Mini-Pledge Week 9: No Refined Sweeteners

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The time has come to cut out all refined sweeteners including sugar! And this particular challenge is actually what inspired me to start the mini-pledges in the first place. It all started when I was having lunch with my kindergartner one day at school. I was looking around at what the other kids brought for their lunch and between the white bread, the flavored yogurt, the crackers, and the jelly every single meal I surveyed contained some sort of refined sugar and in most cases – lots of it.

As I’ve said before, it is not necessarily the sugar itself (yes, white sugar is technically “natural” albeit highly refined), but it is the quantity in which our society consumes sugar that concerns me. What have things come to if we can’t even have a cracker or a bowl of cereal or a beverage unless it has been sweetened? Come on, sugar is in almost everything these days even when you least expect it. So it is time to put our foot down and live one week of our entire lives without any refined sugar. Can you do it?

Mini-Pledge Week 9: May 9 – May 15 – No refined or artificial sweeteners including (but not limited to): white sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, sucanat, splenda, stevia, agave, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup, and cane juice. Foods and beverages can only be sweetened with a moderate amount of honey or maple syrup.

I get so many questions about sweeteners especially from those wondering why we’ve chosen honey and maple syrup as our sweeteners of choice. The moral of the story is – and most experts would agree – sugar is sugar and no matter what form of sugar you choose always consume it in moderation. Whether it is white table sugar, raw sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, or maple syrup they are all – for the most part – sugars. We selected honey and maple syrup as our sweeteners of choice because they are two of the least processed “sugars” out there, and they are also difficult to find in highly processed foods. Honey and maple syrup also have slightly more nutrients than highly refined sweeteners like white table sugar, although – once again – all sweeteners are similar in the fact that overall they are high in calories and low in nutrients.

During our 100 Days of Real Food pledge, when we were restricted to honey and maple syrup as well as nothing out of a package with more than 5 ingredients, we ended up having to make all the “sweetened” foods we ate ourselves. I could not find any store-bought “sweet treats” that followed all of our rules – and trust me I looked! Since this sweetener restriction forces you to make sweetened foods from scratch you can see and control how much sweetener is being added. And chances are you will use a lot less sweetener than some factory. So back to how Americans are consuming sugar in overwhelming amounts these days…I saw an interesting statistic highlighted on

Health experts recommend we eat no more than eight teaspoons of sugar a day. But on average, Americans consume four times that much.

In case you are challenged with simple math (like me) that means we are, on average, consuming 32 teaspoons a day! Also how about this for “food for thought” from New York Times Magazine article “Is Sugar Toxic?”:

Sugar is likely the “dietary cause of several other chronic ailments widely considered to be diseases of Western lifestyles — heart disease, hypertension and many common cancers among them.”

Assuming you are now convinced that reducing sugar intake is a good idea, I don’t want to leave you hanging. So next you will find everything from detailed meal plans to recipes to school lunch ideas that will help you successfully complete this pledge. You pretty much won’t find anything on this blog that calls for refined sweeteners so there are plenty of ideas to choose from. Here are some to get you started:

Resources for Meals without Refined Sweeteners

In closing, there are two key takeaways when it comes to sweeteners. Never choose an imitation sweetener (like splenda) over the real thing and no matter what sweetener you choose always consume it in moderation. We hope that restricting you to honey and maple syrup next week will help you accomplish both of those things!

To take the pledge: Please leave a comment below with the number of adults and kids in your household that will participate, and also share if you will do it for one meal, one day, or for the entire week. Put it in writing and make it official!

Good luck!


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187 comments to Mini-Pledge Week 9: No Refined Sweeteners

  • Meghan

    PLEASE people, I beg of you to do your research before banning Agave from you list of sweeteners. I ONLY buy organic. The ingredient: Organic Blue Agave Nectar. One ingredient. Not 5, ONE.

  • Jan

    I am interested in unrefined or minimally refined natural sweeteners with lower glycemic indexes than sugar. I started using organic blue agave because of the lower glycemic index, and supposed health benefits, a few years ago. But I recently read that, contrary to all the marketing hype, agave is actually a very highly refined product with no real health benefits. What about unrefined organic coconut palm nectar (for ex, Sweet Tree brand from Whole Foods)which claims to contain 16 amino acids and other healthy nutrients. Also, what about organic unrefined coconut palm sugar (for ex, Aunty Patty’s from Whole Foods)?

