The New Year is a time when you might be taking stock of your overall health and deciding to make improvements. You might be thinking of cutting back on fast food or getting to the gym more often. But what about going through a sugar detox?
Quitting sugar can go a long way toward making you feel great and look great as well. Here are some tips on how to stop eating sugar, so you can be at your best this year.
Why Consider a Sugar Cleanse?
Now, there are a lot of reasons why you might want to think about a sugar detox for 2019. These are just some of the more important ones:
A sugar detox might be just the thing to help keep your blood sugar levels healthy.1 Did you know that for each can of sugary soda you drink, your chances of developing problems linked to too much blood sugar jump by just over 1 percent?2
And if you think that so-called “healthy” fruit juices are safe to drink during a sugar detox, think again. Many fruit juices on store shelves (often going by names such as “juice drink” or “juice cocktail”) are packed with added sugar, and this can mean major health problems down the road.3
Keeping Your Heart Healthy
Making sure your meal plan includes foods with no sugar can also go a long way toward keeping your heart healthy. And, if you need another reason to ditch the sodas, consider this: Research shows that drinking too many beverages loaded with added sugar can increase your risk of serious heart issues.4
One study involving 30,000 people shows just how important a sugar detox could be. Researchers looked at two groups. One group received 20 percent of their calories from added sugar. The other group only received 8 percent of their calories from added sugar.
The group that received more calories from sugar was 40 percent more likely to die from heart-related issues.5
Boost Your Weight-Loss Efforts
A sugar detox could also help you drop some weight. One thing that makes losing weight so challenging is a specific sugar called fructose. And sugar-filled drinks are packed with the stuff. If you consume too much fructose, that puts you at a higher risk for overeating.6
Fructose makes you overeat because it increases your body’s resistance to leptin. This is a hormone that lets you know when you’re full.7 If your “leptin switch” isn’t activated, you’ll be more prone to overdoing it at the dinner table.
A sugar detox can also help you get rid of visceral fat, the internal fat stored in the abdominal cavity. It’s usually found near the stomach, liver and intestines. Consuming too much sugar, particularly fructose, can increase visceral fat. Studies suggest a sugar cleanse may help reduce this dangerous kind of fat.8
Tips for a Successful Sugar Detox
As you can see, quitting sugar can deliver a lot of health benefits. Giving in to sugar cravings can do a lot of damage to your body, but a sugar cleanse can stop those cravings for good. When it comes to actually detoxing, however, it takes effort.
That’s because many foods contain natural sugars, so there aren’t a lot of foods with no sugar in them. All vegetables and fruits, for example, have small amounts of sugar. In fact, a type of sugar known as glucose is a critical source of energy for your body.9
A sugar detox means staying away from added sugar in soft drinks, candy, ice cream, and the like.
Beware of processed snack foods that manufacturers claim are healthy. Granola bars, for instance, are promoted as being good for you. But the reality is, some of them can have as much as an ounce of sugar.10
There are also many drinks you would think are healthy that have a lot of added sugar in them.
For example, you might have seen advertising that touts the health benefits of chocolate milk. What those ads don’t tell you is that chocolate milk is loaded with added sugar. In fact, a mere ounce of chocolate milk can have as much as three grams.11
And you might think a morning smoothie is a healthy way to start off your day. You can find plenty of premade smoothies in your grocery store. They’re convenient and healthy, right? Well, that smoothie could very well be packed with sugar — as many as four grams per ounce.12
Things to Keep in Mind When Starting a Sugar Detox
While there might not be a whole lot of foods with no sugar, there are still several things you can do to reduce your intake. Think about the following when putting your new meal plan together:
1. Make Sure You’re Getting Enough Nutrients
If you’re thinking of starting a sugar detox, this is a great time to determine if you’re getting the nutrition you need. Many people are deficient in some of these key nutrients:
Magnesium – Magnesium may help to reduce stress levels by helping manage the level of cortisol, the so-called “stress hormone.”13 When people are stressed, they often turn to sugar-laden junk foods for comfort.
Iron – An iron deficiency can make you tired, and willing to get energy anywhere you can find it – even that candy bar packed with sugar.14
Zinc – Low zinc levels also may make you feel stressed. And if you’re stressed, you may be more likely to reach for a sugary snack.15 Oysters are an extremely good source of zinc.16
2. Pay Attention to Your Gut Health
Are you familiar with probiotics? These are the “good bacteria” that help to reinforce the beneficial microbes already in your gastrointestinal tract (your “gut”).
If you consume too much sugar, the balance between good and bad microbes can be thrown off. This can lead to an overgrowth of bad microbes, and potential health issues.17 Probiotic supplements can help make sure you have enough good microbes to offset the harmful ones.
3. Get Your Rest
You might not think sleep would affect your sugar cleanse, but research indicates that there’s a definite link between the two.
