The benefits of a sugar detox and 7 tips for how to do one effectively, according to dietitians
Sugardetoxes are when you cut added sugar for a period of time, either 7, 21, or 30 days.
detoxfrom sugar, snack on fruit, eat more protein, and stay hydrated.
- Sugar detoxes can help reduce sugar cravings, aid in weight loss, and improve oral
The average American consumes about 20 teaspoons of added sugar per day - a far cry from the recommended amount of six for women and nine for men. As an antidote to excessive sugar consumption, sugar detoxes have grown in popularity.
To be clear, not all sugar is bad. In fact, it occurs naturally in many types of vegetables, fruits, grains, and dairy. But, health problems arise when most of our sugar comes from added sugars, like those in cookies, cakes, bread, plant-based milk, condiments, and more.
So from that perspective, a sugar detox could help you reduce your added sugar intake and in turn embrace a more nutrient-dense
What is a sugar detox?
A sugar detox is when you abstain from eating sugar, specifically added sugar, for at least a week and up to a month in order to reduce sugar intake, curb sugar cravings, and improve overall health.
There are no hard or fast rules when it comes to sugar detoxes, but your focus should be on cutting out added sugars from your diet: that means paying attention to nutritional facts and avoiding sugary sodas, most desserts, processed foods, and even some condiments like ketchup, which can include four grams of sugar per tablespoon.
"There's now lots of emerging research that too much sugar can lead to heart disease and cancer and inflammation," says Lisa Young, RDN, an adjunct professor in the Department of
In fact, a 2017 study estimated if Americans cut their added sugar intake by 20% for 20 years, about 20 fewer people per 100,000 would develop type 2 diabetes, and 10 fewer per 100,000 would develop heart disease. These effects increased the more added sugar was cut.
Note: Due to the lack of clinical studies examining sugar detoxes, there is no clear recommendation for how long you should detox whether that be 7, 21, or 30 days. Instead, Young suggests you start your sugar detox by aiming for a minimum of one or two weeks without eating added sugar.
You might think of detoxes as a short-term mission, but the goal of a sugar detox is to help you re-assess your relationship to sugar in the long term. For some, that means cutting added sugar out of their diets indefinitely, and for others, it may mean re-introducing it in small amounts post-detox. Over time, reducing your added sugar intake can lead to multiple health benefits.
Benefits of a sugar detox
- Cut calories and lose weight
- Decrease sugar cravings
- Decrease risk of developing chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease
- Improve oral health by reducing cavities, tooth discoloration, and bad breath
Additionally, your sweet tooth could be impacting your heart: A 2014 study found people who consumed between 17% to 21% of their total daily calories from added sugar had a 38% greater risk of dying from heart disease than people who ate less added sugar - about 8% of their total calories.
Important: Nutritionists say many people can benefit from embarking on a sugar detox, but if you have a history of eating disorders or an "all or nothing" mentality when it comes to food, a sugar detox might not be right for you.
Understanding sugar withdrawal
However, cutting out sugar is harder than it seems. Many people begin to feel sugar cravings and withdrawal symptoms a few days into a detox - similar to the craving and withdrawal cycles seen in those quitting nicotine.
"Sugar is a substance that has been shown to release dopamine and opioids in the brain, both of which have addictive potential," says Ilene Ruhoy, MD, a board-certified neurologist and the founder of Center for Healing Neurology.
Receptors in the brain are rewired to compensate for the release of these extra neurotransmitters. Therefore, it's possible when you reduce your sugar intake, your brain craves the extra opioids and dopamine, resulting in withdrawal symptoms.
Symptoms of sugar withdrawal can include:
Sugar withdrawal symptoms can last between a few days to a week, but there are steps you can take to mitigate them.
7 tips to detox from sugar
Adding certain foods to your diet can help curb sugar cravings and make saying goodbye to added sugars less painful. Here are some tips to combat sugar cravings:
2. Start small
If quitting cold turkey is too difficult, gradually reduce added sugar intake before cutting it out entirely. "There's nothing wrong with having a couple of teaspoons of added sugar a day if you stop there," Young says.
Note: Two teaspoons of granulated sugar roughly equates to eight and a half grams.
Eating healthy fats like those in nuts and fatty fish can help reduce cravings for sugary foods. Try adding some natural (read: no added sugar) nut butter into your diet, or adding a serving of avocado to your lunch.
4. Add protein
Adding extra protein keeps you full and subsequently reduces food cravings. A small 2017 study of people with type two diabetes found a low carbohydrate, high fiber, fat, and protein diet increased feelings of fullness and reduced sugar cravings.
5. Snack on fruit
Embracing natural sugars found in fruits like watermelon, berries, and bananas can help satisfy your sweet tooth. "Opt for foods like fruit that will give you sweetness with fiber to keep your blood sugar steady," says Young.
6. Swap your drinks
7. Stay hydrated
A little bit of sugar isn't a bad thing - but if you find yourself feeling dependent on sugary foods, a sugar detox could help you address your cravings and embrace healthier eating habits.
If you do decide to do a detox, be sure to up your intake of protein, healthy fats, fruit, and fiber and drink plenty of water to keep withdrawal symptoms like headaches and irritability under control.The FDA made it easier to spot sneaky added sugar in your food - here's how to avoid it, says nutritionistsHow to cut sugar out of your diet and how long sugar cravings lastSugar can cause headaches, and it's more likely if you have diabetesToo much sugar won't directly weaken your immune system, but consuming too many calories might
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