A glimpse of Chinese food culture and psychology

Disclaimer: This post is more about my household food culture and less about nutrition. I have no idea if this will be interesting to other people…

I printed and pinned up my list of banned and allowed foods from the last post:

The two white sheets on the oven — posted where we can all see it!

For the first week of January, I’ll still be staying with my parents, who are mildly enthusiastic about my project and might actually join me in giving up sugar!

I managed to get them interested by mentioning some science on how cutting sugar likely lowers blood pressure and improves the poop experience (although maybe not at first, as the yeasts die off..?), I plan to explain all of this in future posts. So much to write!

While my parents say they’re willing to cut down on sugar, they refuse to throw away or even put into a cupboard the things they supposedly won’t be eating. Dove ice cream bars, Twix bars from Halloween, European chocolates they got for Christmas, Digestives… These are all (except the ice cream) just sitting out on the dining table!

My mom’s logic is that, if she craves it later, it’ll be because she needs the nutrients. #headdesk

However, she seemed thoughtful when I mentioned the “sugar is more addictive than cocaine” studies (though results are questionable) and part of the fundamental attribution error (i.e. we underestimate the effect of environment on our decisions and overestimate our own agency).

Also, this afternoon, after she nagged at my step-dad for snacking on the dining table goodies (a daily occurrence), she allowed that maybe there was something to this hiding food strategy after all, especially for absent-minded men.

I don’t get why she reprimands my dad for snacking and yet insists on keeping food out of the cupboards so we don’t “forget to eat it.” When does she expect us to eat it then??

This afternoon we had our last meal of 2017. It was full of some of my favorite Chinese dishes, but I’ll just describe two of them here. First, the dessert:

Tang Yuan

My parents kindly agreed to have our New Year tangyuan on New Year’s Eve instead of for breakfast on New Year’s Day.

Tanyuan with black sesame paste

Tang yuan (“soup balls”) is a traditional Chinese dish involving glutinous rice balls, usually filled with black sesame paste, peanut butter paste, or other sweet pastes. The “broth” is sometimes just hot water, but today we had it with jiu niang, a mild rice wine. Sugar AND alcohol! Both on my banned list. Good bye, tang yuan!

I used to be that awful kid who sucked all the paste out and left the empty glutinous, mochi-like shell. I still believe this is the optimal way to eat tang yuan IF one is eating alone. Life is short. Skip the bland parts, right?

Unfortunately, Chinese culture is such that, if I left something edible on my plate, my parents would eat it, to avoid wasting food. And because I don’t want them to eat unhealthy AND unenjoyable foods on my account, I ate all the gross, slimy, bland mochi shells today. And thus we all stored a little more unnecessary fat in our bodies, in the name of not wasting food. Oh, the irrationalities of eating!

Ti Pang Tang

The other dish that I just had to say a final goodbye to was ti pang tang (“pork hock soup”), a traditional dish from my ancestral hometown, Ning Bo (a city south of Shanghai).

My mommy’s yummy di pang tang (<– Shanghainese pronunciation)

This soup involves super tender pork hock (lower leg areas?) stewed in a broth of dried dates, dried lychees, and sugar. All three of these ingredients are on the banned list, though I can’t help but notice the irony that the pork is the most objectionable ingredient, health- and ethics-wise. But one change at a time!

My mom claims ti pang tang is great for enriching a woman’s blood during her monthly blood-loss fiesta. However, a quick search suggests that the internet has nothing to say on the subject ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ At any rate I associate this dish with winter break ^_^

Tomorrow I will post my “before” state (waist circumference, photos, etc) for the record and an initial overview of why sugar is bad. Oh god, there’s so much to write and research, so overwhelmed!

# of sugary snacks eaten in the process of writing this post: 12. …At least I’m consistent? Although one of those was a bowl of ti pang tang…


No Sugar January

I have a mild to moderate sugar addiction. I love flaky pastries and deep chocolate and anything creamy and sweet. My favorite dessert is what I call “chocolate clay,” a kind of dense mousse or light gianduja, preferably on top of a crumbly peanut butter crust. I don’t know what this dessert is called, but Google had it at their cafes occasionally. If someone knows, please tell me! …After January.

Also, peanut butter mousse is probably the most underrated dessert.

For all of January 2018, which begins in three days, I will not consume any added sugar. What do I mean by “added sugar”? Most of this post is an outline of EVERY detail of what I will and will not eat. But first, the bigger picture:

My goals for this project

Earlier this year, I watched the viral video “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” and read the less viral but more entertaining book The Year of No Sugar. I highly recommend both of these! Since then I’ve been casually consuming books and videos on nutrition and people’s personal experiences with going off sugar in particular.

I’m not as obsessed with nutrition as, for example, the author of The Year of No Sugar, but I’ve come to realize that nutrition deserves much more research, attention, and effort than I’ve given it so far. So I’m attempting my own humble nutrition experiments, starting with No Sugar January.

