Thursday, February 06, 2014

The Sugar-Free Life

As I explained here recently, my 19-year old son and I have both been battling yeast overgrowth. For me, it's a matter of past treatment for Lyme (finished 2 years ago!) still affecting me; for him, he has been on antibiotics (for Lyme, bartonella, and babesia) for over three years now and is no where near finished. As you can see from that earlier post, we have tried a wide variety of remedies. I was already on a sugar-free diet, but it was a hard sell for a 19-year old college boy! He felt so bad, though, that by January 1, he was ready to give it a try. Here are some of the challenges and successes we have encountered in going sugar-free.

I knew when we started out that Stevia was our substitute of choice. A recent study showed that it is actually effective in killing off Lyme bacteria in its biofilm form (I would link to the study, but they've removed the summary until it is officially published). This is huge news! So, Stevia is a two-for-one deal for my son: not only a natural sugar substitute but also helps against Lyme. However, I discovered it's not that simple.

Commercial sugar-free products rarely contain Stevia. So, not being picky about which substitutes were used (since we don't buy or eat many commercial sugar-free products anyway), I found a sugar-free brownie mix at the grocery store that is actually pretty good - even my husband and younger son didn't mind it. Having brownies greatly reduced my son's feelings of deprivation! Our store only had one brand of sugar-free cookies, and they were OK, but my son thought they weren't good enough to bother with.

I was eager to try some sugar-free baking, but I quickly learned that you can't just leave out ALL the sugar in baked sweets, like cookies or brownies (my son's favorites). Sugar adds more than sweetness - it affects volume (substitutes like Stevia tend to be far sweeter than sugar and require much less to sweeten), browning, and texture. It's chemical reaction, and you can't just leave the sugar out. I have tried! I did find one website with mostly sugar-free cookie recipes (the author uses a tiny bit of brown sugar plus Stevia). We tried the chocolate cookies, and they were OK but not great. The texture isn't quite cookie-like; they are very crumbly (I might try adding a couple of egg whites next time as binder and extra liquid). My son actually gobbled them up - he was so desperate for cookies! But I found the bitter aftertaste of the Stevia a bit off-putting. A friend of mine recently told me she bakes sugar-free using unsweetened applesauce (they have hypoglycemia problems) - I'm not sure how the yeast would react to the fructose in the applesauce but might try that.

My son's #1 priority was ice cream, his favorite sweet treat. We quickly learned that all sugar-free ice creams at the grocery store contain sorbitol, a sugar substitute that is fine for some people, but some - like my son and I - have rather severe GI responses to it! Our first bowls of sugar-free ice cream sent us both racing for the bathroom. Even my son isn't willing to put up with that for ice cream. We were very fortunate to discover that our local dairy (that makes the BEST ice cream in the world!) makes a sugar-free ice cream with no sorbitol. They are normally closed during the winter, but I sent them a desperate e-mail message, got a very kind, quick response, and made arrangements to stop by their office (in the middle of a snowstorm!) to pick up 3 quarts of sugar-free vanilla. With that on hand, my son can have brownies with ice cream (his favorite), a root-beer float made with diet root beer (again, we don't drink enough diet pop to worry about it), and even crumbled sugar-free peanut butter cups with ice cream (his own invention). He is much happier.

The sugar-free chocolate category is another where we've been successful. Both Reese's and Weight Watchers make sugar-free peanut butter cups (my son's favorite), and they are both excellent. Whitman's makes lots of sugar-free chocolates, but they are mostly milk chocolate (which brings us back to the GI problems again, since we are both lactose-intolerant). Besides, I greatly prefer dark chocolate. Normally, that's all I eat in the chocolate department: super-dark, pure (no milk products) chocolate. Whitman's Pecan Clusters aren't too bad, their mint patties (dark chocolate!) are good, though I prefer my chocolate straight-up, without fillings. I found the Whitman's chocolate-covered caramels had too much of an aftertaste. My favorite is Weight Watchers Double Chocolate Mousse - sugar-free, dark chocolate, and quite yummy! I found them at our grocery store (though it took some searching).

It was difficult for us both to give up fruit and I have since learned that our bodies react differently to fructose than other forms of sugar, so we are both now having about one serving of fresh fruit a day. Alas, I could not get my son to give up his morning OJ - it was the one thing he refused to do. I tried Prop 50, a reduced-sugar brand that uses Stevia, but he didn't like that. So, I've at least cut him down to just a half cup of OJ in the morning. Our other compromise is Sunday morning pancakes, a long-held tradition in our family. I do make our pancakes with whole wheat flour and Stevia (though the buttermilk has some natural sugar in it), but in our house, we have always used real maple syrup, so he still has that on Sundays.

After being off abx (I had to take them twice in the fall for bronchitis) a while plus taking Diflucan, I am feeling much better. I am sticking to the mostly sugar-free diet because this last bout of yeast overgrowth was really bad, and I don't want to backslide, but I am cautiously adding in a bit of fruit and on occasional square of real dark chocolate (not much sugar in it anyway).

So, that's been our experience with eating sugar-free so far - the ups and downs! If anyone has any advice to offer, especially on baking sugar-free, I would love to hear it. What has worked for you?


Anonymous said...

I suppose you know it but the most important thing is to not to eat sugar when you have a empty stomach. Its not as bad when you eat a small amount combined with other stuff that neutralize the sugar. Like a small piece of chokolate after a heatlhy dinner.

Sarah said...

I have two sugar free (sweetened with fruit) breakfast recipes on my blog (links below). I'm currently drafting a post about sugar. I managed several months sugar free, but once you slip up it's hard to get back into it. The key is to have sugar free alternatives available for when cravings hit. - and

Sue Jackson said...

Hi, Sarah -

Thanks for the recipe links! Your oatmeal recipe is very similar to what I have been doing with my oatmeal. I do sprinkle a bit of stevia on and also add unsweetened coconut (supposed to be great as an antifungal). I will try yours!

The pancakes look good, too, but my son and I are both dairy intolerant, so both whey powder and yogurt are no-no's. Shame - it sounds good!

Thanks for the links - I will definitely stop by your blog again!


Sally Burch said...

I too am attempting a lower sugar diet and enjoyed this post. I think total exclusion makes it almost more difficult to achieve, so I too eat my piece of daily fruit. Lucky for me I never was a big fan of sweet desserts - but I do like apple crumble... so it's some things in moderation sometimes for me. :D

Sue Jackson said...

That sounds like a healthy approach, Sally!