Year of No Sugar

Year of No Sugar
pub. 2014 Eve O. Schaub
320 pages


Eva Schaub’s life was changed at a birthday party for children, when a conversation with a fellow mom  made her aware of something called “corn syrup”,  Being the curious sort,  she looked into it and discovered to her further confusion that corn syrup was in seemingly everything from the salad dressing to the bread aisle. Still worse, when she ventured online, she found there were medical researchers arguing that the constituent element of corn syrup, fructose, had such a destructive effect on  the human body that it should be regarded as a poison.  In the spirit of science,  Eve and her health-conscious husband decided that they and heir children would live a year without sugar — just to see if it were possible.  From that beginning, however,  another story matures, one about a family’s changing relationship with food.

Schaub begins her post-sugar reflection with a brief recap of the science that led her to this decision.  Fructose seemingly does nothing positive for the body; it does not satisfy hunger pangs,  and the part of our body that will interact with it is the  liver – which handles like a poison. The fatty agents produced by the liver in the process derail the body’s ability to use insulin effectively, setting heavy consumers on a path towards obesity and diabetes. And then there’s cancer…

If high amounts of fructose were like nicotine, they’d be easy to avoid.  Fructose, however, is in seeming everything that wasn’t just hunted or gathered.  In the beginning, Schaub is forced to nearly empty her kitchen and pantry to get the added sugar out.   As the year progresses, Schaub and her family learn different ways of adjusting;  frozen bananas run through a juicer, for instance,  are readily acceptable as an ice cream substitute.    Although holidays and birthdays were extraordinarily difficult, the family muddled through with the use of once-a-month  dessert cheats, and the continuing discovering of substitutes like dextrose for baking. (Dextrose is a sugar, chemically speaking,, but it doesn’t have the destructive effects of fructose;  the Schaubs weren’t low-carbing, they were just avoiding a particular kind of sugar that damage human bodies.)

The real substance of the book is the Schaubs’ evolving relationship with food.  They begin in ignorance, despite being health nuts, they knew nothing about the ubiquity of sugar in their food, even the supposed healthy stuff like bread and salads. Early on they were forced to become hyperaware of what was in everything they ate, to the despair of waiters who were forced to look up the nutritional info for every dish the Schaubs were considering.  Making their own meals at home – and thinking about how they could improvise around the need for sugar in baking or jams —  made the Schaubs, even the youngest daughter just beginning school, active participants in the choosing and creation of their food.  Food was no longer a consumer good, but a product made by hand. Even after the year ended, in the final reflection, Schaub believes that will not change.  Even though they began tolerating a little more sugar on the challenge’s completion – a weekly desert, a guilt-free imbibing of salad —  they had lost the taste for overly sweet things,  and their daughters’ discovered love for cooking would not disappear.

Year of No Sugar is entertaining, and for those who have never encountered the arguments against sugar,  it may serve well as an elevator version that shifts to a memoir about thinking more deeply about food.    Although those interested in the science that makes fructose problematic would be better consulting The Case Against Sugar or Lustig’s own Sweet Poison,  Schaub’s story will find a definite audience among those who enjoy the works of Michael Pollan, say, or Joel Salatin  — who are disturbed by their relationship with food and wish to change it.


Why We Get Fat;  Good Calories, Bad Calories; The Case Against Sugar. Gary Taubes
In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan
.The Telegraph (UK) also has an article drawing on Lustig’s original “Bitter Truth” lecture. 
Sugar: The Bitter Truth”, Robert Lustig. Working on 9 million views.
Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, Michael Moss




About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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12 Responses to Year of No Sugar

  1. Marian says:

    Not sure I could commit to such a diet, but it sounds fascinating to read about! The topic reminds me of the King Corn documentary, which covers the prevalence of corn and HFCS in American foods.

    I do know how easy it is to eat “blindly”…I was lacto-ovo vegetarian for almost 2 years, and never before did I understand how meat/animal products are tenaciously present in so many foods, both at restaurants and in home cooking (anchovies in Worcestershire sauce!?).

    Looking forward to the rest of your Health Week series!

    • I never knew that! Interesting about the sauce. Have you shifted back to a little meat now?

      (I’m an absolute carnivore, which will probably kill me…but if I’d rather let bacon kill me then live without it..)

      • Marian says:

        Oh yes, I’m back to my old (omnivorous) ways. I still live with my folks, so it was really inconvenient to juggle the different diets. If I lived by myself, I would probably be flexitarian, only eating meat when visiting people, if that’s what they’re serving.

        Bacon…yes. Not gonna lie, I love a good BLT…

  2. Mudpuddle says:

    we’ve avoided corn syrup for quite a while: just honey and some cane sugar… we still eat some meat, but mostly carbos and starches… and we eschew additives: whatever has a long chemical name is bad… i have some heart issues, so no caffeine or chocolate… and life pursues its merry way…

  3. lydiaschoch says:

    This does sound like an interesting read. I’m on a low-added-sugar diet for health reasons. Going 100% sugar-free would be difficult, especially when you’re eating away from home! I’m impressed the family who wore this book did such a thorough job of it in general.

    • That comes up! Their vacation in Italy was really disruptive, but Schaube took a moderate approach – going to Italy is SUCH an extraordinary experience that it necessitated a few indulgences.

      The author has also done a book called “The Year of No Clutter” which I may investigate at one point. 🙂

  4. This is highly impressive – fructose is so hard to avoid, especially when out and about. I would love to do this though and will be getting this book ASAP. Thanks for the review.

  5. I’ll be interested in your response, especially where handling kids is concerned!

  6. Pingback: The Hacking of the American Mind | Reading Freely

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