By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Which is hardest to resist? Fresh bread, dessert, or fried chicken?
It depends on your taste, but they are all damaging to our bodies when we overconsume. My problem is not so much with bread or fried foods. I have successfully restricted myself to have only one small piece of bread a day no matter how delicious. The only time I allow myself to indulge more is when the dough is fresh out from the oven. With my consciousness over health, I can say ‘no’ to fried stuff without much difficulty.
Sweets are another story. More than half of my life, I have been addicted to ice cream, any type of chocolates, and, yes, desserts. My sweet tooth is horrible. Just holding a plate of sweet treats in front of me, I would go unhinged like a mad dog devouring most of them. I wouldn’t even pause to think.
Temptations don’t have a name. And if you warn me, I would beg. Hmm, how about just one bite?
Then came the news two decades ago.
“You are a borderline pre-diabetic, according to the test,” said a tester at an Asian Pacific American health fair. Within weeks, I cut down my sugar consumption. For years, I thought I was reducing a lot of sugar in my diet until this pandemic…It’s not that simple to cut out the sugar in your daily meals. So what‘s the solution?
Why I want to give up sugar
Being diabetic is no fun. You have to take insulin injections often or take medications often. The medicine can cost up to thousands of dollars for seriously-ill diabetic patients. Some might say, “No worries, my insurance covers it.” Anytime you take medicine or even supplements, it processes through your kidney. Too much drugs going through that organ can exhaust and ruin your kidney.
One time, a former staff member, who didn’t tell me he’s diabetic, collapsed on the floor with white foam in his mouth. We were frightened and didn’t know what to do. We were about to dial 911, and he kept on saying, “Sugar, sugar.” Finally, someone found some Coca-Cola and put it in his mouth and then he got up as if nothing had happened. To say that we were scared was an understatement.
My diabetic relative often feels dizzy. Another diabetic friend can’t walk due to the sickness. Aside from diabetes, it can increase our chances of gaining weight, getting cavities, heart disease, acne, high blood pressure, and even cancer.
If there is one benefit during the pandemic, it frees me from many obligations. It gives me the incentive for better self-care. I have been reading books on nutrition and diseases. What have I learned about my diet? Despite my reduction in sugar consumption, there’s still a lot of sugar in my diet. Sugar is hidden in many items. Even if I skip dessert, sugar is found in the honey water I sip, the fruits I eat, the milk with my oatmeal, and the syrup we put on our pancakes.
So the big chunks of watermelon and banana I eat for breakfast, and other snacks including grapes, apples, goji berries, juices, tangerines, and dark chocolates, all possess sugar. And everything adds up.
Good health habits now
Since the lockdown, I have developed many new habits. Over the past year, several of those habits have to do with pursuing good health. It’s not that I am ignorant about health habits. It’s just that I have very few vices. I rationalize that I can afford one or two bad ones. Smoking and drinking are not part of my lifestyle. I am not overweight. Certainly, I can indulge myself in eating more meat, sugar, and carbohydrates from time to time! But is it worth it? This pandemic is a wake-up call. If I don’t take better care of myself, I can be a burden to my family and society. It’s a good time to change when I have the flexibility to do so.
How to cut down on sugar
Take baby steps. Someone had lost 10 pounds in a year and had never gone to Weight Watchers or on a special diet. She didn’t even need to fast.
You don’t have to be smart to eat healthy. It takes determination, discipline, and an easy strategy, which doesn’t require much personal sacrifice. A simple and small act, she cut down her two teaspoons of sugar in her daily coffee. What does it tell you? Two teaspoons of sugar in 365 days is equal to 13,140 calories a year. It will show up in a lot of pounds on your body.
In my case, it was milk tea with honey every morning. Now, my breakfast drink is chamomile tea with a few drops of lemon. I drink honey only when I feel like I am about to have a cold. Honey and lemon water together work well in killing germs.
I don’t have a scale since it is broken. The only time I weigh myself is when I travel or go to the doctor’s office. If I gain a little weight, I am still fine. Being skinny is not my definition of good health.
Skipping my milk and honey tea was tough during the first few days, as I kept going back to the fridge to take out the milk. For the following month, instead of milk tea, I put honey and lemon in my chamomile tea. After that, no honey, just drops of lemon in my tea. During the first few days of drinking lemon tea, I hated it. Then, the taste of lemon tea becomes more and more natural to my palate. Now, the tea doesn’t taste right without lemon. At the end of my breakfast, I drink a cup of plain oolong tea to complete my breakfast. A satisfying breakfast indeed!
Too sweet fruits
Most people would say fruits are okay. Just because they are not processed sweets doesn’t mean you don’t have to be aware of its high sugar level. Fructose (fruit sugar) is a controversial subject. Because it is not exactly plain sugar, it goes right into your liver. Have you heard of fatty liver? Too much fat around your liver affects its functionality. Fructose can cause obesity, too.
But fruits are good for us. It is better to eat a fruit as a snack than a Kit Kat bar. Here is my compromise.
I’ve switched from eating sweet Fuji apples to less-sweet Pink Lady apples. I also change from eating very sweet ripe fruits to barely ripe fruits, including watermelon, green grapes, bananas, and tangerines each day. Overripe fruits have tons of sugar and calories. Sometimes, green grapes are not ripe enough and would taste a little sour. That’s fine. Grocery stores would love having me as their customer.
Eating sour instead of sweet is now my new normal. Besides having lemon juice on some of my foods, I also put a few drops of apple cider vinegar in my salads. It not only enhances the taste, but aids digestion and washes away fats in your body. By doing this, you are changing your sugar craving one meal at a time. Some call it a sugar detox.
Desserts are no longer a part of our lives except for celebrations. When we are having desserts, they are mostly leftovers from birthdays and other special occasions. I don’t have the urge to have desserts at all. Candies are not my snacks, except two pieces of dark chocolate each day.
The real benefit of cutting down on my sugar intake is that I feel good and calm. Excessive sugar can cause hypertension.
I am proud that my list of healthy habits has grown since the pandemic. A New York Times health columnist suggested that we should write down our list of good health habits and try to keep them.
Yes, I intend to keep and share with you my list as the year goes by. Good luck in nurturing your new health habits.
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.