Sugar Free January Q&A - Skillful Cook
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Sugar Free January Q&A

Question and Answers about Sugar free January recipes.

What Do You Mean By Sugar Free?

Sugar Free January means 30 days without refined sugar.

Here's what that looks like for me:

A hand holding a Sugar Free January guide.

You can click here to download the POY Sugar Free January Plan.

Why Are You Going Sugar Free?

There are a few reasons:

  • I feel better when I'm sugar free.
  • I eat better. (Honestly, I eat REALLY yummy food when I'm going sugar free.)
  • There are loads of major health benefits to consuming less sugar.
  • Ultimate goal: I want to recalibrate my palate so I can really taste and appreciate food found in nature.

Is Sugar Free January About Cutting Out Only Refined Sugars, Or Does It Include Natural Sweeteners Like Honey Too?

Ideally each person should make their own Sugar Free Plan that defines what sugar free living means to them. For me, sugar free living does include natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup. That is my personal choice. You can read more about that on this post.

If You Include Maple Syrup and Honey, Do They Need To Be Raw?

You can decide for yourself, but I would recommend raw. I choose both raw honey (has more nutrients) and real maple syrup (not made with corn syrup like some “maple” pancake syrup).

Can You Have Coconut Sugar? Is That a Refined Sugar?

Again, totally up to you. ♡ I choose not to have coconut sugar because a) it's not a pantry staple for me, and b) I feel like I can get the natural sweetness I'm looking for through maple syrup, honey, and fruits.

What About Artificial Sugars?

I don't include artificial sugars or sweeteners like stevia, erythritol, or aspartame. Mostly because I don't like the way they taste, and I don't feel like they help me with my ultimate goal which is to recalibrate my palate to enjoy food found in nature.

What Are Some Examples Of “Sugar Free” Foods?

For me, “sugar free” foods are foods without refined sugars added to them. For example:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Proteins
  • Whole Grains
  • Unsweetened Dairy
  • Healthy Fats

Do You Do Any Cheat Days?

Yes/no. I don't call them “cheat days” - I just leave room on my Sugar Free January for foods that technically have sugar. I pick foods that I know aren't going to totally derail me (sushi, wine, a piece of dark chocolate here and there) but will help me continue pushing forward in the overall big picture quest to eat less sugar.

How Did Your Body/Mind Feel After Doing Sugar Free Last Time?

I felt great. I think going sugar free had an “upward spiral” effect for me - you feel good about what you're eating, so then your body feels good, so then your mind feels good. You can read about our first experience with going sugar free on this post.

What Are The Benefits For Your Body?

There are so many! They are outlined in this post. Also - I am not a doctor or a nutritionist, but I would highly recommend doing a Google search to read through the TONS of amazing benefits you can see from reducing sugar in your diet.

How Do You Handle The Sugar Cravings The First Few Days?

The most helpful thing for me was to have snacks or sweet alternatives at the ready - I find that a naturally sweet snack + a little healthy fat can help satisfy my sugar craving AND keep me from wanting more. One of my favorites is a medjool date with a smear of peanut or almond butter. Yum, yum, yum.

How Do You Handle Sugar Cravings Overall?

Healthy fats like peanut butter or other nuts, roasted vegetables like cauliflower or broccoli, and nutrient-dense carbs like quinoa, beans, and sweet potatoes are go-to foods that provide some of that sweetness I'm craving.

Whether it's for dinner or for dessert, finding a new routine to replace your old one is also helpful. For example, instead of a dessert after dinner, I will make a tea and light a candle and treat myself to a little Netflix time. Just removing one “good” thing (like dessert) is hard, but it's much easier if you can put something else that's also good (like tea, candles, and watching your favorite TV show) in its place.

Do You Make Pseudo-Desserts, Or Do You Try To Come Off Of Sweet Things Altogether?

For me, the whole point of going sugar free is to try to re-train my palate not to need quite as much sugar. So if I just always eat pseudo desserts, whether that's a fruit-based dessert or something using artificial sugar, I don't necessarily feel like I'm working towards my ultimate goal. I try to avoid the habit of dessert regardless, but if I feel like I need something, or I'm going to a party and I know everyone will be eating dessert, I will make a pseudo-dessert that fits in my Sugar Free Plan and I will enjoy it and not feel guilty about it at all.

