The average American consumes more than 150 pounds of sugar each year. Yes, you read that right, 150 pounds. Knowing this number, and the dangers of eating too much sugar, has prompted many people to try a sugar detox diet. Cravings and food preferences aside, eliminating the sweet stuff is harder than you may think. Sugar, in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, is used in hundreds of processed foods where you wouldn’t expect to find it. It’s not enough to skip dessert or stop drinking sodas—which do account for about 33% of all added sugar in the diet. To truly remove sugar from your diet you have to rely on whole, fresh foods and learn to read labels on packaged foods carefully.
“Added Sugar,” Explained
When nutritionists talk about sugar consumption they are usually talking about added sugars, not the natural sugar found in a piece of fruit or glass of unsweetened juice. For example, the carbohydrates found in whole grains are essentially a long chain of sugars, but they are digested differently than whatever sweeteners are added to that loaf in the making. Added sugars are found in items we think of as healthy, such as sports drinks, yogurt, nut butters and whole-grain breads and crackers. And of course, those not-so-healthy foods like candy, soda, fast food, cakes and cookies are loaded with extra sugar.
When you understand that figure of 150 pounds goes above and beyond the amount of sugar we naturally consume in a balanced diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and lean proteins, the idea of detoxing from sugar becomes even more interesting.
Benefits of a Sugar Detox
Strict detox diets that severely limit calories or entire food groups are not recommended for most people and should be undertaken only with medical guidance. Low blood sugar, fatigue, dizziness and flu-like symptoms are common side effects of these types of regimens. Though it may be emotionally or habitually difficult to avoid sweet foods, eliminating added sugars should not result in any serious physical discomfort. In fact, you may feel the benefits of sugar detox after just a day or two. They include:
- Increased energy
- Weight loss
- Fewer mood swings
- Clearer skin
- Fewer aches and pains
- Reduced hunger
- Improved heart health
- Improved dental health
- Increased sex drive
- Financial savings
Here are our suggestions for a safe and healthy sugar detox:
Step One — For the first three days of your detox diet, eat all the protein, vegetables and healthy fats you want, but avoid starchy vegetables, grains, dairy, fruit and alcohol. And no artificial or alternative sweeteners either. It takes about three days to break the physical addiction to sugar so eliminating even natural sugars like carbohydrates is important. It’s only three days—you can do it!
Step Two — Learn to read labels. While you’re getting used to life without sugar, take the time to notice all the foods you consume that have added sugar. From salad dressings to pretzels, sugar shows up where you might least expect it. Remove sugar-laden foods from your pantry and adjust your shopping lists accordingly.
Step Three — After the first three days, begin slowly adding naturally sweet foods back into your diet. For the first week, reintroduce low-sugar fruits like apples and pears and a daily single serving of whole-fat, unsweetened dairy into your diet. During week two, enjoy starchy vegetables and high-fiber crackers and berries. By week three you can add oatmeal, quinoa and all fruits, even an ounce of dark chocolate or a glass of red wine if you wish. Week four is considered “maintenance,” and you can eat all foods that don’t have sugar added to them.
Step Four — Let’s be honest, few people are going to live the rest of their lives without a cookie or a piece of birthday cake. But you can reduce the damage of an occasional treat by using low-glycemic sweeteners like coconut sugar instead of traditional refined white sugar. Coconut sugar has a light, sweet taste and it weighs and measures just like the white stuff, but it won’t cause blood sugar levels to spike or set you up for the high-crash-crave cycle white sugar is known for.
Life without added sugar can be sweet if you give it a chance. Once your taste buds are no longer dulled by the over-saturation of high-fructose sugar you’ll appreciate the crisp, juiciness of an apple or the sweet decadence of a simply baked winter squash. Try a sugar detox and see if you feel the benefits.