Eating too much sugar may be the most apparent dietary faux pas you can make — after all, your body immediately feels the after effects of a sugar rush, and the inevitable dreaded crash that follows. Over time, however, your body may become accustomed to the copious amounts of sugar you consume, maybe without you even realizing it; added sugar has a funny way of sneaking into everyday items that you don’t even associate with being sweet. And since items high in added sugar are often lacking nutrients, eating sugary foods can often lead to uncontrolled weight gain over time. Before you know it, you may be unconsciously reaching for sugary sweet treats at the end of every meal (even if you are full!) as a love of sweets turns into an unhealthy sugar habit and extra pounds.
Stefani Sassos, MS, RD, a registered dietitian within the Good Housekeeping Institute, explains that excessive sugar can spike your blood sugar levels… and then turn into a sudden drop off afterwards. This is why you may feel super fatigued in the moment, or push through a huge mood swing, in any given afternoon. Over the long run, however, eating too much sugar can greatly influence your risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes, chronic dietary inflammation, and severe fatigue, among other physical risks. “There’s a ripple effect on your body, as it can get accustomed to lots of sugar,” she adds, citing habits like a daily office donut or sugary sweet coffee drink. “Over time, it becomes this difficult thing to decipher: Am I addicted to this, did I train my body to crave this food?”
You may believe that cutting out all sugar entirely from your diet is the best solution. Sassos, however, says this isn’t the case for those with years of unhealthy sugar habits under their belt: Simply cutting out sugar or cycling through compensatory behaviors (like “running it off” after eating third helpings of dessert) can lead to even more unhealthy eating patterns down the line. Whether you like to call it a detox or think of it more like a “reset,” she argues a long term lifestyle change is the surest way to kick the bad habit.
A sugar detox may help you bring your sugar consumption into moderation, away from the levels that average Americans consume in any given day. While Sassos notes that the American Heart Association recommends less than 25g (about six teaspoons) of sugar daily for women, and 36 grams (about nine teaspoons) for men, the organization notes that the average American consumes 77g; an immediate block on all sources of added sugar would be hard to sustain for most anyone, Sassos points out. You’ll need to work on reducing your intake slowly,targeting packaged foods that can be swapped with better-for-you alternatives.
It’s important to discuss any long-term changes to your diet with your primary healthcare provider before implementing lifestyle changes.
Below, we’re exploring the best ways to effectively “reset” your system in the short term, and encouraging more sustainable ways to wean off a sugar habit for those who need long term change.
Starting a sugar “detox”:
Discover the root of your endless sweet tooth by adapting your daily routine first; you may find your body responds immediately (goodbye afternoon sugar crashes!) “You want to prioritize food that can anchor sugar in your diet, so that it’s not releasing into your blood stream so fast (hence the crashing),” Sassos explains. “Protein and fiber are two things that can help you avoid a sugar rush and crash in a given day, especially if you know you’ve overdone it… incorporating those two things in your daily routine can stabilize your blood sugar.”
Here are other ways to change your daily habits right now:
- Frontload your meals with protein and fiber: This is crucial if you’ve managed to eat or drink too much sugar early in the day. Protein and fiber, when paired with a carbohydrate of choice, can stabilize your blood sugar and help you avoid that dreaded crash. Be sure to choose snacks and meals that are high in fiber and protein naturally: hard-boiled eggs, for one, or even a small omelette; a handful of nuts at your desk; an apple with peanut butter, or even some crudité and hummus.
- Ensure you are eating your micronutrients: Counteract too much sugar by supercharging your next meal for your liver’s benefit; namely with dark, leafy green vegetables that are high in a suite of micronutrients. “Try to eat foods to help assist the liver in natural detoxification, which is much healthier than doing something compensatory like sweat out the donuts you just ate… that isn’t helpful, and may be harmful, in the long run,” Sassos adds.
- Stay hydrated: Keeping up with water and unsweetened beverages is important, as a lack of water or fluids can make it that much harder for your liver to handle excess sugar. While chugging a liter of water can’t “flush” out the sugar in your system, Sassos says warm fluids like warm ginger tea may help to speed up the digestive process for those who are searching for some immediate relief — but that’s not an effective long term solution.
The best 7-day sugar detox plan:
Interested in seeing if cutting back on sugar more drastically may improve your day? A good way to get started, especially for those who have never targeted sugar in their diets before, is following a 7-day program. The experts behind Sugar Shock: The Hidden Sugar in Your Food and 100+ Smart Swaps to Cut Back have crafted a day-by-day guide that won’t deprive you of all sugar at once.
You’ll focus on targeting bad behaviors and examine the items that you routinely reach for in your kitchen. Each day, you’ll focus on pairing back added sugar in your beverages, breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, plus a few smart tips for better snacking moments.
Regardless of whether you follow the book or not, you should reevaluate these staples currently in your diet, among others:
- Alcohol. Are you sipping the right amounts? And what mixers are you using?
- Coffee and tea. And any other beverages that might be flavored or carbonated.
- Grains and carbohydrates. Can you swap refined, processed breads for more nutrient rich options?
- Dressings and sauces. How much hidden sugar is lurking in your favorite sauce?
- Fruits. Are you enjoying the sweetness naturally found in bananas, strawberries, and apples?
A 7-day plan can help you optimize your diet to be closer to the ADA’s recommended daily sugar intake, and also to make better choices after you’ve eaten too much sugar (it happens!). If you find yourself feeling more energized and better, you may think about a longer diet change in the future — Sugar Shock also provides a 21-day meal plan and shopping list. That plan could help you grow into good lifelong diet habits with targeted recipes, meal plans, and shopping lists.
Why you may wish to extend your detox:
Deciding to do a longer detox or adopting a prolonged low-sugar or no-sugar diet (after speaking with your healthcare provider first) could help you improve your health beyond simply targeting sugar. You may realize that you finally need to correct other lifestyle choices that cause fatigue, like poor sleep hygiene, or even take a look at your hormone levels in a screening with your doctor.
Restructuring your daily meals for longer than a week can help you realize that sugar might not be totally to blame for all of your sluggish behavior. Sassos says making a longer diet change can push you to also prioritize getting enough sleep each night, and also work on ensuring you’re properly hydrated each and every day. “Getting enough sleep and drinking enough water are often neglected,” Sassos says. “No one prioritizes this in their routine, and yet they’re the simplest things that you can do for your body for overall health and to wardoff sugar cravings.”
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