What About In Between Items, Like Crackers?

SUPER good question. For packaged foods, I find it helpful to just look at labels. It might be helpful to set a limit, like 2 grams of sugar, or 5 grams of sugar. Or it might be helpful to just say, “I'll only eat packaged foods with no added refined sugars.” I usually try for the second option.

What About Refined Grains, Rice, Etc.?

In my Sugar Free Plan, I'm cutting out refined sugar AND refined grains. For me, that includes white rice, white bread, white flour, and regular pasta. You can read more about the effects of refined grains from a food and nutrition perspective here, and from a medical perspective here.

How Long Do You Go Sugar Free For?

This time, I'll be doing Sugar Free January for 30 days - January 2nd to January 31st. In the past I've done it for 60 days.

How Many Recipes Will You Share?

I'm shooting for 3 new recipes per week.

Will All Of The Recipes Be For The Instant Pot?

Nope! But I'll try to make them Instant Pot friendly.

Are You Doing Meal Plans?

Well, I won't be making a meal plan for you, but I will make a menu of meal planning options for you so you can pick and choose the meals and snacks that best fit your Sugar Free Plan. We have a PDF template for meal planning that you can get here: My Sugar Free Meal Plan.

What About Traveling?

Traveling is tough. You're probably going to get some sugar even in the savory things that you eat because so much is made with sugar.

That being said, these are the things I have done:

  • Look for packable, refined sugar free snacks that you can bring with you - Larabars, nut packets, and whole fruit like apples or oranges are great.
  • Drink lots of water, or “special water” like water with lemon or mint, or hot tea if you wanna feel fancy.
  • Order vegetable-heavy dishes: salads with olive oil dressing, simple stir fries with brown rice, and grilled foods like chicken or fish.
  • Avoid the obvious: sweet sauces, condiments, and desserts.
  • Don't freak out. You have to make this sustainable, so if you're not sure, and you didn't ask, and you think there might have been a tiny bit of sugar in your curry with brown rice? In my opinion, that's okay. Not a big deal. Just do the best you can.

What About Cocktails?

I won't be drinking cocktails during Sugar Free January, but I keep “weekend red wine” on my Sugar Free January Plan because it has some redeeming nutritional value.

What Sugar Free Products Do You Recommend?

Working on a product guide! 🙂 Stay tuned.

How Do You Stay Accountable?

When I've done this before, I've used a program called Go Sugar Free (affiliate link). There is a great support group that is a built-in part of that program. If you want to do this, and you feel like you are going to need a high level of accountability, I highly recommend the course and its community. This time around? I guess having a blog about it will keep me accountable. It also helps me if I tell a few close family and friends. That way they know that when we get together, I might be eating differently than normal.

How Does It Affect Your Habits Beyond The 30 Days?

I find that for the few weeks after going sugar free, I actually don't want a lot of sweet things. Usually, with time that starts to slide and I start eating regular desserts and donuts and making monkey bread for Christmas without thinking twice about it. And that's okay. But that's why I like to revisit a more formal commitment to limit sugar once in a while - just to remind myself that real food, without sugar, actually does taste really good.

What’s Your Reasoning For Allowing Yourself To Still Have Maple Syrup and Honey? Do You Have Limits As To How Much When You Consume Those This January?

I'm not all that interested in *never* eating anything sweet. That's not practical or sustainable for me at this point in my life. I have a lot of respect for people like Sarah Wilson of I Quit Sugar who say no not only to refined sugars but to natural ones as well (I have her book, actually - it's beautiful). But for me personally? I want to enjoy the occasional sweet thing. I just want those sweet things to be quality foods that I really savor, and I feel like honey and maple syrup help me achieve that without resorting to refined sugar.

Sugar Can Hide In SO Many Things. Any Tips For Navigating That?

Read labels. It's tedious at first. But read labels, find what works for you (i.e. brands of pasta sauce, crackers, etc. with little to no added sugar), and continue using those things. The hardest part is getting the system in place, but once you do, it becomes much easier.

Any Tips For Making This Challenge Work For a Whole Family?

