How to detox from sugar in 3 proven steps
Updated: Feb 14
Let me start by saying that I have a BIG sweet tooth, and I would never be able to fully give up having a sweet treat here and there. But, it’s recommended to have no more than 6 or 9 teaspoons per day for women and men, respectively. And we’re far exceeding that recommendation, with Americans currently consuming an average of 17 teaspoons of added sugar per day. That's just about double the recommendation!
We can all start making small changes to our eating habits to lower our added sugar intake, and the benefits of doing this are far-ranging.
Not sure where to start? Find out all my tips and tricks for how to detox from sugar in 3 simple, proven steps! Lucky for you, I’ve also included a variety of resources (think the best books on quitting sugar and cookbooks with delicious low-sugar recipes). I’ll also explain what to expect during the process, such as withdrawal from sugar and the benefits of detoxing from sugar.
Who should detox from sugar?
Americans consume too much added sugar, which is different from the natural sugars found in food. Yes, there is a difference!
To elaborate, added sugar is the type of sugar or syrup that is added to a food to make it taste better. Examples of added sugar include honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, etc. Processed foods are where we tend to find the highest concentration of added sugars (manufacturers really know how to lure our taste buds). This is where you will commonly see added sugars like high-fructose corn syrup, maltose, and cane juice (the list goes on!).
On the other hand, natural sugars are the sugars that naturally occur in food, like fruit and milk. I want to make an important note here: I am not recommending that you avoid fruit. I’m a huge advocate for a balanced plant-based diet, and I definitely don’t want you shying away from fruit due to its sugar content. With vitamins, minerals, a huge antioxidant load, and other bioactive substances, fruit is an important part of a healthy diet.
Meanwhile, we’re seeing an over-indulgence in sugary and sweet foods, and one reason is that sugar has addictive properties. By that, I mean when we eat sugar, our bodies release these “feel-good substances” (opioids and dopamine), which leave us with a feeling of pleasure and relief. A sugary diet is also infamous for its powerful knock-on effect– the more sugar you eat, the more you crave it. Sadly, the health consequences of excessive sugar intake long outlive the “short-term high” that sugar leaves us with.
If you have sugar cravings or feel powerless around sugary foods, it's a sign you could benefit from doing a sugar detox. If you aren't sleeping well or have low energy, doing a sugar detox may help. Likewise, if you have a chronic illness, lowering your added sugar intake will be beneficial.
Benefits of quitting sugar
Not only does sugar make it easier to pack on a few extra pounds, but it is associated with numerous health problems.
According to the American Heart Association, high sugar consumption may increase the risk for:
High blood pressure
Too much added sugar has also been associated with an increased risk for depression, anxiety, and sleep problems. One study found that individuals aged under 45 years with a tendency to feel anxious had significantly higher mean consumption of added simple sugars compared to those who weren’t prone to anxiety. The Women’s Health Initiative study showed that participants with the highest consumption of dietary added sugars were significantly more likely to have depression.
High sugar consumption has also been shown to increase the risk for certain cancers. A meta-analysis found a statistically significant positive association between higher consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) and breast and prostate cancer risk.
Beyond that, excess intake of added sugars can increase the risk for chronic diseases, like obesity, Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure. But what causes this? Well, dietary sugars have been shown to initiate inflammatory processes in the body, causing low-grade chronic inflammation, thereby increasing the risk for various diseases.
Also our gut health also takes a big hit with excess sugar intake. In fact, a high sugar intake seems to impact the balance of ‘bad’ bacteria to ‘good’ bacteria, moving the needle toward more bad bacteria, as well as reducing the diversity of bacteria found in the gut. These outcomes are both indicators of poor gut health. An imbalanced gut is associated with metabolic diseases and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD).
Will you get withdrawals from sugar?
My easy sugar detox involves a step-down approach, meaning you won't have to give up all the added sugar in your diet. Instead, you'll work on reducing the most sugary foods in your diet, which will allow your taste buds to adapt and enjoy less sweet foods.
Taking a step-down approach minimizes symptoms from sugar withdrawal, but if you do have any symptoms, they shouldn't last more than a week. The most common symptoms are increased cravings (don't worry, they won't last), headaches, and irritability. But with this easy detox from sugar, you may not have any symptoms.
How to detox from sugar in 3 simple, proven steps
1. Identify your sugar culprits
Start by identifying the leading sources of added sugar in your diet;
Desserts and other sweets (cookies, brownies, ice cream, candy)
Coffee and tea with sugary add-ins or blended at a coffee shop
Sugary granola bars
Start by easing off these foods. So if you drink a soda every day, choose a smaller size, then go to every other day, and then reduce it from there. If you love desserts, start with smaller sizes and then try to have them less often. You get the idea! Continue this same concept with other sources of added sugars you’ve identified in your diet. If you can’t go a day without a sweet treat, opt for a healthier sweet snack that incorporates some nutritious ingredients.
