At our house here in chilly Michigan, we love to cozy it up with lots of baking, hot cider, and steamy coffee drinks. We’re a big family, so it’s one celebration after another with plenty of cake and ice cream. (We have five birthdays in November alone!) Hospitality is an important ministry for us, which means gathering around the table for desserts with our friends. All that to say, sugar isn’t going anywhere at our house.
Even so, we’re a family who values healthy habits. Rob is a dedicated regular at our local YMCA’s gym. Two of our girls are committed vegetarians who keep the carrot farmers in business. We floss. We’re mindful in our choices of health and beauty products and cleaning supplies. With demanding schedules, we do what we can to keep our immune systems strong. Our love for sweets collides with our commitment to a wholesome lifestyle.
I’m not going to bore you with stats about sugar and its impact on our health—you’ve heard it all. Our family has taken a hard look at our options. Yet alternative sweeteners haven’t worked out so well for us. Stevia gives me hives. Sugar alcohols upset our stomachs or get a thumbs-down for taste. Aspartame, saccharin, etc. have risks we’re not willing to play with. At our house we’re sticking with real sugar, honey, molasses, and maple syrup in our recipes.
Here are five ways we’ve been able to reduce sugar without giving up sweets altogether:
Half as much is twice as nice. We consistently use only half the sugar our recipes call for, with no noticeable difference in taste. For yogurt, we mix equal amounts of flavored yogurt with plain to cut the sugar in half. In quick breads, crisps, and smoothies, we boost the amount of fruit for natural sweetness. For ice cream, we serve scoops in cute little cups with small teaspoons to scale back the portion sizes. At Starbucks, I skip the four pumps of pumpkin spice and opt for one (or none). With a little creativity and trial-and-error, we can cut sugar down to size.
Look at the labels. Whenever I grocery shop, I flip over jars and boxes to check the grams of sugar per serving. It only takes a moment to compare the numbers from brand to brand. Whether it’s cereal or canned fruit, spaghetti sauce or popsicles, the no- or lowest-sugar options end up in our cart.
Put on an apron. It’s easiest to control our sugar if we prepare food at home. It’s just as easy to throw rolled oats in the microwave as to prepare flavored oatmeal packets from a box. Homemade cookies let me tweak the recipe to my liking. Smoothies from our own blender beat a drive-thru milkshake every time. Colorful berries and mango chunks are as appealing to kids as check-out aisle candy. Limiting processed and packaged foods is a simple way to kick sugar to the curb.
Thirsty, anyone? The easiest place to cut sugar is in our beverages. We mustered up our resolve and ditched soda (a.k.a. liquid candy) a long time ago. The same goes for fruit punch, sugar-sweetened juice drinks, chocolate milk, and any drinks with sweeteners or food coloring. In the toddler years we diluted fruit juice at least 50-50 with water, and Mason gets 100% juice boxes in his lunch box. Iced tea and coffee are naturally sugar-free. Today our family has a stash of quality water bottles and a decent water filter in our home. Water is our go-to drink of choice.
One and done. In a household with scads of birthday parties per year, regular small group meetings, an open door to international student friends, and plenty of holidays to celebrate, desserts happen! But for each event, a one-day celebration can leave leftover sweets lingering for days. We’ve learned to a) send extra servings home with our guests, b) prepare smaller amounts in the first place, and c) be willing to throw things out.
I, for one, love cake for breakfast. (As Jim Gaffigan would say, a muffin is just a bald cupcake.) But what’s delish at 8 a.m. doesn’t feel so good to my body by 9:30. So, when last night’s party is over, the treats need to be over with too.
Sugar isn’t the only enjoyment that can get out of hand. When we find we’re out of balance, an all-or-nothing approach is rarely successful. It’s tempting to binge-watch Netflix all night, but we don’t throw out the TV altogether. Our phones can take hold of 99% of our attention, but we’re not going back to snail mail or smoke signals. The lure of success can pull us into working 24/7, but we’re not going to quit our jobs and live off the grid.
It’s in our nature to over-do anything that gives us pleasure. But God offers help in any area we need to reclaim self-control. He promises wisdom for the asking, with no pointing fingers or eye-rolling when we’re confused. (James 1:5) We can ask him to examine our hearts to show us if we’re depending on work, money, media, or food for comfort or security:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me, and know my anxieties;
And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.”
If we find ourselves trapped by habits or addictions, God offers freedom through his power:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable
to empathize with our weaknesses,
but we have one who has been tempted in every way,
just as we are—yet he did not sin.
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence,
so that we may receive mercy and find grace
to help us in our time of need.
As we enjoy God’s countless good gifts, his Spirit will show us how to receive them as true blessings. Let’s taste and see how good he is!
So, if you think you are standing firm,
be careful that you don’t fall!
No temptation has overtaken you
except what is common to mankind.
And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted
beyond what you can bear.
But when you are tempted,
he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do,
do it all for the glory of God.
(1 Corinthians 10:13, 31)