New England 61 Day Challenge: Get sugar in a healthier way

HARTFORD -- The New England 61-Day Challenge is a call out to cut out, or at the very least reduce, your consumption of soda, sweets and cigarettes for the last two months of the year, a span of 61 days.

Day one is November 1 – the day after Halloween. It’s perhaps the single hardest day of the year to lay off of candy, but that’s what makes it an excellent day to start!

Here is some good news, though: You don’t have to lay off all sweet foods – you just need to get them naturally. To understand how, here’s a short lesson on carbohydrates.

“Carbohydrate is the main source of fuel and energy for the body,” said Patricia Doubleday, a Registered Dietician at St. Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury, “but there’s a difference. There are two types, one is complex carbohydrate and one is refined.”

Doubleday said the refined carbohydrates are easy to spot, because they’re not natural.

“So, you’re talking about candy, cookies, pies, pastries, juice, soda. Those are all the sugars that are processed that we don’t want to put into the body,” she said.

On the other hand, complex carbs – the good kind – aren’t processed.

“Complex just means the food is in its natural state. It’s whole, anything that grows from the ground,” Doubleday said.

The difference is that natural foods have fiber, which Doubleday described as a time-release capsule for the sugar a food contains. Fiber stops the sugar from rushing into the bloodstream all at once, which is unhealthy, and processed foods have no fiber to spread out the delivery of that sugar. This principle also applies to non-sweet foods that are carbohydrate-heavy, like pasta.

“Instead of a white pasta, what we want to do is we want to do a pasta with fiber. Barilla Plus is made from chickpeas and lentils, flaxseed that all has fiber.”

If you really need a healthy replacement for a sweetener, though, Doubleday said stevia is a good idea.

“Stevia is plant based. That’s why we like it better,” she said, “It’s a zero calorie sweetener, you don’t absorb it in the gut, so it’s a little bit healthier.”