Sugar-Detox Meal Plan: Week #1

To make it easier for anyone who wants to join me in the Sugar-Detox Challenge, I'll be putting together weekly meal plans for myself and anyone else who wants to join. Each dinner should make around enough for two people to have two meals (lunch the next day). Admittedly, during the week I'm pretty stuck in my breakfast routine of green smoothies followed by some nuts a few hours later, but I'll list a few other options as well.

I try to use a lots of different fruits and vegetables, a wide variety of plant- and animal-based protein as well as healthy sources of carbohydrates and fat. Hope this helps provide you with some inspiration as to what to eat!



Cherry Nut Granola with Yogurt, Quark or Milk

Plain nuts
Veggies and hummus*
Veggies and spinach-artichoke dip*
Fresh fruit
* Double the recipe when making dinner and have leftovers for snacks throughout the week

Ratatouille over Oven-Roasted Potatoes

I managed to watch the movie Ratatouille before ever trying the dish. The fact that they dedicated a film to it make me think it was a time-intensive, fancy French delicacy. When I finally did decide to venue out of my box and cook it, I was pleasantly surprised. Not only is it easy as pie, this meal came together in a flash. Unlike Julia Child's beef bourguignon, which has you in the kitchen pretty much all day. From start to finish, this meal was on the table in about 45 minutes. 

Besides just being a stunning combinationg of colors, this vegetarian delight is high in fiber, low in fat, cholestrol and calories, and absolutely packed the vitamins A and C (think immune system, vision and healthy growth of skin, hair bones and teeth).

I decided to serve it over oven roasted potatoes. Now, lots of people have taken this high-carb food source out of the diet due to its reputation as a nutritionally empty, white starch. But in reality, they are a relatively low-calorie, low-fat, high-fiber food that contains phytonutrients (read more here and here). They also contains vitamin C and potassium. It all comes down to how you prepare and eat them, though. Chips, fries and baked potatoes smothered in sour cream, bacon and cheese are not a picture of health.


Sugar-Detox Challenge

Do you want to get control of your sugar cravings? Feel awake and energized without coffee? Are you ready to start the year off feeling like a brighter maybe even lighter you? Then join me over Lent in cutting out refined sugar, processed carbohydrates, alcohol and caffeine!

I know what you're thinking... no chocolate, bread or wine? That sounds ridiculous. But I'm not asking you to give up these things forever, just 46 days (March 5th through April 19th). I promise it is completely doable and absolutely worthwhile. This will be the second time I'm doing it and I'll be here to help guide you along the way with meal plans, recipes and tips to stay on track. And really, what do you have to lose? So you can get an idea of whether of not this is something you would be interested in, I thought I’d answer a few questions.


What made you want to give up these delicious things in the first place?
It was really a combination of factors that convinced me to improve my diet and see what my life would be like without these substances. For one thing, over Christmas I discovered that my blood pressure was higher than my 87-year-old grandmother’s (to be fair she does take meds for it, but still!). Secondly,  I was sick of relying on these stimulants for energy. Since joining the workforce, I had gone from drinking two or three coffees a week to drinking that in a day. These mugs were usually accompanied by something sweet. I wanted to get back to my body’s natural rhythms.

Last but not least, I saw a very poignant and provocative 1.5-hour lecture entitled “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” from Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology. In this video, he makes the bold claim that sugar is not just empty calories but in fact toxic to our body. Some of what he said really resonated with me and I certainly am not the only one. New York Times columnist Gary Taubes felt the same way and summarized the lectures and his thoughts on it in this article if you want to know more.

What exactly are you cutting out and why?

Refined/Processed/Extracted Sugars and Artificial Sweeteners
When I say I “cut out sugar,” this brings up a LOT of questions, because nowadays there are hundreds of different types of sweeteners to choose from. My rule of thumbs was, if humans have had to refine, process or extract it, leave it alone. This includes white sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, Equal, Splenda, etc. When reading labels look out for words ending in “ose”: Fructose, glucose, sucrose, maltose and dextrose. If it does not occur in nature in the form you are eating it, just skip it. These concentrated sweeteners are stripped of most any other nutrients. They quickly digest and spike your blood sugar, which taxes your liver (which is responsible for regulating blood sugar), slows your metabolism and causes insulin levels to increase (promoting fat storage). Worst of all, though, they increase your sugar cravings – a ridiculously vicious cycle.

