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Many of us have an unhealthy relationship with sugar, which can be attributed to sugar being one of the most popular ingredients in American foods. A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2017-2018, the average American adult consumed 17 teaspoons of added sugar every day.
Because sugar can be hidden in less obvious sources like condiments and breakfast cereals, doing a sugar detox can help the body regulate its blood sugar and offer a variety of health benefits like better sleep and clearer thinking.
Not only does sugar affect weight, cardiovascular health, and blood sugar, it’s also bad for our mouths. Excessive sugar intake can cause bad breath, tooth discoloration, and tooth decay. Making the decision to cut back on your sugar intake is a great challenge to take on that will offer a variety of rewards, such as maintaining a whiter smile.
We dive into the basics of a sugar detox and offer tips for managing sugar withdrawal symptoms below. You can also skip to our infographic for meal inspiration and dessert swaps to satisfy your sweet tooth the healthy way.
While there are many timeframes people follow, at its core, a sugar detox is when a person cuts out all added sugar from their diet. Some may choose to ease into a sugar detox, while others go cold turkey by cutting out sugar entirely for a week, a month, or even up to a year.
The length of time you choose to do a sugar detox is entirely up to you. Even by doing a seven-day detox, your body will begin to feel the effects of removing sugar from your diet and allow you to balance your blood sugar levels and reduce cravings for sugar and other unhealthy foods.
Sugar can wreak havoc on our bodies in many ways. Excess sugar intake has been linked to health issues such as obesity, diabetes, and heart health. In a study published by JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers found that higher intake of added sugar is associated with cardiovascular disease. In addition to causing harm to our bodies, we can become addicted to sugar much like any other drug.
Cutting out sugar, even for a week or month, can have serious health benefits. Here are a few advantages of cutting back on sugar.
Not only does sugar cause physical side effects such as weight gain, it also causes pesky mental effects such as brain fog, negative changes to your attention span, fatigue, and mood instability. By cutting out sugar from your diet, you remove that variable from your body and allow your blood sugar levels to regulate. This leads to more energy, clearer thinking, and fewer mood swings.
It should come as no surprise that eating less sugar means having a healthier mouth. You’ve probably heard from your dentist that too much sugar can lead to tooth decay. When we consume foods with excess sugar, we’re giving the bacteria that cause tooth decay a delicious meal.
As the bacteria eat the sugar, acid forms and leads to the breakdown of the tooth’s enamel, leading to decay and cavities. Cutting down on sugar in your diet not only helps prevent tooth decay, but it also helps eliminate bad breath, because sugar feeds the bacteria that causes bad breath.
Having trouble sleeping? Cutting back on sugar could help. A 2016 study also discovered that people who consume foods with high levels of sugar sleep less deeply and more restlessly at night.
According to Insider, foods containing high levels of refined sugar can actually affect your slow wave sleep (SWS) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep stages. SWS is the sleep stage that allows your muscles to repair and grow, while REM sleep stimulates the areas of your brain that are essential in learning and making and retaining memories.
Excess sugar intake has been linked to increased fat storage in the body. That’s why cutting out sugar from your diet can lead to weight loss. However, it’s important to note that this is not a rapid, overnight process. Cutting back on sugar is just one element to weight loss and should be coupled with other healthy lifestyle changes, like an increase in activity level and healthier eating, to see results.
Before you get started on your detox, there are a few sugar withdrawal symptoms you should be aware of.
Physical symptoms associated with detoxing from sugar include:
A few of the mental side effects of cutting back on sugar include:
While every person is different and may experience some of these symptoms at varying degrees, going into a detox with this in mind can help you manage the side effects to help you power through to experience the benefits mentioned above.
Before you start your detox journey, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind. Familiarize yourself with the basics of a sugar-free diet with these helpful tips.
Before you start your detox, take some time to decide how long you want it to last. It’s important to be realistic about what you can commit to. Going cold turkey from sugar isn’t easy, and it may be better for you and your lifestyle to ease into it. You can do this by cutting out just one source of sugar from your diet such as soda, processed foods, or coffee with cream and sugar.
Next, decide on whether you want to do a 7-day, 21-day, or longer detox. We’d recommend starting with a weeklong detox and then deciding to extend it if you start to experience the benefits of consuming less sugar.
Some additional resources that may help you on your detox journey include food-tracking apps that can be found in the App Store:
There are a few rules you’ll have to follow for a sugar detox, including some foods you should avoid. Here’s a list of the top items to skip as you begin your journey.
Food and Drinks To Avoid:
Food and Drinks To Consume:
Oftentimes, emotional issues such as anxiety and stress spur our motivation to eat foods that are unhealthy for us, as they can be comforting. Take some time to think about what you’re feeling when you experience sugar cravings to help you get a better understanding of what is at the core of that feeling.
“Many times, our craving for sugar is more for an emotional need that isn’t being met,” said Dr. Waqas Ahmad Buttar, a family physician at Sachet Infusions. “Maybe you are craving a real relationship when you get home from work, and all you need is companionship, but you don’t have that, so you go for the sugar instead.”
Plenty of popular food and drinks have hidden sugars that you might not know about. Get in the habit of checking food labels as you shop and before you eat so you can make informed decisions about what you’re eating on the detox.
A few foods with added sugars to watch out for include condiments such as salad dressings, ketchup, barbecue sauce, and teriyaki sauce. Additionally, watch out for your breakfast cereals and flavored yogurts, as they tend to include high levels of sugar.
One way to avoid processed foods is by making your own meals, and homemade meals don’t have to be complicated. Simple meals are key when you’re doing a sugar detox. While this may sound daunting if you have a busy schedule, meal prepping is one way to make it a little easier on you.
You’re bound to crave sugar while you’re detoxing, so it’s important to not skip meals and eat foods high in protein that will leave you feeling full. You can curb your cravings by reaching for fruit or popping in gum containing xylitol, which is both great for your teeth and great at giving your mouth a distraction.
This cannot be overstated while you’re detoxing: Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. While you should always be drinking water, doing so during a sugar detox can help you feel fuller, which can help reduce those sugar cravings. Dr. Buttar recommends making flavored waters with cucumber, mint, ginger, and lemon. Mint has an added benefit of helping to curb cravings as well.
If you find sugar cravings hitting you hard, it won’t do you any good to sit in your kitchen and stare at the fridge. Instead, find a distraction. Go for a walk, call up a friend, hit the gym, or read a book. Find activities you love to do that are healthy distractions from your sugar cravings.
While doing a sugar detox isn’t the easiest thing to do, the multitude of benefits that come with cutting back on excess sugar in your diet are well worth the temporary side effects that come with sugar withdrawal.
To help you kickstart your sugar-free journey, we’ve created a helpful infographic that outlines tips for reducing sugar in your diet, easy meal options, and ways to satisfy your sweet tooth so you can keep your smile gleaming for years to come.
When you’re hungry or in a hurry to get out the door, it can be a hassle to pull up sugary food swaps on your phone to hunt for something you can eat. To make the switch to a less sugary diet a bit easier, we created this helpful list of food swaps that you can print out and hang on your fridge to help you quickly find the perfect swap.