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

  • My husband and I read the “Is Sugar Toxic” article a couple weeks ago and it has been an eye opener! We are working on cutting refind sugar out of our diet (this week I made your recipe for granola cereal!). I am often shocked where I find sugar listed in an ingredient list. We are going to continue to work on cutting out refined sugar.

    I wanted to point out that on this posting, your blog links for Main Ideas for Breakfast, Lunch, etc were not working when I tried them.

    Also, I have a love for baking – do you have any ideas on how to substitute honey or maple syreup for white sugar when baking?

  • Ooooooh my gosh. This is the week that’s gonna kill me.



    I normally don’t eat much food at home that contains refined sweeteners. Really just once a week when I serve dessert to guests on weekends. Though I don’t exercise the same restraint when I’m out of the house and I’m offered a cupcake or something.

    The artificial sweetener thing will be difficult too. While I don’t keep artificial sweeteners in the house, I do still have a diet soda habit. It has gotten better in recent weeks, but I still average two or three 20-oz bottles of some sort of diet drink a week.

    I haven’t decided if this is going to be easier or harder than the refined grains thing.

    Anyway, I’m in. At least, I’m going to try to be in!

  • Once you get in the habit of cutting out more sugar, food tastes better without it. Plain old-fashion oatmeal and yogurt used to be so gross to me, but now I love them both. I’m sure I still eat waaayyyyy too much sugar (cookies, anyone?), but it’s amazing how little you actually need. Thanks for the helpful info and the reminder to steer clear when possible!

  • Aron

    I’m going to give it my best effort :D I already use honey in my coffee, so that’ll be easy. It’ll be skipping the yogurt that will be hard for me.

  • orchid

    putting sugar in oatmeal sounds disgusting to me. i’ve always had it with just cinnamon.

    i almost never have sugar in anything except things i’ve baked myself. runner’s world just had a recipe for a mango lassi that calls for sugar. i can’t understand that–mangos are sweet!

  • Laurin

    I was planning on doing this one next week anyways! So glad it’s the pledge of the week!! I’m going to try extra hard :) I’m planning on making your banana bread recipe tomorrow actually! (your zucchini bread AND pumpkin bread have been a gigantic hit with my whole family INCLUDING my diabetic grandmother who can have a slice without a spike in blood sugar! yay!) Thanks so much for all you do! (p.s. Happy Early Mother’s day!)

  • i’m definitely joining in on this challenge! i’ve been struggling with sugar so much lately… i can’t leave it alone!! i quit eating sugar almost entirely for two years and did very well at it. i felt great and knew i was doing the right thing for my body by not eating sugar. i’m not saying that’s the right thing for everyone to do, but it was definitely the right thing for me.

    long story short, i’ve totally let my sugar consumption get out of control again. perhaps it would still be considered moderate by some people’s standards in comparison, but it’s still too much for me. i can “feel” it.

    thanks for the extra push in the right direction!

  • Natalie

    What about Stevie…isn’t it all natural and unrefined? Not” Truvia” I mean pure Stevia?

    • 100 Days of Real Food

      No stevia allowed…I just added it to the list. It was only recently approved in the U.S. as a sweetener (in the 1980s) and is still banned in some countries. When in doubt leave it out!


        I am recently researching Stevia after being told by a personal trainer that it is natural and doesn’t affect the body as sugar does. The more I read, the more I believe Stevia was banned by the US to protect the artificial sweetener companies here…basically political with lobbyist involved. So that has made me disregard the US “ban” as being legit. It’s been highly used in Japan for decades.
        I have a husband who is trying to make the switch but still needs a little help in this department. The good thing about it is that it is natural if you purchase it right. Some manufacturers add stuff so we are researching where to buy it. And there are studies that show if consumed in large quantities, it is bad for you, but what isn’t? Everything in moderation. I haven’t decided to start using it, but so far, all natural and doesn’t affect the body as white sugar does? I think this deserves more research.

  • I’m into my 3rd week for this part of real food. It feels good to pay attention to all of the ingredients.

  • Tiffany

    This one is going to be really hard!!! I will try to do this every other day – 1 adult!

  • stacy forrest

    I’m in. Although I try to do this anyway, not slipping all week will be a challange…..but a good one!

  • lakesidemama

    I’m in. I ditched the aspartame habit a few months ago. I found it really difficult because I missed the super sweetness for so long! However, I persevered even through about a month of withdrawl headaches. Then I cut out sugar and brown sugar. I didn’t miss sugar nearly so much. Because I love to cook I have been having fun finding recipes using natural sweeteners. Have a honey of a week everyone!

  • MountainHi

    Just a note – my NY’s pledge was to add one healthy habit or change to my life every week until…
    These updates have allowed me to be a little lazy finding ideas! I am careful with my sugar/carb intake due to a family history of diabetes, and wanted to limit the use of artificial sweeteners (kicked the diet soda habit as my first 2011 goal). I use maple syrup in cooking, but for coffee/tea is stevia compatible with this week’s pledge? Honey and maple sugar are draining my bank account! Though I’m not 100% crazy about the taste of Stevia, it is touted to as beneficial in fighting diabetes.

