Students in Karen Ditthardt’s class at Central High School were not obligated to take part in a 28-day sugar challenge. Giving up confections would not sweeten their grade.
They also didn’t eliminate sugar from their diet as a religious obligation — though some will carry the fast through the Lenten season.
They did it out of empathy for classmate Victoria “Tori” Salerno, who has Lyme disease and learned that reducing her sugar intake is crucial to boosting her immune system and improving her health.
“I turned it into an optional project,” Ditthardt said, adding the Anatomy and Physiology II students could do it in place of another research project later in the year.
The topic fit in with the unit on the digestive system. In addition to avoiding sugar for 28 days, the students, all seniors, kept a journal of their experience. They were free to choose the focus of their related research project on the topic. All but one classmate chose to participate.
Salerno said she appreciated having such a large support network of peers.
“Knowing they were willing to do something out of their comfort zone for me is really special,” she said.
The class took a field trip to a local grocery store to examine labels and learned how to make sugar-free oatmeal, yogurt bars and granola as part of the project.
“I had never had oatmeal before,” classmate Jessica Werth said. “I would just much rather have a bowl of Lucky Charms.”
Breanna Bietzel said they learned the many different names for sugar and that even if a label says “no sugar added,” it doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain a lot of natural sugar.
“I think the whole project has taught us to look at the label,” Bietzel said. “I don’t think I can completely cut out sugar.”
Michelle Belmont said she learned that when a product is labeled “lite,” or “low fat,” it means carbohydrates and fats have been replaced with sugars.
“I actually ate more calories, but they were healthier calories,” Belmont said of the challenge.
Anna Leigh Niles chose to study the social aspect of sugar consumption. When she and her friends get together, it often involves going for ice cream, for example.
“It is difficult to find an option that doesn’t have sugar in it,” Niles said.
Kira Mickelson said she struggled to find appropriate choices on the menu at restaurants. She added how important it is to have “the right foods in the house.”
“It is really hard to find something without added sugar in it,” Mickelson said.
The majority of students said they had cheated within the first week, but got back on track. But Dallas Evans said the challenge got easier after the initial withdrawal.
“That craving is almost like a drug,” Evans said. “After you go without it, that craving goes away.”
And while they weren’t necessarily taking part in the challenge to better their own health, students did recognize the benefits. High sugar intake can lead to an increased risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other serious health conditions.
“Since I started, I feel healthier,” Blake Niederer said. “I have more energy.”
Amanda Sabourin said she approached her research from an athlete’s point of view.
“My body is able to burn fat more efficiently,” she said, adding she lost eight pounds in two weeks and two inches off her waist after starting the project.
With a little help from friends and family, Salerno said she is sticking with a low-sugar diet. It has reduced inflammation and aches in her joints caused by Lyme disease.
“I feel fantastic,” Salerno said. “I am back to exercising.”
NO SUGAR ADDED SMOOTHIE
Use your choice of frozen fruits. Just make sure they are all frozen. Suggestion:
1 cup each blueberries, strawberries and raspberries
2 to 4 tablespoons orange juice; just enough to get the fruit to mix up in the blender. Can also use milk or a little bit of water.
Mix in blender until pureed. Add some Greek yogurt and blend to the desired consistency.
Makes 8 servings
1 cup long-cooking regular oats
1 cup steel cut oats
2-ish tablespoons chia seeds (optional) (see note)
2-ish tablespoons ground flax seeds (optional) (see note)
1 teaspoon salt
5 cups water; add up to another 1/2 cup if using the chia seeds, as they absorb a lot of water
Put the water and salt into a very large pot and bring to a boil. Add the oats and any optional ingredients. Bring it back to a boil, stirring so that it doesn’t stick.
Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Can add raisins about 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time, but they are high in sugar.
Add fruit and/or nuts and enjoy.
Leftovers can be frozen in 1-cup containers. Add a little water before heating in microwave.
Note: The chia seeds add lots of fiber; the ground flax seeds add fiber and omega-3 fatty acids.
Makes about 4 servings
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1-2 tablespoons honey
2 cups buttermilk or 1 cup yogurt and 1 cup milk
2 tablespoons melted butter or oil
Mix together the dry ingredients. Then stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just until mixed.
Never beat pancake batter. It is OK to have a few lumps.
Pour onto a hot griddle.