Cutting out sugar isn't easy, considering that 74 percent of packaged foods contain sucrose, dextrose, glucose and other added sugars. This popular ingredient is fueling the global obesity epidemic.
High sugar consumption has been linked to metabolic disorders, cardiovascular problems, inflammatory conditions and everything in between. Given these risks, it makes sense to limit or remove sugar from your diet and seek healthier substitutes.
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Is Sugar Really That Bad?
Got a sweet tooth that can't be tamed? You're not alone. In fact, the average American consumes nearly 57 pounds of sugar each year, according to the University of California San Francisco. That's a lot more than the American Heart Association's guidelines, which recommend only up to nine teaspoons of sugar per day for men and up to six teaspoons for women.
According to a large-scale study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in April 2014, high-sugar diets can increase the risk of dying from heart disease by a whopping 38 percent. The more sugar you eat, the higher your risk of developing cardiovascular problems.
About 37 percent of the sugar consumed by Americans comes from soft drinks. Grain-based desserts account for another 13.7 percent. Surprisingly, only 6 percent of added sugar comes from candy, as reported in the above study.
Researchers warn that excess sugar consumption does a lot more than just increase your waistline. It's also a major contributor to high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and diabetes.
Read more: 15 Reasons to Kick Sugar
High sugar intake also promotes fat storage in the liver, which may cause non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, according to a review published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association in August 2017. People with obesity with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease are more likely to develop insulin resistance, a hallmark of Type 2 diabetes and its complications.
How to Detox From Sugar
Cutting out sugar is one of the best things you can do for your health. You'll not only get leaner, but also lower your risk of developing chronic diseases. On top of that, your energy levels will go through the roof.
According to a June 2019 research paper featured in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, the so-called sugar rush is just a myth. Scientists have found that high-carb foods don't improve mood, alertness or energy. On the contrary, they increase fatigue and decrease alertness within 30 to 60 minutes after consumption. These findings indicate that you don't need sugar to stay focused and energized.
First of all, decide whether you want to go cold turkey or give up sugary foods and beverages gradually. Regardless of what you choose, be prepared to clean up your diet and find new ways to satisfy your sweet tooth. A full body detox or body cleanse isn't the answer. The key is to change your eating habits.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) warns about the dangers of detox diets, also known as flushes or cleanses. Fasting, juicing, liquid diets and colon cleansing are just a few examples. These so-called "detox" strategies lack scientific evidence and can do more harm than good. Additionally, many detox supplements and cleansing products available on the market carry potential side effects.
Furthermore, sugar addiction isn't real. You might have heard that sugar is more addictive than illegal drugs, but that's just another myth.
A November 2016 review published in the European Journal of Nutrition states that there is little evidence to support these claims. While it's true that intermittent access to sweets, pizza, fries and other foods that activate the brain's reward center may trigger addictive behaviors, sugar itself doesn't have this effect on the brain. Hence, there's no need to "detox" your body.
However, if you prefer to use the term "sugar detox," go ahead. What matters is to commit to a healthy lifestyle that emphasizes clean eating. Kicking your sugar habit is a good start.
Tips for Cutting Out Sugar
Start by making a list of foods that you consume on a regular basis. Check the labels for hidden sugars, such as malt syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, fructose, treacle, brown rice syrup, cane juice crystals and molasses. It's not uncommon to see "sugar-free" foods that contain dextrose, glucose, maltose, fruit juice concentrate and other forms of sugar. For this reason, it's important to read the ingredients list and check the carb count.
Read more: 10 Foods You Don't Realize Are Packed With Sugar
Next, try to limit or eliminate processed foods from your diet. Candy bars, pastries, chocolate and other sweets are not the only sources of added sugar. Processed products, such as deli meats, salad dressings, barbecue sauce, energy bars, canned soup and frozen dinners, may contain this ingredient, too.
Canned black bean soup, for example, boasts 6.4 grams of sugar per serving (one small can). A single tablespoon of salad dressing can have 7 grams of sugar. Most ketchup brands contain approximately 4 grams of sugar per serving (one teaspoon).
Beware that fruit juices and smoothies are high in sugar, too. These beverages contain fructose, a natural sugar. A July 2015 review published in the BMJ points out that fruit juice isn't healthier than soda. The risk of diabetes may increase by 7 percent for each additional daily serving of fruit juice consumed.
These findings, though, don't apply to whole fruit. The fiber in fresh and dried fruit slows sugar absorption into the bloodstream and may protect against diabetes. In fact, you can substitute sugary foods for fresh fruit to satisfy your cravings.
To keep things simple, choose whole foods over their processed counterparts. Some foods, including fish, lean meat and eggs, contain no sugar at all. Others, such as cruciferous veggies and leafy greens, are very low in sugar and carbs. Citrus fruits, berries, avocado and other low-sugar fruits are a good choice, too.
Try These Easy Food Swaps
Going on a sugar detox can be mind-wrecking, especially for those with a sweet tooth. Luckily, there are plenty of delicious, healthy alternatives available. Try these easy food swaps for cutting out sugar:
- Substitute stevia, unsweetened apple sauce or fruit purees for refined sugar.
- Swap soft drinks for unsweetened iced tea, fruit-infused water or lemon water.
- Use natural flavors, such as mint, nutmeg, cinnamon or vanilla, instead of sugar.
- Replace breakfast cereals and granola with whole grains.
- Mix plain, natural yogurt with berries, banana slices and other fruits rather than purchasing flavored yogurt.
- Add flavored protein powder to baked goods for extra sweetness and skip the sugar.
- Satisfy your sugar cravings with a few pieces of extra dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate.
- Make your own energy bars using dried fruit, oats, peanut butter, raw cocoa, nuts and other whole foods.
- Choose homemade trail mixes over commercial varieties.
Craving hot chocolate? Make your own version at home using raw cocoa, stevia and water, almond milk, coconut milk or soy milk.
Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Natural Sweeteners
If you're in the mood for a frappe, mix instant coffee, stevia, peanut butter, unsweetened almond milk and ice cubes in a blender. This thick, foamy beverage tastes just like the real thing, but without the sugar and extra calories.
As you see, cutting out sugar isn't impossible. Sure, you'll spend a little more time in the kitchen, but it's worth the effort.
- UCSF.edu: "Hidden in Plain Sight"
- UCSF.edu: "How Much Is Too Much?"
- Heart.org: "Added Sugars"
- JAMA Internal Medicine: "Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among US Adults"
- Journal of the American Osteopathic Association: "Conversion of Sugar to Fat: Is Hepatic de Novo Lipogenesis Leading to Metabolic Syndrome and Associated Chronic Diseases?"
- Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews: "Sugar Rush or Sugar Crash? A Meta-Analysis of Carbohydrate Effects on Mood"
- NIH.gov: "Detoxes and Cleanses"
- Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics: "Detox Diets for Toxin Elimination and Weight Management: A Critical Review of the Evidence"
- European Journal of Nutrition: "Sugar Addiction: The State of the Science"
- USDA: "Canned Black Bean Soup"
- USDA: "Salad Dressing"
- USDA: "Ketchup"
- BMJ: "Consumption of Sugar Sweetened Beverages, Artificially Sweetened Beverages, and Fruit Juice and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes: Systematic Review, Meta-Analysis, and Estimation of Population Attributable Fraction"
- Mayo Clinic: "Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet"