For most of us, consuming alcohol and foods with added sugar has become so much a part of our lives, we don’t really think about it that much.
Sure, the more health-conscious of us will balk at bag of Skittles, but we probably won’t give a second thought as to how much sugar is in our ketchup, stir-fry sauces, and pre-made soups.
So a couple of Dutch filmmakers decided to conduct an experiment to see how completely cutting out added sugar, alcohol, and preserved foods for a month would affect a person’s physical and mental health, and let’s just say, it’s not pretty.
Prior to the experiment, human guinea pig Sacha Harland has his general health tested, with factors such as his weight, fitness, heart and lung capacity, and haemoglobin levels taken into account. He reports having high cholesterol at the start of the month, which he hopes his new diet will address.
Breakfast for the next four weeks is fruit with sugar-free natural yoghurt, eggs, and freshly squeezed juice. So far, not much suffering. Slight suffering kicks in when Harland tries to find a drink at the local convenience store – the only option that didn’t have any added sugar was water. Lunch looks like some kind of depressing salad.
By Day 4, Harland says the crankiness has already set in. “It’s really difficult,” he says in the video, and you can see in his sad, sad eyes he really means it. The problem is that sugar is highly addictive – sweet things make you crave more sweet things.
This is because eating sugar makes your blood sugar rise, and insulin is produced to bring it back down again, and it’s at this low point that our bodies crave sugar to bring us back from that low. Ignore that impulse, and you’ll end up like Harland – irritable and not pleasant to be around.
By Day 5, he’s about ready to cut himself off from other humans, and says he’s constantly hungry. But then an expert tells him unsaturated fat is his new best friend, and he can get it from things like olive oil, oily fish, and nuts, which seems to help get him through.
Skip forward to Day 25, and Harland has a breakthrough – for the first time, he says he doesn’t crave sweet things in the morning anymore. During the last week of the experiment he says he gets up easier in the mornings and has more energy. “I didn’t think it would make this much difference to my physical constitution,” he says in the video above.
We won’t spoil the results of his physical after a month of no added sugar, alcohol, and preserved foods, but they’re pretty incredible. And don’t worry, he’s not going to recommend you follow that diet for the rest of your life – his advice is much more practical (and reminded us that Mars Bars still exist).
Sugar Is Everywhere
While many of us, myself included, may have the desire and intention to minimize our added sugar intake, the biggest challenge — as Sacha himself experienced — is that it is everywhere. From processed foods, to drinks, to even condiments, everything seems to be made more flavourful through added sugar, and in most cases in very large quantities.
(One thing that is important to clarify is that added sugar does not include fruits, which can often be quite high in sugar content. Unlike refined sugars, fruits contain within them the dietary fiber necessary to properly digest their sugar, and therefore do not have the same effect on your body.)
While the battle against added sugar in so much of what we have available to us may seem like an uphill battle, the more of us who shift our consumption away from it, the more the market is pressured to shift along with us, ultimately making their avoidance easier in the long run.
And the easiest way to avoid added sugars? Prepare your meals at home using whole foods ingredients. Doing so will soon become just as habitual as your old ways of eating, but significantly more rewarding. Your body, your tastebuds, and your wallet will thank you!