Now this is not to say sweet things are bad. Fruits and vegetables are sweet, but they contain fiber and a host of other vitamins and minerals that we need. The fiber in these foods ensures they are digested slower, do not spike your blood sugar levels as quickly and that the liver will have more time to process the fructose. I also did use some natural sweeteners VERY sparingly. This includes honey, maple syrup and molasses. When I say sparingly, I mean a few tablespoons for an entire recipe not a single serving.

Processed carbohydrates
Basically replace your bread and pasta with whole grains. By this I mean the actual grains themselves and not just bread and pasta made with whole grains. Whole grain breads almost always contain some kind of processed sugar. When grains are milled or refined, the germ and bran are typically extracted and this removes a large amount of nutrients and fiber. Even when milled whole, it takes a large part of the work away from your body’s digestive system, which means they will be processed more quickly and hit blood stream faster.

I did eat whole foods naturally high in carbohydrates and other nutrients to replace the refined ones, including oats, sweet potatoes, quinoa, millet, buckwheat and wild rice. I choose to go gluten free just to see if it made a difference for me. Feel free to include whole grains that contain gluten, though, such as barley.

Aside from being empty calories, the reality is alcohol is a toxin that our liver has to filter. If you want to read more about what alcohol can do to our health, check out this BBC article.

After the holiday season and all its parties, I felt like I owed my liver a break and realized it had been years since I had gone a month without a drink. That alone made me decide to go all out and cut it out for a least a while. But don’t worry, I promise red wine is not the only place you can get antioxidants.

This one is pretty self explanatory in terms of what I cut out. I avoided caffeinated coffee, black teas and green teas. Why? In part, because caffeine is processed by the liver and again I wanted to give my liver a break, but mostly because I wanted to know what it felt like just to have energy that was natural for once. The first week without it was hard, but after that I felt great. While I love coffee this has been one change that has stuck with me all year long. I now just drink caffeinated coffee on weekends.

Do I really need to cut out all of those things?
No, of course not. Making a huge change is hard and doing too much may set you up for failure. Do what you can.

I would, however, recommend cutting out the processed sugar and carbs together, because only doing one will still leave your blood sugar and energy levels going up and down, making cravings worse and the whole process more difficult. Two of my friends decided to just cut out the sugar last year and I can definitely say they had a harder time.

If you are scared to give up coffee, I can also say that cutting out those sugars and carbs made it a lot easier for me to pass on a cup of joe, because my bloog sugar and natural energy levels were more consistent. If you don’t want to cut caffeine out, try to transition to less of it and in a form that is better for you. Green tea, for example, contains lots of antioxidants and has a bunch of benefits. I go into more in this post.

If you do want to drink alcohol, I'd say try to keep it in moderation and choose options that do not have added sugar. For example, gin and vodka don’t contain any added sugar. Try mixing them with chilled teas, some freshly pressed juice, club soda and a little honey.

What am I supposed to eat for 46 days?
It's true, no processed sugar and carbs does means most processed foods are off limits. Last year, I enjoyed a wide range of vegetables, fruits and grains along with animal protein and some diary. For inspiration as to what your dinner, lunch, breakfast and even dessert can look like, I'll be posting my weekly meal plans ahead of time. Since the challenge starts on a Wednesday, I'll be posting them on Fridays. They will contain 7-8 meal options that should feed two people twice (dinner and lunch) as well as a number of breakfast and snack options. I will also be posting a list of links to other blogs and recipes in case what I'm serving up that week does not appeal to you.

What kind of benefits can I expect to see?
1. Increased energy and improved mood throughout the day. This was huge for me. I used to drink two or three cups of coffee daily along with lots of sugary treats to keep from crashing. After week one, I saw a huge improvement in both my mood and energy levels.
2. Lose of excess weight. Cutting out high-calorie foods and replacing them with nutrient-dense, fiber-filled ones makes it easy to lose excess weight, because the sugar cravings start to disappear and because you'll need bigger portions to get the same amount of calories.
3. Improved appearance of skin, hair, nails, etc. Cutting out the empty calories and replacing with them nutrient-dense ones means your body is getting so much more to work with. Whole food is filled with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that help repair cells and remove free radicals that cause aging and damage.
4. Lower cholesterol. Eating whole foods increases the fiber content in your diet, which will likely have a positive impact on your cholesterol levels.
5. Improved digestion. Again the increased fiber takes longer to digest, cleans your digestive track out and allows you to absorb more nutrients from your food.

