These days Americans consume about 150 pounds of sugar per person/per year, up from just 17 pounds in the early 1900s (almost 9 times as much).(1) In many European countries, studies suggest that total sugar consumption ranges between 15 and 21% of daily calorie intake in adults, and between 16 and 26% in children.(2) This means that most adults are eating about 300-450 calories worth of sugar (or more) daily.
The rising consumption of sugar over the past century has had a big impact on the health of many adults and children – leading not only to weight gain, but also contributing to widespread health problems like heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, digestive issues, Alzheimer’s disease, and more.
Even if you’re not worried about sugar causing you long-term health problems, you might be fed up with the cravings, breakouts, bloating, and mood swings of a high-sugar diet.
Why is sugar so bad for us exactly?
Consuming too much added sugar can raise blood pressure and increase chronic inflammation. High amounts of sugar can also overload the liver and lead to a greater accumulation of fat, which may result in problems like fatty liver disease, diabetes, and heart disease.
In terms of gut health, sugar can cause chronic, low-grade inflammation that can damage the gastrointestinal system and lead to the transfer of substances from the gut into the bloodstream. High sugar consumption and insulin resistance may also affect enzyme signaling pathways, which increases your risk of cancer.(3)
Now that you know the benefits of doing a sugar detox, what’s the best way to actually go about one?
No matter how you intend to avoid sugar, you can benefit from eliminating highly processed, sugary foods from your diet such as: soda, bottled juices and teas, sweetened yogurts, cereals, snack bars, cookies, cakes, and desserts, ice creams, and condiments like many marinades and dressings. Start reading ingredient labels carefully so you know just how much hidden sugar is in products you frequently eat. Even better, choose whole foods that don’t come in packages or require an ingredient label.
Good to know
A “sugar detox” means different things to different people. Some might choose to follow a totally sugar-free diet for a period of time, eliminating all sources of sugar including fruit and even sweet-tasting veggies, while others might focus on avoiding added sugars and artificial sweeteners.
Here are tips for removing sugar from your diet in a way that is manageable and sustainable:
- Avoid artificial sweeteners – Even though artificial sweeteners may have zero calories, they can still contribute to cravings and potentially cause gastrointestinal (GI) issues like diarrhea or bloating. If you do choose to keep using limited amounts of sweeteners, stick with natural sweeteners like stevia extract or raw honey (cocoa powder, cinnamon, and vanilla extract are other ingredients that can help make recipes seem “sweeter”).
- Eat more healthy fats – When you take sugar and refined grains out of your diet, you’re probably going to need to replace some of those calories with other foods, which is where healthy fats come in. Olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, grass-fed butter, and ghee all make meals taste great, and leave you feeling more satisfied between meals. Try to include a serving or two of healthy fats with every meal and snack to stabilize your blood sugar and cut back on cravings.
- Load up on veggies and enough protein – With sugar out of your diet, your meals should include: plenty of “clean protein” sources (like grass-fed meat, eggs, or wild-caught fish), a variety of veggies, and healthy fats. Aim for this three-part combination with every meal; it will help fill you up and provide fiber, antioxidants, and essential nutrients.
- Get enough sleep and manage stress – The more sleep deprived and stressed we feel, the more we crave sugar and other “comfort foods”. Both stress and lack of sleep can increase output of the hormone cortisol, which studies suggest is tied to hunger dysregulation, cravings, and weight gain. Try to get 7 or more hours of sleep every night. Exercise is a great way to manage stress and reduce inflammation, as are other natural stress-relievers like yoga, meditation, journaling, spending time outdoors, etc.
- Consider a very low-carb ketogenic diet – If you really want to slash sugar cravings, increase your body’s ability to burn-fat, and fight inflammation, consider trying a very low-carb, very high-fat diet. The keto diet actually switches the energy source that your body uses from carbohydrates/sugar (or glucose) to fat. You essentially go from being a “sugar burner” to a “fat burner,” utilizing your own excess body fat and fat from your diet to energize your brain, muscles, and cells.
No matter your reason for trying a sugar detox, the first step is to become more aware of what you are eating. Once you’ve identified and eliminated the biggest sources of sugar from your diet, you can replace those with healthier options like satisfying fats, clean protein sources, and a variety of vegetables.