That's tough. I can't speak to that since I don't have a family. Well, not in the traditional sense, anyway. I'm hoping that if there's anyone who has gone sugar free with a family, they will leave a comment here to answer this question. I'd also point you to Jacqueline's course called Go Sugar Free (affiliate link) which has a wide variety of members and an active Facebook group where lots of questions like this are asked.

If You Live with a Partner, How Do You Get Your Other Half To Commit?

I wouldn't push them to commit. I would just explain your goals to them, show them your Sugar Free Plan, and if they don't have interest, they don't have interest. That's totally fine. Each person should be ready to do this out of his or her own interest. The one thing I would suggest is that you just ask your partner to help support you by not eating giant bowls of ice cream sitting next to you on the couch, or not storing all his or her sweet snacks in a place where you'll have to look at them every time you're in the kitchen.

How Do You Make It Work When You Go To a Party Or To a Friend's House For Dinner and Can't Control What's Served?

This was the single most difficult thing for me about going sugar free. The dreaded social element. I think this might be worse for us Midwesterners because we have this social norm that says that it's really rude to have dietary preferences or restrictions. I specifically remember telling my Grandma “no thanks” for a slice of her apple pie, and the look she gave me, like - but Lindsay, why? how could you? And I felt so, so guilty.

This will be different for everyone. But things that have been most helpful for me in the past are:

  • Telling people in advance so they don't make a special dessert for you.
  • Describing it as “an experiment” (for example, “I've haven't been feeling the best lately, so I'm doing an experiment during the month of January to see how I feel without sugar.” - in my experience, people have an easier time supporting you and not feeling judged when you explain that you're trying to figure out your own health).
  • Making exceptions when it's out of your control.
  • Making exceptions when it's a small part of the meal (for example, a sweet sauce on chicken).
  • Making exceptions when it's a 2-3 person gathering (for example, at a friend's house for dinner and they made a dessert specifically for you).
  • Politely declining when it's a group of 4-6 or more (for example, at a dinner party with 6 people, it's not too hard to pass on dessert because 5/6 people will still eat it).

I Love My Morning Coffee and Tea with Milk and Sugar - Any Suggestions For Alternatives?

Yes! Try a higher fat dairy. I found that after a week or two, my coffee with half and half (or even a tiny bit of heavy whipping cream now and then) would actually taste sweet to me! It was one of the craziest parts of going sugar free and a really good example of how your palate can be recalibrated to taste the natural sweetness in the dairy - without adding sugar.

How Hard Will It Be?

Honestly, this is my favorite part: it doesn't need to be super hard. I will acknowledge that I may not have struggled with sugar as intensely as others, but let it be known: I eat my fair share of sweet things, and whenever I go sugar free I always find myself so surprised at how GOOD THE FOOD IS. We're talking about creamy curries, spicy taco bowls, tangy salads, and velvety soups. Things you would want to make even if you were not going sugar free.

If you need wiggle room, leave yourself a few weekend treats (mine is sushi and wine!) or bite-size pieces of dark chocolate.

But my number one goal with Sugar Free January is to make this REALLY DELICIOUS for you.

That's it! If you have more questions, feel free to add them to the post and I'll do my best to jump in and answer.

And with that, we are officially T-12 days to #POYsugarfreejanuary! Let the countdown begin.


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  1. Skillful Cook Logo

    Thanks for inspiring me to get my butt into action! I’ve totally let things slip this last few months, but I’m planning on getting back to the ‘good me’ in January!
    Such a great idea to make the plan your own so that you have limitations that you can stick to.
    Off do download your planner now 🙂

  2. Skillful Cook Logo

    Hey! So excited about sugar free January, but I’d love the first list you posted that had the foods listed to check off whether you are keeping them or not… did you delete did a reason? Or am missing it somehow?

        1. Skillful Cook Logo

          The link is on Lindsay’s previous post near the top, right above the picture of the checklist.

          1. Skillful Cook Logo

            it looks like that list and link have disappeared 🙁
            POY team, could you upload that again? It looked really helpful!