Why do you call it a sugar detox?
The liver plays a key role in regulating blood sugar and processing caffeine and alcohol. These dietary changes not only increase the amount of vitamins and minerals you are getting, but also lessen the load on your liver – the organ in your body that is responsible for processing and removing toxins. By giving it a break, your liver can work on cleaning up everything in your body. Read more here.

Why did you choose to do this over Lent?
While I am not Catholic, I choose to do this over Lent for a few reasons. Firstly, it is a time when many other people are making changes in the lives either due to their religious beliefs (Lent) or New Year’s resolutions. This opened the door for getting others to join me, which really helped. I also knew that it would take at least a month to see health improvements from a change in diet and this is one time of year when there are no major holidays when I would feel like I was missing out or tempted to cheat. And last but not least, spring is the time of renewal and awakening. Starting out the year by doing something good for yourself feels amazing and so right!

Are you a nutritionist or a dietician?
No, I am not. I am just an avid health and nutrition enthusiast and passionate foodie who reads a lot about these topics and wants to share the positive benefits I have experienced. Please talk to your doctor before making any significant changes to your diet.


Mushroom & Red Pepper Frittata with Roasted Veggies

You gotta love breakfast for dinner. Especially during the winter. It just feels that much more comforting when it is cold and dark outside. Oh yeah... it's also super simply and in my belly before I start snacking on everything else in my kitchen!

This meal was my effort to use up the contents of my fridge... which happened to be packed with tons of veggies. Brussel sprounts, cauliflower, mushrooms, red pepper, tomatoes. I admittedly may have gone overboard at the farmers' market. Thankfully there is such a thing as a frittata where you can just dump loads of stuff in a pan, cover it in egg and call it a meal! If you skip the bread slices and pancetta I used, you even have yourself a vegetarian, diary-free, gluten-free dinner, breakfast or lunch that is packed with lots of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and protein. Not bad, not bad at all!

I'll keep the post short this time, but I want to at least highlight my favorite part of the meal: Roasted brussel sprouts. These are like candy to me. Seriously, much like with brownies, as soon as they come out of the oven, regardless of how hot they are, I always immediately try to eat them and then at least partially burn my tongue. I am convinced that everyone who says they hate brussel sprouts just hasn't tried them roasted and fresh out of the oven. How can they be soo yummmy and still so good for me?

The goodness of brussel sprouts:
  •  Suppresses the development of precancerous cells thanks to the chemical called sinigrin. 
  • Helps inhibit proliferation of cancer cells, neutralize carcinogens and help detoxify environmental toxins thanks two compounds called isothiocyanates and sulforaphane.
  • A single cup of roasted brussel sprounts contains a whopping 74.8 milligrams of the antioxidant vitamin C, which helps repair cells and boost your immune system. This is also a daily serving for women!
  • A decent dose of fiber that helps lower cholesterol, increase nutrient absorption, and improve digestion and regularity.
  • Low in fat and calories.
  • High levels of Vitamin K that is needed for proper blood clotting and maintaining bone density.


Roasted Beet & Carrot Winter Salad

Too cold for a salad, you say? Not when you cover your greens in warm roasted veggies! Sweet roasted beets and carrots on a bed of spicy greens sprinkled with creamy goat cheese, toasted pine nuts and a lemon-juice dressing.

But to be honest, I wasn't always a beet lover. In fact, I kind of hated beets until I tried this recipe from the Food Babe. It is so good I had to share it! My previous encounters had always been at the salad bar. Those pickled, gelatinous things made me feel like I was eating raw liver (not that I have tried raw liver). Despite this, I realllly wanted to get over myself and reap the benefits of beets (more on that below). So I'd chew and grimance, and grimance and chew. Until now that is!

Roasting turned out to be the perfect way to transform beets into deliciously tender yet crisp versions on themselves. They look like glowing jewels of goodness for crying out loud! How could I not love them?!

The benefits of beets:
  • Rich in vitamins and minerals: Iron (carries oxygen to body), potassium (heart health), magnesium, fiber (digestive/colon health) and phosphorus; vitamins A, B & C; beta-carotene (eye & immune system health), beta-cyanine; folic acid. Beets are especially good for women (pregnacy & menstruation), because they help promote cell growth and replenish iron.
  • Believed to be potent cancer fighter: That beautiful ruby red color that stains just about anything is thanks to a compound called betacyanin, which is believed to help prevent cancer.
  • Blood purifier/Heart health: The folate and betaine in beets work together to reduce toxic levels of homocysteine, a natural amino acid that can harm blood vessels and contribute to the development of heart disease.