2. Read labels to make sure you're buying lower-sugar condiments, soups, plant-based milks, etc.
Read the ingredient list to make sure that the sugar wasn't replaced with artificial sweeteners. This is the easiest and quickest way to identify what ingredients are in your food. And don’t forget to keep an eye out for food products that contain predominantly whole ingredients–a guarantee that they will have less added sugar and more fiber and protein.
3. Trick your tastebuds
Use the following flavor boosters to fool your taste buds into thinking you’ve had something sweet without added sugar. These ingredients remind you of desserts and sweetened foods, so they’ll give your foods the essence of sweets without adding sugar.
Add spices like cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom to smoothies, oatmeal, coffee, yogurt, and more.
Use vanilla extract in similar foods as the sweeter spices.
Unsweetened coconut flakes to baked goods, oatmeal, energy bites, and granola.
Make desserts using real fruit, and sweeten marinades and smoothies with a splash of fruit juice.
Buy fruit that’s in season for the sweetest-tasting fruit.
Use bananas, Medjool dates, or prunes to sweeten baked goods.
Best books on quitting sugar
Here are some resources to help you adopt a lower-sugar lifestyle.
Sugar Shock: The Hidden Sugar in Your Food and 100+ Smart Swaps to Cut Back
If you’re looking for the best book on quitting sugar, this is the bible! I have to put in a plug for my own book, right? This book provides all the tools you need to be successful at detoxing from sugar– like how to read a food label, how to track your added sugar intake, and how to identify foods with sneaky added sugars. Plus, you'll have access to a 7-day sugar tracker, a sugar-detox menu plan, and tips to become a pro at swapping out added sugars for lower-sugar alternatives. There are also heaps of recipes to try.
Half the Sugar, All the Love: 100 Easy, Low-Sugar Recipes for Every Meal of the Day
If you’re looking for three things–healthy, simple, and kid-friendly–then this is the book for you! Jennifer Tyler Lee and Anisha Patel M.D. M.S.P.H have curated a collection of go-to everyday breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipes that demonstrate how to cut your sugar intake in half without sacrificing bold and delicious flavors. Some must-try recipes: apple crisp, banana bread, and chocolate chip cookies.
Clean Eating Kitchen: The Low-Carb Mediterranean Cookbook:Quick and Easy High-Protein, Low-Sugar, Healthy-Fat Recipes for Lifelong Health
More than 100 nutritious recipes to choose from, including 60 meals that can be prepared in 30-minutes or less. These recipes are centered around whole, plant-based ingredients and are inspired by the Mediterranean Diet. Think of it as the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, but with fewer carbs and higher in protein and good fats. You can’t go wrong with the Greek Spinach Pie with Almond Flour Crust, Moroccan-Spiced Lamb Chops with Mint, and Shrimp with Zoodles and Fresh Tomato Sauce.
Eat Complete: The 21 Nutrients That Fuel Brainpower, Boost Weight Loss, and Transform Your Health
Dr. Drew Ramsey identifies the twenty-one nutrients that we need for optimal brain health and well-being. And in fact, these are the very nutrients that are often lacking in people’s diets, and yet we rely on these nutrients for our bodies to function the way they are meant to. But how does this link to added sugar, you may be wondering? Dr. Ramsey’s recipes focus on whole, minimally processed ingredients and nutrient-dense foods that fuel our brain. Ramsey’s ‘food as medicine’ approach leaves very little room for added sugars but rather focuses on the nutrients your body and mind need to thrive. Try the Chocolate-Spiced Truffles, Creamy Carraway Carrot Soup with Fried Sage, or Garlic Butter Shrimp over Zucchini Noodles.
The Easy 5-Ingredient Healthy Cookbook: Simple Recipes to Make Healthy Eating Delicious
Recipes that use less than 5 ingredients? Count me in! Toby Amidor MS, RDN, CDN, shares her nutritionally-balanced, family-friendly recipes and tips on how to reduce processed foods with surprisingly high sugar contents, like salad dressings, condiments, and sauces. Making your own version at home doesn't need to be complicated, and oftentimes you need a few simple ingredients to whip up a healthier and more delicious version–needless to say. with way less added sugar. Try her homemade honey mustard, lighter caesar dressing, and soy ginger sauce.
Better Baking: Wholesome Ingredients, Delicious Desserts
The name says it all, but if you’re looking for the most decidedly delicious desserts that don’t pile on the sugar, then this is your cookbook! My friend Genevieve Ko has compiled a masterpiece of nuanced baking recipes that center around bold flavors, nutrient-dense ingredients, and the art of simplicity. The recipes have been curated to use less-processed sugar as much as possible and to incorporate naturally sweet ingredients, like ripe fruit. While you can’t go wrong with any recipes, some of my faves are Cocoa Almond Date Chews, Quick Candied Nuts, and the Luxe Granola I inspired!
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