to 130 lbs. when I stopped eating gluten fourteen years ago. I’ve often discussed how gluten free replacement foods were a big factor, but there’s something very important I’ve left out: sugar.

I was never really a sugar person and don’t drink soda. I also prefer salty snacks over sweet. I’ve always enjoyed coffee, however, and was putting sugar in my coffee in the morning and again in the afternoon. Also, when I was first diagnosed with celiac disease, there wasn’t much education around food choices and the gluten free diet. I would order coffee instead of food when meeting friends out for brunch.

According to research from the Action On Sugar Campaign, many frothy coffee drinks contain a sugar equivalent to 3 cans of Coca-Cola!

These coffee drinks are loaded with other processed ingredients too, like high-fructose corn syrup, artificial colors and artificially flavored syrups.

It’s not just the frapp trap that’ll getcha either. It can be as seemingly benign as adding a tablespoon of sugar to your coffee. It could start out as that, but what if you double up to change the flavor from bold to sweet, or have more than one cup of coffee a day? Seems pretty harmless, but let’s think about this for a sec.

1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons x 3 times a day

A teaspoon of sugar is equal to 4 grams, so that would be 12 grams of sugar per cup. If you drink 3 cups a day, that equals 36 grams of sugar a day… just for your coffee!

Sugar is nearly everywhere, not just frothy coffee drinks, sodas and desserts. It’s in so many processed foods, many of which are the gluten-free replacement foods I’ve been talking so much about.

If you Google “gluten free diet” the first 5 search results will give you a list of grains and starches that can be used as gluten free replacements for flour.

But the majority of these flours and starches used to make gluten free bread and other gluten free substitutes are incredibly high glycemic, which means they can quickly elevate your blood sugar levels—and therefore insulin levels—that lead to weight gain. Then when these gluten free flours and starches are packaged to replace traditional cereals, breads, crackers, crusts and pastas, more sugar is added!

Dr. William Davis calls these gluten free foods “junk carbs”.

Reading labels is the key to finding out how much sugar is in your food. Other words to look for on ingredient lists that also mean sugar include evaporated cane juice, sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup solids, dehydrated cane juice and corn sweetener.

When you’re gluten free and can’t eat much of the breakfast buffet, you might go for an extra cup of coffee or add sugar in your coffee to replace the unavailability of healthy food items to get yourself going. This is a mistake. As tempting as that is, I can attest to avoiding that.

Sugar should replace nothing. Sweet comfort foods are not a substitute for bread.

My thoughts are to avoid it, though it’s not as easy as it sounds. This article from Vanderbilt University Medical Center and this article from The Guardian detail the connection between food and feelings, and how under stress, the body craves carbohydrates—which have chemical properties that soothe and relax us.

sweet comfort food eating to feed our emotions owning our story brene brown quote

Then take a celiac diagnosis and the emotions you experience after being told you have to change your entire diet around this disease. If the body craves carbs under stress, then we’re craving the very thing we’re told we can’t eat… yet there’s still the sweet comfort of sugar. And it’s gluten free.

Everyone is different and I had to quit cold turkey, as going too heavy on the junk carbs can happen in a blink of eye. Most break rooms, hospital lounges, or common areas in business offices have donuts, bagels, or a bowl of candy on the table to grab and go, too. The temptation is all around us. We need to always be awake to their presence. Carb Dementors!

It’s important to not do anything that leaves you feeling bad. Too much of anything isn’t a good thing. Trust me, I know this.

It can be anything that makes us jump from the high dive without precision. Maybe your one thing that sends you off track is too much caffeine. It could even be in the disguise of a good thing, like too much exercise or too much volunteering. Too much drama isn’t good. I usually run the opposite direction, though too much runnnnning isn’t good either.

Everything in moderation. Except compliments, kind words or encouragement. Thoughtfulness in excess? I say YES!

Over the last 10 years, the one thing I’m most aware of—and uneasy with—is that sugar addiction is real, obesity has become an epidemic, and too much consumption of it causes problems. This is a good instance where running away works. 🙂

Many gluten free websites are all about  substitutions for cookies, cakes, pies… with icing on everything. Take this for example: The Academy of Culinary Nutrition lists their recommendations for the Top 50 Gluten Free Blogs. There are a few sites listed for recipes like Raw Taco Wraps, Butternut Squash Pasta and Roasted Root Vegetables, but scroll down and you’ll see a majority of photos of cookies, pies, cakes and other sweet substitutions and links to their respective gluten-free websites.

I abstain. I get my sweet comfort without sugar and in other ways… like poetry, my home, or from the people I love.

I’m so grateful that I ditched the frothy comfort-on-the-run five years ago. It has been an amazing transformation! Not only did I lose the extra weight, but I felt lighter and more energetic, my skin cleared up and my eyes became brighter. I now have coffee in the morning (one to two cups) with a only splash of almond milk.

Just because you’re thin and blood tests show no sign of diabetes, doesn’t mean the amount of refined sugar you’re eating isn’t negatively effecting your health.

Sugar is the new cigarette. Think about the Easter basket you got as a child, or the plastic pumpkin full of candy on Halloween. Kids can go overboard on the sweet stuff and adults are often just children in a three piece suit. 

The best advice I can share about refined sugar and junk carbs is that it’s good to go pure. Eat whole single ingredient foods. Craving a cookie? Eat a banana or apple slices with peanut butter. Even a square of dark chocolate. Yes, there are truly healthy forms of chocolate if you eat the right stuff!

Most of the time when people start regulating their blood sugar by eating protein, unrefined carbs and good fat at every meal and snack (and eat regularly – like every 2 or 3 hours), they find they don’t crave sugar and refined carbs, or even need as much coffee anymore. You naturally have more energy, more mental clarity and are awake when you wake in the morning!

Listen to your body. Pay attention to cravings. Trust yourself. It’ll be much easier to have the willpower to Just Say No to Supersize and skip the sodas and danish when you begin to recognize the “why”.

Omit refined sugar and junk carbs from your diet and teach your children this as a lifestyle, not a choice. An occasional dessert or a slice of birthday cake is cool, but avoid sugar as a rule! Good luck. You’ve got this.

About Jet Widick

Jet Widick is the founder of Gluten Free Sage, a weekly publication that promotes healthy food, healthful lifestyle, mindfulness and minimalism. She believes that each of us longs for artful experiences and that we need to be well and inspired to help us become the best, most beautiful versions of ourselves that we can be.