    • 100 Days of Real Food

      Stevia is not allowed…read some of the other comments for more of an explanation. If honey and maple syrup and getting expensive that’s an even better reason to consume them in moderation!! I know not what you wanted to hear :)

  • Monique

    I have done this before but “went off the wagon.” I going to start again… I will also encourage others to do so as well:)

  • Michelle

    I don’t know if I can, but I am going to try to go sweetener-free for one week. Eek! This is going to be hard for me.

  • Ellen

    I never was one to drink alot of soda, use sugar in my coffeem, tea or add it to food. My ds however is beginning his 2nd year of pastry/culinary school and is always baking and bringing stuff home. Tack on the blasted Dairy Bar and Junior’s donuts and the temptations are all around. I will do my best to avoid refined sugar, and as for artificial sweeterners, YUCK never touched them.

  • Stacie

    Seeing I get my favorite dessert on Mother’s Day still, our whole household is on for the challenge. 1 adult and 2 children aiming for the whole week; 1 adult in for all but his work lunches.

  • sheri

    we have been trying to cut out refined sugar AND flour as much as possible…substituting honey, maple syrup, and whole wheat as often as we can. i make the majority of our breads, tortillas, snacks, and baked goods from scratch and even though there is sugar in many of the recipes i use i feel better knowing that i am in control of just how much i put in (or whether i find a substitute) and that i actually KNOW what is in the food we are eating (vs. not being able to pronounce something on an ingredient list!) i know we will not cut out sugar completely this week, but we will absolutely try to be more creative with honey and maple syrup…especially since you recommended maple syrup in coffee and i love it =) also, thank you for the recipes that include more natural ingredients! so nice to have a quick reference site when i’m looking for something different to try!

  • Lindsey

    I am wondering why agave is listed as “don’t use” and why stevia is not suggested at all. I have heard that there is not any benefit to agave (other than as a sweetener) and I know that since the FDA allowed stevia to be sold as a sugar substitute it has become fairly commercialized. I am not asking in any sort of as a challenge, I would just love to know more about your research and reasoning behind the use of honey and maple syrup, but not these other products that (I have heard) are fairly natural when purchased with some research and thoughtfulness.
    Thank you!
    P.S. I just read about you on CivilEats and I am excited to start following the blog!

    • 100 Days of Real Food

      Welcome to the blog! I have added stevia to the list…I tried to name them all, but knew I would leave something out. The reason for stevia is because it was only fairly recently approved in the U.S. as a sweetener (in the 1980s) and it is still banned in some countries. My philosophy is when in doubt…leave it out. Michael Pollan says that we should be eating the foods that people have survived on for centuries and that innovation in food is bad. So I think that backs up our honey and maple syrup choices, which have obviously been around forever!

      • Another idea perhaps is the fact that it’s becoming more and more common to see stevia (“Reb-A” and “Rebiana”)and agave in packaged/processed foods, and a big part of the challenge is to avoid having someone else sweeten your food for you.

        When the week for this is over I’ll not completely adhere to the challenge, but I think I’ll add sucanat to my list of acceptable sweeteners for the fact that I’ve never seen “sucanat” listed as an ingredient in a packaged food. Oh and for the record, I don’t consider “evaporated cane juice” or turbinado sugar to be the same as sucanat. I see those in packaged foods all the time.

  • I am definitely in! Come to think of it, I should blog all about these mini-pledges I’ve been taking. Here in the sunny (or in today’s case – stormy)islands of the Philippines, nobody is safe from sweeteners either. Locally-made prepared salad dressing has HFCS as the second or third ingredient! Argh, and I thought I was eating healthy too!

    (jumped here from Carrie Vitt’s)

  • Kelli

    I’m in. 1 adult. I switched to natural peanut butter last year and at Christmas I was doing baking and just bought the old name brand that I used to eat. I tasted it and thought it had gone bad! It tasted disgusting to me now that I am used to the natural kind w/o the sugar and added oils. It’s funny how your taste buds can change (for the better). :)

  • lakesidemama

    A quick question…..what do you think about maple sugar? I was at the farmers’ market this weekend and the local maple syrup producer was selling granulated maple sugar. She said that they just boiled down the maple syrup until it became maple sugar. Would this be considered too processed or could I use it in addition to honey and maple syrup?

  • Barb

    I’m in. As for my family, I’m not so sure about. Well, no, they aren’t in.

  • Gretchen

    Have you seen the movie Elf with Will Ferrel? Well that is what I felt like this morning as I sweetened my coffee with maple syrup. I couldn’t help but laugh when I recalled Will Ferrel pouring obscene amounts of maple syrup in and on anything he consumed. hehe – if you haven’t seen it – see it. My favorite Christmas (and Will Ferrel) movie.

    • 100 Days of Real Food

      I forgot all about that scene LOL! And yes, funny movie…

    • Hayley

      I was making an Asian noodle dish the other day and since I was using unsweetened peanut butter, it needed a little something. As I found myself pouring maple syrup over whole wheat pasta, I couldn’t help but picture Buddy the Elf! Laughed so hard I almost cried.

  • We use honey all the time for a substitute in recipes and it works great! I make all my muffins, breads, you name it using honey instead of sugar! We use a bit of maple syrup to flavor our oatmeal and it works wonders! I can get honey and maple syrup locally so not only does it help our health it helps our local economy as well!

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