If you don’t get enough sleep, you might be more likely to get sick, because your immune system won’t be as strong as it should be.18And you may also have trouble concentrating.19
Studies show a lack of sleep could also affect your eating patterns.20
In one study, sleep-deprived participants tended to eat foods with too much sugar.
Researchers believe the reason is that their lack of sleep led to reduced activity in the frontal lobe of their brain. Your frontal lobe affects your decision-making.21
According to another study, if you go to bed later and don’t get as much sleep, you’ll be more likely to eat more junk food and drink more soda than you would if you got a full night of rest. You’ll also be more likely to eat fewer fruits and healthy vegetables.22
4. Eat More Dark Chocolate
You’d think that chocolate would be the last thing you’d want to eat on a sugar detox, but dark chocolate (in moderation) is fine. Dark chocolate that contains at least 70 percent cacao may actually reduce blood sugar levels.23
But dark chocolate provides benefits other than just helping satisfy sugar cravings. It contains a compound known as prostacyclin, which helps relax your blood vessels and lower your blood pressure.24 Dark chocolate could also help lower the risk of cardiovascular problems.25
5. Look at Labels Carefully
How can you make sure you’re getting the right foods that provide you with the nutrition you need while still limiting sugar? One of the best things you can do is to be a careful shopper. It might take a little longer to do your shopping, but it’s time well spent.
Check the labels on all of the foods you buy the next time you go to the grocery store. If they include ingredients such as dextrose, maltose, or high-fructose corn syrup, understand that those are just other words for added sugar.
Keep those foods off of your meal plan, so your sugar cleanse can be as successful as possible.
6. Lay Off the Breakfast Cereal (and Many Breakfast Foods)
Turns out, breakfast cereals are some of the highest sources of sugar. But other options can derail your sugar detox just as easily:
- Pancakes (especially with syrup)
Do you like to spread a little jam on your toast? Well, the bad news is, most brands of jam are loaded with sugar. But there are healthy alternatives that can help your sugar detox. For instance, spread some nut butter on your toast, instead of jam.
Eating breakfast foods that are high in protein and fiber will give you a full feeling, so you won’t be tempted to snack before lunchtime. Try plain oatmeal or plain Greek yogurt. For more flavor, sweeten it with fresh fruit.
7. Watch Out for Ketchup
Do you reach for the ketchup without even thinking? If so, you might very well be consuming a lot of sugar without even realizing it. A single tablespoon of ketchup can have up to a teaspoon of sugar.26 So, when you go to the store, look for sugar-free brands.
And there are a lot of sugar-free alternatives when it comes to adding a little something extra to your meal:
- Herbs and spices
- Yellow mustard
8. Low-Fat Foods Might Not Be a Good Choice
You can find low-fat alternatives to just about any sort of food. But even though you might assume they’re good for you, the opposite might actually be true.
You’ve no doubt seen vanilla yogurt on your store’s shelves, right? Well, an eight-ounce serving of this product can have nearly 34 grams of sugar.27 An eight-ounce serving of plain yogurt made with whole milk, on the other hand, has less than 11.4 grams of sugar.28
Don’t take this to mean that all low-fat alternatives are bad for you. Whether you’re on a sugar cleanse or not, just take the time to look at the labels to make sure you’re choosing the highest quality products.
9. Be Smart When it Comes to Snacks
If those sugar cravings hit in the middle of the day, look for snacks that are healthy and won’t derail your progress. Hard-boiled eggs, nuts, and fresh fruit are tasty and filling snacks that will help keep you on track.
10. Look for Healthy Dessert Options
Just because you’re on a sugar detox doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a delicious dessert after your meal.
While you obviously want to avoid sugar-laden desserts such as ice cream, cookies, cakes, and pies, there are some other options. Fresh fruits are great, for example. Dates are not only sweet-tasting, but they’re also low in sugar, and they provide a lot of nutritional benefits.29
Are There Sugar Detox Side Effects?
You might be wondering if you’ll experience any sugar detox side effects, or if you’ll have to go through sugar withdrawal. Research might help ease your mind.
Children in one study drastically reduced the amount of added sugars in their diets for nine days. The children were all suffering from obesity and metabolic syndrome, a group of physiological and biochemical abnormalities seen as risk factors for heart disease and diabetes. The study found that even among those children who did not lose weight, their metabolic health improved.30
Have a talk with your doctor first, of course, if you have any questions or concerns regarding a sugar detox.
A Rewarding Commitment
If you’re thinking of ways to improve your health in 2019, consider giving a sugar detox a try. It will take some work and willpower to fight those sugar cravings, but it might just end up being one of the best decisions you make all year.
Learn More About Sugar:
Healthy Cranberry Sauce Recipe (no refined sugars added!)
6 Foods That Naturally Lower Blood Sugar (plus other health benefits)
How to Identify Hidden Sugar (10 Most Common Names of Sugar)