My goals for the No Sugar January project:

1. To reset my taste buds and my sugar-eating habits, in order to…

2. Interrupt my addiction to sugar, in order to…

3. Eat less sugar in the long run, in order to…

4. Have a cleaner and healthier body.

My goals for writing publicly about the No Sugar January project:

1. To clarify my understanding of sugar through writing

2. To spread awareness about sugar so that my friends can make more informed choices

3. To try my hand at explaining nutrition, biochemistry, psychology, etc, more systematically and logically and in a more easily digestible way for the average person.

I also want to point out holes where I find them, which most sources just hand wave or gloss over instead of admitting there isn’t enough data or they just don’t know. I haven’t found a single explanation out there that is satisfactory to me, or I’d have just posted a link and been done with it.

4. To motivate myself to stick to the project by letting my friends know I’m doing it! 🙂

What exactly do I mean by “No Sugar”?

I mean no purchasing or eating any foods or drinks–be they store-bought, restaurant-bought, homemade, or offered repeatedly by loving and well-intentioned mom–that contain any of the following:


Fructose is a toxin that works similarly to alcohol in many ways, according to Dr. Lustig in the video I linked above. I’ll be recreating and piecing together his and others’ logic around this in future posts.

Common additives that contain fructose:

– Table sugar (sucrose)
– Unbleached sugar
– High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
– Maple syrup
– Molasses
– Brown sugar (basically normal sugar with molasses in it)
– Honey
– Organic artisanal locally sourced fair trade touched by an angel cane sugar (and just regular cane sugar)
– Evaporated cane juice
– Confectioner’s sugar
– Coconut ______ (any sweet extract from a coconut)
– Agave (the most fructosiest of them all! More on this in a future post)

– Basically anything sweet that is a concentrated extract from a plant

Brown rice syrup is supposedly “okay” because it releases slowly. But I’m trying to reset my taste buds, so this is also out for now.

Sucrose is basically glucose (mostly good) and fructose (mostly bad) holding hands. HFCS is similar, but they’re not holding hands. More on this later.

2. Artificial sweeteners

Stevia and sucralose are supposedly safe and recommended for weaning yourself off sugar, but there hasn’t been enough longitudinal research for my comfort. Plus, again, resetting the taste buds here.

3. Fruits that have been “reduced” in any way

This includes fruit juice, dried fruits, jams, jellies, apple chips, coconut chips, coconut flakes, preserves, etc.

I’m avoiding what I call “reduced” fruits (as opposed to “processed” because that word is overloaded) because these methods of reduction make it easy to eat entire orders of magnitude more of the fruit in one sitting.

For example, if I eat a bag of dried apricots, I’ve eaten thirty apricots’ worth of sugar in one sitting (and am probably still craving Cheez-Its), whereas I would never eat thirty actual apricots in one sitting.

4. No alcohol in the form of drinks (technically a reduced fruit, am I right?).

I used the qualifier “in the form of drinks” because that’s the only form I know of where I can ingest significant amounts of sugar. And because I refuse to give up vanilla extract, which is 35% alcohol.

Sweet-related things I CAN have:

1. Whole fruit and smoothies

To my dismay, this year I discovered that most smoothie places add fruit or vegetable juices to their smoothies. Juice is one of the worst forms of sugar, so I would probably have to make my own smoothies. But it’s winter, so probably no smoothies, period.

2. Raisins

Technically a dried fruit. But I’m ok with this exception because I don’t like raisins that much and I only put them in my oatmeal every once in a while. Anything that will get me to eat oatmeal is a plus. More on oatmeal in a future post…

3. Any form of cacao before sugar has been added

This is technically a reduced fruit, but it’s hard to OD on something so bitter. I’m not sure what kind of cacao foods are out there, but I’m excited to find out!

Cacao powder. Not sure how to use this in recipes yet…

4. “Sugar-free” bread

One of the ingredients of Kroger’s 100% Sugar-Free Whole Wheat Bread is raisin juice concentrate, which “adds a trivial amount of sugar.”

Untitled design

Oh well, I’m letting myself have this specific bread because I anticipate carb cravings just before my next period, which is due to start right in the middle of the month. Get excited!

5. Dextrose (aka glucose)

Glucose is our energy source. And by “our” I mean pretty much every organism on this planet. I’ll clarify [my understanding of] the biochemistry of glucose, fructose, and other substances in later posts. For now, suffice it to say I have a box of Dextrose powder, and I’m not afraid to use it.

Got this from a Vietnamese market. Supposedly can be used like sugar, just half as sweet.

I’ll go into much more detail on my reasoning for including or excluding each of these in a future post.

That’s all for now. You should know I cut out many, many paragraphs from this post in an effort to avoid overburdening my well-meaning friends who will surely read my posts to provide moral support 🙂 🙂 🙂

I’m looking forward to writing about some biochemistry, psychology, and personal experiences around this project in the coming weeks as I struggle through this food experiment. Wish me luck!

# of sugary snacks eaten in the process of writing this post: 12