I’m pretty sure that at this point we all know that sugar is not our friend… more like a frenemy! We love it, we long for it and often we can’t get enough. We keep getting reeled back into eating it and all the while it’s destroying our health, both mentally & physically. If you’ve read my post The Great Sugar Conspiracy, you’ve learned all the profound impacts sugar can have on your health and well-being. But that doesn’t make it easier to eliminate sugar. Because, hey, it’s a highly addictive substance!
I personally struggled with sugar addiction for years. And no matter how much I knew about its destructive traits or how badly it made me feel, I just couldn’t seem to give it up! I tried everything… I changed my diet and tried to minimize sugar. Ate more fruit, kept sweet snacks out of the house and even gave up soda and my beloved flavored coffee creamer entirely. But I just couldn’t seem to stick to anything! I didn’t have the willpower! Because the truth is, it isn’t about willpower! I finally realized that the only way to kick my addiction to the curb was to quit cold turkey! I had to do a full elimination of sugar and give my body enough time to detox! This might sound impossible to you but it’s entirely doable and your body will thank you!
How to Eliminate Sugar
It sounds simple enough… if you want to eliminate sugar, just don’t eat it! Well, the truth is there’s a lot more to it than that! It’s not simply table sugar that needs to be eliminated to complete a detox.
Sugar is found in many processed foods. Even savory things like hummus and spaghetti sauce usually contain sugar. And when you’re eliminating it you need to remove ALL of it from your diet. This means you’ll need to make homemade real food for every meal. Including dressings and condiments. I often found it easier to just skip the condiments because seriously who has that much time? It’s also very important that you have a great approachable cookbook or program to follow. It’s a lot easier to stay on track with a good plan that includes many easy to follow recipes.
I found The Whole 30 to be a very approachable plan for overall health. Recently they’ve released several cookbooks. I just bought the crock pot / instant pot book and love every recipe I’ve tried. Most have 15 minute or less meal prep and they’re delicious (even picky eaters are sure to love them). Plus, since the recipes are also gluten and dairy free you get the bonus of eliminating 2 other common inflammatory foods with no additional effort. For someone like me who had already been diagnosed with Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity & a dairy allergy this was a must!
One of the most profound benefits of eliminating sugar is regulating your blood sugar and insulin levels. When you eat a lot of sugar (or artificial sweeteners) you elevate your insulin levels. At some point your cells just get worn out from being exposed to insulin all the time so they start to ignore it. This is called insulin resistance and it’s pretty common. Unfortunately, insulin resistance can lead to type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart attack, Alzheimers disease, kidney problems and eye problems. It’s NO joke! So, while you’re doing your sugar detox, avoid ALL sweeteners, even if they’re 100% natural!
Coconut Sugar & Monk Fruit Sweetener
Coconut sugar is very similar to table sugar even in its glucose to fructose ratio. So regardless of the careful marketing suggesting it’s a health food, it’s not! That said, the environmental impact of producing coconut sugar is less profound and it is vegan (unlike most cane sugar).
Of the two of these monk fruit sweetener is certainly the healthier option (though little research has been done). Its sweetness comes from an anti-oxidant called mogrosides instead of fructose or glucose. It’s 0 calories and does not raise blood sugar. Because it’s over 100 times sweeter than sugar it’s often mixed with other compounds. It’s important to consider whether those additional ingredients fit into a healthy lifestyle.
When you are done with your sugar detox monk fruit sweetener is a logical choice to replace sugar in your diet. That said, it’s important to avoid it during the elimination process. Many people struggle to avoid sugar when they’re still consuming sweets. Simply tasting the sweetness of monk fruit could trigger overwhelming cravings.
I live in Michigan, so maple syrup is one of my favorite sweeteners. It’s delicious and very versatile. It can be used in baking and as a condiment. Unlike sugar it contains a variety of nutrients, antioxidants and beneficial compounds. That said, they are only found in trace amount and maple syrup has a similar effect on glucose and insulin levels as sugar. So, it certainly isn’t a health food but it’s a great natural alternative to sugar. During elimination avoid maple syrup due to its sweetness and glycemic impact.
I can’t say enough good things about honey! Raw honey is miraculous. It’s good for you, good for the environment and good for the bee population (which we rely on for many other foods). Unfortunately, because of honey’s impact on glucose and insulin levels it must be avoided during detox. However, feel free to add it back into your diet (in moderation) afterward.
Manmade sweeteners like agave nectar and high fructose corn syrup are so bad for your health I don’t even know where to start! They should BOTH be avoided like the plague. The problem with them isn’t the agave plant or corn, it’s the processing. During the manufacturing of both the plants are exposed to chemicals, enzymes, and high heat that breaks them down into syrup. This process results in high amounts of fructose which has been linked to increased triglycerides, elevated LDL, fatty liver disease, type 2 diabetes, and insulin resistance.
Agave nectar is almost twice as high in fructose as high fructose corn syrup. It is also grown in arid climates putting a strain on water resources (yes, succulents do need water). And there have been many human rights concerns regarding agave nectar production.
Neither of these sweeteners has any business being in your diet… EVER!
Just say “NO” to artificial sweeteners! As a rule, avoiding foods that are created in a lab should be priority number one! Most artificial sweeteners have been linked to cancer or shown to be neurotoxins. They aren’t good for you and aren’t worth the health risks associated with them. They also cause sugar cravings, increase insulin levels (and resistance) and they even increase appetite.
So, there are no artificial sweeteners allowed during detox, or ever for that matter!
I know this can be a tough one for many people but it’s important to stay away from alcohol during your detox. Not only are sugary mixers like soda and juice a problem but alcohol itself contains sugar. No, I don’t mean just cane sugar, it’s high in alcohol sugar. During your sugar free time, don’t drink any alcohol either.
What About Fruit?
I know what you might be expecting since I’ve said no so many times! And, fruit tends to get a bad rap when it comes to sugar. It is higher in fructose & glucose than most other foods but it’s also much higher in fiber, nutrients and antioxidants. That makes fruit a great option! So, eat whole fruit and enjoy it guilt free! It can really help when you’re doing a sugar detox to have a bit of something sweet. That said, about 2 weeks in mangoes, bananas and melons might taste so sweet to you that you can only eat half as much as before!
Dried fruit and fruit juice are a no go. Often dried fruit has added sugar so it should be avoided, though dehydrated fruit is just fine. And unfortunately, fruit juice is also often loaded with added sugar as well. Even when it isn’t it should be avoided because of the lack of fiber. Fruit juice isn’t actually healthy! If you do resume drinking fruit juice after your detox be sure to water it down. Adding sparkling water can be a particularly nice treat for those who struggle with giving up soda.
Just to be clear here, smoothies are not the same thing as juice! When you blend whole fruit into a liquid form it still retains its fiber content. So, feel free to enjoy smoothies or even blend some fruit and add that to sparkling water for a fizzy refreshment.
What to Expect
Now that you know all the types of sweeteners you’ll need to avoid and that you can, in fact, enjoy fruit. Let’s talk about what you can expect while you’re on your detox!
What Can You Eat?
You might be wondering what in the world you’re going to eat now that I’ve eliminated so many parts of your diet. Here’s the deal, you can eat eggs, meat and any fruits or veggies you like. You can even eat bread or pasta (if it’s sugar free, and in moderation). I also enjoyed rice and quinoa when I did my detox. You wouldn’t believe how delicious homemade salsa, rice, black beans, shrimp and avocado are when you toss them together! Unfortunately, most of us don’t eat this way regularly so it can be a difficult transition. Finding recipes and doing meal prep before you start is optimal. Being prepared will make a huge difference to your success and peace of mind.
How You Will Feel
I highly recommend that you start your detox when you have at least 2 down days in a row. For example, if you work Mon – Fri, start your detox on Fri. The 2nd and 3rd day are often challenging as your body undergoes significant withdrawals. You can expect to feel fatigued, achy and have headaches. Some people find this passes quickly and some say it lasts for about a week. It basically feels like you’re coming down with a cold. After day 3 it starts to improve so you should have no problem returning to work. And if you have kids, you’ll have no trouble caring for them at any point in the detox. You just won’t feel up to hosting a birthday party or cleaning out your garage!
Once you get past that first week, you’re likely to find that you feel better than you ever have in your life! NO, I’m not exaggerating! You’ll sleep better, your focus will improve, you’ll likely lose some weight, you’ll be more productive, and you’ll experience less body aches (just to mention a few). Your mood will even improve and you’re likely to see a significant decline in anxiety and depressive symptoms. You won’t believe the way eliminating sugar affects your body and mind!
How Long Do You Need to Do it?
You should plan to commit a month to your elimination. Obviously, the detox part will be over within a week or so but it’s so important to make this new way of eating a habit! You want it to be second nature to choose foods with no (or low) sugar. And that takes time!
Find a month in your calendar that you don’t have holidays or celebrations. One that won’t involve a lot of eating out because this can be difficult in restaurants.
Once your month is up you should still be cognizant of sugar consumption. It’s a VERY slippery slope! Avoiding sweeteners entirely or capping the amount of sugar you can have in a day is very helpful. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 25g per day (6 teaspoons) but the average American consumes almost 3 times that, about 57 pounds a year! Because of my intense struggles with sugar and my ability to cook all my meals at home I limit myself to 10 grams, which I usually get from drinking Kombucha (also not allowed on the detox, most fermented foods contain sugar). You’ll have to determine what’s right for you though.
Is it Worth it?
The benefits of a sugar detox are so profound that it’s most definitely worth the time, effort and headache! I highly recommend it to everyone I know, and it just might be the best thing you can do for your health. I find that often people have no idea how negatively sugar consumption is impacting their day to day lives until they do a detox. Once you see the remarkable improvements you’ll never want to return to your old ways!
And believe me… if I can do it so can you! I had such a profound sugar addiction that I would wake up in the middle of the night craving sugar! Completing a detox changed every area of my life and I’m sure it’ll make a profound difference for you and your loved ones as well!
Don’t forget to share this or enlist a partner in your sugar detox! Everything is easier with accountability and support!
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As y’all know I’m not a doctor or dietitian. When making big dietary changes you should seek the advice of a health care professional. This is especially true if you suffer from any blood sugar related or metabolic issues or a chronic disease. And if you’ve ever struggled with an eating disorder be sure to contact your care provider for advice about making changes to your nutrition plan.