A fresh pitcher of green tea with honey and orange slices. Yummy.

This was the question that I got e-mailed a bajillion times, and I gave everyone the same answer: sit tight until Friday. Not because I wanted to build suspense or anything, but because my response is so long… I would’ve spent a lifetime trying to say all of this over and over again, and I think because so many had the same questions that it’d be easier to have all the questions on one page for everyone to reference.

The only time I use granulated sugar is when I’m baking for a large event. Other than that? I’ve got some other kind of solution. I just know that too much sugar breeds a habit, for me, that I simply cannot control. So for me, I can – and sometimes do – go a day or so without sugar.

One thing I had to learn about my lifestyle was that my body wasn’t meant to have sugar as often as I was having it, and certainly not in the quantities in which I ate it. 51 teaspoons of sugar each day? NO body is meant to handle that much. So for me, I had to realize that I’d simply have to give up my pop/soda/whatever-you-call-it fetish.

The second thing I had to realize was that I had allowed my pop addiction to change my perception of taste. As sweet as soda pop is, there’s actually a gang of salt in it. Why? Because salt makes you thirsty. Think about it – salt makes you thirsty, sweet makes you crave. They compel you to drink more of what you’re already drinking.

But that combination of salt and sugar changed my perception of how food was supposed to taste! I was looking for that “tart and tangy bite” in everything I ate. In my chicken (hello, American Chinese food), in my pizza (pizza sauce is sweet, crust is bitter?), and anything else…. I was looking for sugary and salty. Not herbs, not appreciating the taste of whatever vegetables (if there were any) were in my dish, not even enjoying the different components of what I was putting on my plate. I just wanted sweet… and salty. Boooooo.

Leaving sugar behind has allowed me to get my darn tongue back! I can taste the difference between garlic salt and onion salt again (before, all I could taste was the salt.) Shoot, I can taste the difference between fresh garlic and canned garlic. At this point, I can tell you if two pieces of garlic were grown in the same garden. I mean, not relying on sugar and salt to bring me my flavors has truly set me free to enjoy the other flavors and tastes that are out there.

The one thing I had to learn, if I was going to give up excessive and unnecessary sugar, was how to still enjoy  “sweet” things. If the problem with sugar was that there was no fiber and no nutrients, how could I still enjoy the occasional sweet and rectify this?

For starters, I limit the amount of “sweet” I enjoy in a capacity where there’s nothing else to soften the blow, like fiber. So sweet drinks are usually out for me. It’s a very rare (and special) occasion where I enjoy a sweet drink.

Mangos, oranges, lemon and kiwi. Yummy.

But how do I make sweet drinks? I use fruits. Lots. I squeeze oranges in my tea, drop a little homemade raspberry jam in there and stir it up. I go out of my way to enjoy different flavors without having to go in on the sugar.That way, I can appreciate flavor over “sweetness.”

I use locally-collected honey. That’s not necessarily an “elitist” principle, it’s a health one. While honey is problematic for some, locally collected honey contains the local pollen, and helps me with my sensitivity to pollen. So, on the rare occasion that I need that kind of sweet (sometimes in a honey stick), I use honey.

I use maple syrup. Not “pancake syrup.” Real genuine maple syrup (I use grade B.) It doesn’t have the same digestion issues as regular sugar, so it doesn’t pack the one-two punch to your blood sugar that regular sugars pack. If I have a giant pitcher of tea or lemonade that I’m making, I’ll use a little maple syrup to add a touch of sweet (and rich) to the batch.

I know that there are plenty of people who are interested in Stevia, and I hear y’all. I see the pretty green boxes with the “healthy-looking” design on the boxes in the grocery, too. The reality of stevia, really, is this – if you can’t get it in its leaf form, you might want to bypass it. Like all things, white powdery stevia is mixed with chemicals to create that “sugar-like” appearance, has more of its medicinal properties removed, and even sometimes has other “sweeteners” added to the mix to make it just as effective as sugar. Stevia is fawned over because it supposedly doesn’t have the same effect on the body’s ability to produce insulin properly (read: doesn’t cause type 2 diabetes,) and is apparently a common herb in Asia and South America. Some turn it away because it has a licorice-ish aftertaste.

If it sounds like I don’t know a lot about Stevia, it should. I don’t. Then again, no one really knows. They just know that it works for them after trying it and listening to their bodies. That’s what I’d do, as well.

There are tons of alternatives for drinks that use real sugar and not chemicals, and I make the decision that works best for me. But I also know that the problem with “sweet” is “sweet without fiber,” so if the context in which I’m enjoying my “sweet” means that there’s no “fiber” – read: coffees, teas, soft drinks, etc – then perhaps I should be having water instead.

The real reality is… sodapop has truly spoiled us. We’ve allowed it to define “sweet,” we’ve allowed it to let us think that we should always have something “sweet,” and it has enabled an addiction to a truly problematic chemical. Once I learned to give that up, I was truly liberated… and hopefully others can step back and do the same.

Note: Those of you who ask about agave nectar, I can’t tell you much about it because I have no experience with it… and here’s why.