Despite your best intentions, one chocolate chip cookie turned into seven and now you're wondering if you can drink a ton of water to help kick-start some type of sugar detox. The bad news is: The answer is no, although water will keep you hydrated and help your kidneys flush out toxins.
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In a perfect world, added sugar would be completely eliminated from a person's diet. But the world isn't perfect, and there are going to be times when you eat too much. Even though drinking a lot of water won't flush the sugar out any faster, there are things you can do to burn off the extra sugar and help your body cleanse.
Drinking water won't help flush out the sugar in your body, but you can speed up the rate at which your body burns off stored sugar by exercising more. High-intensity exercise may be the most beneficial.
Your Kidneys and Sugar
When it comes to sugar, you hear a lot about insulin and the role of the pancreas in maintaining the balance of sugar in your body, but the kidneys don't seem to get as much attention, even though they're an important piece of the puzzle too. To understand why drinking a lot of water won't flush out the sugar in your body, you need to know how the kidneys work and the role they play in maintaining the level of sugar (or glucose) in your blood.
One of your kidneys' main functions is to filter the blood. They take every ounce of your blood into complicated filtering mechanisms, pull out waste, toxins and extra water to make the urine that will leave your body and preserve the good stuff so your body can use it.
Like anything else, all of the glucose that's in the blood gets filtered through the kidneys. The kidneys take the glucose they need for their own immediate energy needs and then reabsorb any of the remaining sugar and put it back into the blood to try to conserve it. After all, the body knows that glucose is a vital source of energy, and it doesn't want to dump it out of the body for no reason.
But kidneys handle only about 180 milligrams per deciliter of glucose at a time. With higher levels, some of that glucose spills into your urine. In this case, you could eliminate extra sugar by drinking more water, since it would make you produce more urine and the glucose would spill into that urine, but this is typically a problem only for people with diabetes. Exposing your kidneys to high levels of glucose repeatedly can damage them.
Read more: 5 Easy Ways to Cut Down on Sugar
Exercise for Sugar Detox
But there is a way that exercise can help with a sugar cleanse. When you eat sugar, your body does several things with it. It uses what it needs immediately for energy, converts some of what's left over to glycogen and stores it in the liver and muscles, then takes anything left after that and turns it into fat to store in your adipose — or fat — tissue.
This is helpful to know because your body calls on the sugar in your blood and the glycogen in your muscles for energy during exercise. In other words, if you've eaten too much sugar, exercise can help you do a sugar cleanse by burning off that extra sugar. What's even more fascinating is that the rate at which you burn off the sugar increases with the increasing intensity of the exercise.
A report published in the Journal of Physiology in March 2012 points out that, during low-intensity aerobic exercise, your body uses 10 to 15 percent of the sugar and glycogen, but if you increase your speed, you can ramp that number up to 70 to 100 percent. So, in a way, you have the power to speed up your sugar detox by exercising harder.
How Much Do You Need?
Although water won't directly help flush sugar out of your body, it's still important to make sure you're drinking enough. Getting enough water keeps your body and your kidneys healthy so they can do their job. It also prevents dehydration and provides energy so you can get through those high-intensity workouts more easily. Water also:
- Keeps every cell in your body healthy.
- Maintains the fluid and electrolyte balance of your blood.
- Flushes out metabolic byproducts.
- Regulates body temperature.
- Lubricates the joints.
- Normalizes digestion and prevents constipation.
- Keeps the skin soft and supple.
- Carries nutrients and oxygen to the cells.
So how much do you need? Unfortunately, the answer isn't totally clear. Roxanne Sukol, MD, a doctor of preventive medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, says that water needs vary greatly based on things like your age, metabolism and even the temperature around you.
Your water needs also change from day to day based on how much you're sweating. On days when you do a high-intensity workout, you need more water than on the days when you do something with a little less impact.
Sukol adds that a good rule of thumb is to focus on your urine. That's right. You can tell if you need more water by what your pee looks and smells like. If your urine is pale or almost clear with little to no odor, it's likely that you're properly hydrated. If it's dark yellow with a strong ammonia odor, you need to drink more water.
It actually is possible to drink too much water. And if you do, Harvard Health notes that it can dilute the level of sodium in the blood and cause a condition called hyponatremia or "water poisoning," which can lead to brain swelling and even death (although it's extremely rare).
So, if you over-indulged in sugar, don't overdo it on the water too. You're better off just drinking the amount of water you need to help your kidneys do their job and getting in some exercise until your body is back in balance.
- National Kidney Foundation: "Sugar and Your Kidneys"
- The American Journal of Managed Care: "Understanding the Kidneys' Role in Blood Glucose Regulation"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Water: Do You Need 8 Glasses a Day?"
- Better Health Channel: "Water – A Vital Nutrient"
- The Journal of Physiology: "Regulation of Glucose and Glycogen Metabolism During and After Exercise"
- University of California San Francisco: "How the Body Metabolizes Sugar"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Water, Water Everywhere"