  3. Skillful Cook Logo

    I know you said you are working on a product guide. If you happen to find a brand of bread that is both whole grain and free of added sugars, please include it! I can’t seem to find that, but I admit that after checking 6 or 7 brands of bread at the store I give up. In the past we’ve made our own whole-grain version of Miracle No Knead Bread, which is delicious, but the whole grain version seems to come out a bit flat which not the best for sandwiches. Thanks!!

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      Lindsay might know of others, but I know Ezekiel bread is a good option. It’s a sprouted grain bread, which means it’s not white or whole grain. It’s actually a little better than whole grain because the nutrients are more available for your body to absorb. Plus, no added sugar! 🙂 I get mine at Trader Joe’s, but I think Target and Whole Foods also carry it.

    2. Skillful Cook Logo

      We’ve been refined sugar free for about a year now and the start is the hardest – actually Aldi has a bread that only has honey added to it – I think it’s called “nice to wheat you” and some other varieties with fun names :). It’s not by their regular bread but by their specialty bread products (cakes and cookies – go figure). When we don’t make our own bread, we go for that (we try to stay clear of lots of ingredients we don’t know, and I think this bread may have some preservatives, but over all the ingredients are good).

  4. Skillful Cook Logo

    Yesterday I had waaaaay to much sugar, and I felt like garbage by the end of the day. I knew it was happening, but I let it happen anyway. This couldn’t have come at a better time. Thanks!

  5. Skillful Cook Logo

    Did I dream that your initial Sugar free plan PDF had check boxes? Could we see that one instead, I like the structure of it better…unless I dreamed that which is also possible.

  6. Skillful Cook Logo

    Hi Lindsay,
    Thanks for sharing this great post about going sugar free for 30 days.
    Sounds quite interesting, I’ve have been doing my best to go sugar free not only for 30 days but as a lifestyle, it’s not easy to do, my big problem is to handle on the hard moments of sugar craving, I will follow you on this.
    Will be great to have a few more sugar free recipes to keep on it.

  7. Skillful Cook Logo

    I am so nervous for this. I know I need to start planning now so that I hit the ground running on Jan 2… The holidays and work just have me frazzled. BUT I am still looking forward to this!

  8. Skillful Cook Logo

    I am so excited about joining in on this! I have been wanting to do this for awhile and what better way then with a group of people.
    I even started a small Facebook group to encourage each other! Thanks for the printable too! How fun!

  9. Skillful Cook Logo

    On going sugar-free as a family. Our family isn’t sugar-free in any formal sense, but we don’t eat much sugar as a general rule. The only “processed” foods we eat are all-natural applesauce, canned crushed tomatoes, and granola bars. Because of that, we don’t worry about added sugars. I’d start there.

    Next, we don’t add sugar to our lives day-to-day. We don’t have anything sweet at breakfast (jam, honey, etc.), and we don’t do sweet snacks (other than granola bars for long car rides, and I often have them in the afternoon with coffee at work – when home, I often have a banana with PB). Note – we did have french toast and eggs for dinner last night, and we had some maple syrup with it.

    Finally, despite my incredible sweet tooth, we just don’t eat dessert most nights. My 4 kids are 3 mos to 6 years, and when they ask about having a treat after dinner, we just say matter of factly that we aren’t doing it. Kids, like adults, are all about habit, and after awhile, this becomes the norm. We then brush teeth, and go about a nighttime routine.
    I’ll often have a mug of warm milk, and maybe some fruit, or a slice of bread, if I’m in the mood for a snack or hungry.
    It’s Christmas, and when we receive cookies, we eat them (obviously), but if there are any around after 1-2 days, I just put them in the fridge in the garage and forget about them for awhile. Hope this helps a bit.

  10. Skillful Cook Logo

    I am so in on this Sugar Free January experiment! My doctor recently told me that I’m pre-diabetic, and he was surprised by this because otherwise I’m healthy. But in spite of learning this, I’ve been finding sugar and carbs very hard to cut, especially around the holidays. I think this experiment will help a lot, and hopefully make it something sustainable for me beyond just January. I love that you’re still allowing yourself to have occasional dark chocolate. I was just wondering what your own plan is regarding potatoes? They’re one of our go-to side dishes, but I know it isn’t the most nutritional vegetable.

  11. Skillful Cook Logo

    I did my own version of sugar-free January last year. I called it “No Added Sugar January”. Very excited to follow along with your recipes this time!

    I’m especially excited to make homemade sauces and salad dressings all month.

  12. Skillful Cook Logo

    Yes! Love this concept. For me even just cutting back sugar in some areas has made a huge difference in how I feel. No sugar in my tea was my first step.

  13. Skillful Cook Logo

    Is Bjork also going sugar free for January? I fear my family is going to be my biggest hurdle. . .

  14. Skillful Cook Logo

    I have three kids 3 and under and my husband and I dropped processed foods and refined sugar about a year ago. As far as going sugar free with a family, I think for kids it’s making small changes – as adults I feel like when we do something like this we like to change EVERYTHING (all new recipes), but with kids (and sometimes spouses who aren’t 100% on board) it’s about switching to a no refined sugar version of the normal things you eat – peanut butter, BBQ sauce, bread, etc. It’s hard for you at first (many times it’s so much cheaper just to make them yourself), but I’m amazed at how much I’ve learned about cooking and how easy some of these things are to make – ahem…BBQ sauce. Go on Pinterest (or Skillful Cook!) and look for “paleo” versions of your favorite things to start (watch it though – Paleo doesn’t mean the same thing for all people). Anyway, it’s totally worth the switch – I love seeing my kids REALLY enjoy the rare times when they do get desserts because it really is a treat for them. In the same sense, my middle child and husband will pick a bowl of fruit over chocolate any day because they find chocolate too sweet!! Score!

  15. Skillful Cook Logo

    My partner and I are going to try this with you all! She has had a hard time with medical stuff in the past year and we’re going to use this as a reset; seeing if going sugar-free helps her pain will be great. So excited! Thanks for including us!

  16. Skillful Cook Logo

    To address the dessert replacement, one thing I have found that works for me if a sweet craving hits after a meal — eat 4-5 roasted, 50% salted almonds. That usually is enough to kick the sweet “need”.

  17. Skillful Cook Logo

    Thank you!!! I’m so excited for this, as it was my “wish” to see Recipes with no/little refined sugar when I responded to your survey last month. Really started to focus this past year on the elimination of as much sugar as possible, especially refined! I feel so much better without it, and definitely know when it has snuck it’s way in. Looking forward to January! Thank you Lindsay!!

  18. Skillful Cook Logo

    FYI mike’s discount food (fridley) had cinnamon roll Lara bars, 16 count, for 5.99 today. 😱I didn’t buy them all, though!

  19. Skillful Cook Logo

    I’m in! I so appreciate your attitude that life isn’t all or nothing. My daughter was a vegan who ate bacon for a while, and who is anyone else to judge?!! Merry Christmas.

  20. Skillful Cook Logo

    I’m super pumped about doing this! I’m getting married in March and really want to get dress-ready and I know sugar is a big problem for me. My biggest issue is going to be flavored creamer (I’m allowing honey, so I might start with just a tsp of honey in there with heavy cream) and middle of the day snacking. I also like a treat at night, but I’m thinking a cup of tea and maybe some dried fruit will be A-OK. Thanks for the recipe ideas & community support!

  21. Skillful Cook Logo

    I love the idea and I plan on joining! But I did like the check list that was originally posted for the sugar free January but I can’t seem to find it on either post! Is it possible to get a copy of that one?

  22. Skillful Cook Logo

    Thank you for this! I’m excited to jump into this challenge! For me sometimes the hardest meals to go sugar free are breakfast & lunch. Will you be adding ideas for those? Thanks again and Merry Christmas!

  23. Skillful Cook Logo

    Correction to your post; stevia and erythritol are natural sweeteners not artificial.

    Please don’t scare people off going sugar free by telling them that natural substitutes for sweetening are artificial. Check out sweetener lists in just about any low carb blog to learn about the different types that actual sugar free people use.

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      I think Lindsay’s point was that those sweeteners aren’t natural in the sense that they are processed and the intention is to reduce the overall consumption of processed sweeteners.

  24. Skillful Cook Logo

    So I hear Stevia is a good and natural sugar substitute. How do you feel about adding Stevia to food and drink?