  • Christina

    I’m a big coffee drinker and I have yet to try maple syrup as a sugar substitute…any brands you recommend? Besides that and honey, would you suggest anything else for coffee that isn’t too bad for you?

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hello Christina. Look for a 100% pure maple syrup. If you are doing the pledge, the only other sweetener that is approved is 100% fruit juice concentrate. Outside of the pledge, you might give coconut palm sugar a try. ~Amy

  • jojomatt

    When using either maple syrup or honey what is the ratio? cup of sugar = how much of either????
    Or do you just taste test? Thank you.

  • [...] “taking something away” during the last two weeks of real food mini-pledges who’s up for another challenge where we [...]

  • Paul

    What is wrong with Stevia ?

  • [...] The syrup jug looks identical to the pure maple syrup containers and in big letters it boasts “no high fructose corn syrup” on the front. But when you turn it around you see that it’s made from brown rice syrup (yet another form of refined sugar) and not REAL maple syrup. These companies know many of us are busy and in a hurry and making decisions based on the front  of the package (and in this case the shape) so you have to be very careful when making purchases! In the end “sugar is sugar,” but we do like to avoid the refined (and artificial) stuff. [...]

  • [...] Week 9: No refined sweeteners – No refined or artificial sweeteners including (but not limited to): white sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, sucanat, splenda, stevia, agave, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup, and cane juice. Foods and beverages can only be sweetened with a moderate amount of honey or maple syrup. [...]

  • Keagan

    Do you recommend a brand of raw sugar to replace white sugar if needed in baking?

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Keagan. Not really. You might give coconut palm sugar a try (be sure it is a brand that is sustainably sourced) but Lisa uses honey or maple syrup in almost all of her baking. ~Amy

  • Jen

    I have noticed that maple is used as a sweetener quite frequently. I am just not a huge fan of maple. Can you recomend a substitute besides honey? Specifically for flavoring yogurt, coffee, etc.


  • […] PROGRESS: Food challenges (one week each): 9. No refined sweeteners – No refined or artificial sweeteners including (but not limited to): white sugar, brown sugar, […]

  • Jeri

    I just wanted to say that I (who is 46 with no child under 20) is finally getting through to my kids. My son told me yesterday that he was going to stop with all the sugar. He was adding sugar to crystal light. While i know we shouldn’t drink crystal light, going from a case of cherry coke a day to a gallon of McDonald’s sweet tea, I was glad to cut it out until I found out he was “sabotaging” me unknowingly.

    With this being said, do you have any suggestions other than plain water for us to drink? I drink about a gallon a day anyway because of medicine that keeps me thirsty. But for them. I’m planning to buy a juicer so that we can all drink fresh juice. Thanks in advance.

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi there, Jeri. My family’s go to drink is sparkling water with a splash of 100% fruit juice. Cranberry is their favorite but they also love orange juice and pomegranate. This combo made it easy to ditch soda and full strength juices. :) ~Amy

  • Jen

    Our family of 7 cut out processed foods January 1st. I also took it one step further and cut out refined sugar. I didn’t think I could do it. I have a HUGE sweet tooth. But all of us have been amazed at how much maple sugar and honey can sweeten things up and you only have to add a little bit(and I didn’t like maple sugar or honey and neither did the rest of my family)! Now, on the rare occasion when I eat a cookie or something with refined sugar in it, I get light headed right away because I am not use to all that sugar. I use to be able to eat 6 cookies at one sitting and not flinch!! Another interesting thing for taste buds is that I use to only be able to eat a grilled cheese with LOTS of potato chips. After a few weeks of not eating processed junk I made myself a grilled cheese and decided to break the rules and have chips with it. I put one in my mouth and literally spat it out! It tasted like running my tongue over a salt lick to me!! Amazing how your taste buds change once they are ‘cleaned’. =)

  • Rebecca

    I am ready to cut out sugar! Question as I transition: Does Maple Sugar count as an approved sweetener? My understanding is that it is dehydrated maple syrup.

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Rebecca. Just honey and pure maple syrup are approved for the pledge as well as 100% fruit concentrate (in a pinch). ~Amy

  • Cristina

    I haven’t seen anywhere that you use “raw” honey. I’ve been purchasing raw honey as regular honey is refined and has most of it’s nutrients stripped away. So then it’s not much different than white sugar? What have you found the case to be for raw honey vs. just honey?

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