A sugar detox is more than just quitting sugar cold turkey. It’s about learning what causes your body to crave sugar in the first place so you can make long-lasting changes that will free you from cravings for life.
It’s hard to know exactly how to quit sugar when it’s in so many of our foods. That’s why we’re talking in-depth about how to quit sugar in a smart, sustainable way – cold turkey can be way too jarring for most people. So before you say no to the notion of a no-sugar shopping list, keep in mind that it only takes five days to curb your cravings and your body’s need for refined sugar.
Within the first five days, your taste buds will reacclimate to less added sugar and sweet foods, and you will start to enjoy sugar-free options more than you could have expected.
During your sugar-free journey, you will absolutely notice some sugar cravings, but there are ways to combat blood sugar spikes, cravings, and the discomfort of quitting sugar.
Below are six steps to kick sugar to the curb, but first, let’s discuss natural sugar versus added sugar and how to be successful in your sugar detox.
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Understanding Natural Sugar VS. Added Sugar
Natural sugar is the sugar found naturally in foods like fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. There’s no need to stop eating fruits and vegetables (please don’t!) or drink a glass of milk (unless you’re lactose-intolerant, of course). These items are not what we refer to when discussing a sugar detox.
These foods also have naturally occurring fiber which means that they are more slowly absorbed into your system and don’t spike blood sugar as added sugars do.
Added sugars, on the other hand, are those that are added to food by manufacturers or what you might add to a recipe. Think white sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, molasses, and many more. In fact, there are over 50 different names for sugar, so you have to make sure you’re checking your labels thoroughly.
Expert Tip: The key to this sugar detox is to avoid the added sugars. You’ll know when you have detoxed your body of sugar when the natural sugars taste sweet again! Your taste buds will actually recalibrate, and you’ll have a new appreciation for the sweet flavors found in fruits and nuts.
Related: 9 Foods That Lower Blood Sugar Naturally
The Sugar Detox
A sugar detox, even if it’s sensible, can be uncomfortable. When you reduce your sugar intake, your body takes notice. This is called sugar withdrawal.
The withdrawal symptoms are not dangerous, but they can be bothersome.
Sugar Detox Symptoms
Some of the symptoms to watch for when you reduce sugar in your diet are:
- Sugar withdrawal headache
- Loss of focus
- Extreme cravings
Other Sugar Detox Notes
- The symptoms will depend on how much-refined sugar you were taking in through processed foods and beverages.
- You may find that your symptoms feel worse during times of stress.
- Some people find their symptoms last from a few days to a few weeks.
- The Good News: Your body adapts to a low added sugar diet over time, and your added sugar intake becomes less frequent, so your symptoms and cravings are likely to be less intense.
Why Your Body Craves Sugar
Sometimes a sugar craving is a sign that your body needs more energy and carbs; it can also be prompted by stress or another powerful emotion.
Sugar is an upper, it can temporarily give you energy and make you feel good. If you can replace that ‘high’ with an alternative, your sugar detox will go more smoothly.
Other things that can give you a natural high:
- Caffeine found in black coffee or unsweetened tea
There has been a lot of research on sugar and its effects on the mind, brain, and body. What studies have shown is that sugar does have habit-forming properties, and most people are addicted to sugar. Sugar is as powerful as some controlled substances because it activates dopamine receptors.
Sugar addiction is linked to weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, and damage to teeth, bones, and skin.
How to Quit Sugar in 6 Steps
1. Stay Hydrated
It’s so hard to quit sugar when sugar cravings can be so powerful. Your secret weapon is free and always available – water.
There are so many reasons why water is important for vitality, including its ability to kick sugar cravings. Have you ever had a sudden sweet craving or sudden and unexpected hunger come on? Perhaps you ate not too long ago, and so this simply doesn’t make sense.
When you’re dehydrated, the body often confuses this with hunger, and so you likely overeat or reach for unhealthy foods.
Drinking enough water makes you feel full and flushes out excess sugar from the body, therefore keeping cravings at bay.
2. Increase Your Satiating Macronutrients
Satiating macronutrients are the foods that help you feel full and satisfied after you’ve finished eating a meal.
The top foods you should enjoy to help with your sugar cravings are:
If your meals are satisfying, you will be less likely to feel the need for a snack, and cravings will be less likely to take over your willpower.
3. Pinpoint Hidden Sugars In Prepared Foods
While cake and ice cream are obvious sugar offenders, there are plenty of other sugary culprits that you could be missing.
Some of the biggest added sugar offenders might shock you. Even so-called “healthy” items can be packed with added sugar, artificial sweeteners, and even corn syrup.
Top Foods To Watch Out For
- Whole-grain cereals
- Granola Bars
- Pasta Sause
- Low-fat salad dressings
- Store-bought smoothies
- Milk alternatives such as almond milk and coconut milk
- Canned fruit
- Bottled Tea
- BBQ sauce
Other Words For Sugar
Be a nutrition label investigator! If you read any of these on a nutrition label, know that point to sneaky sugar ingredients.
- Evaporated cane juice
- High fructose corn syrup
- A good alternative is to incorporate sour additions like fermented foods to your recipes and meals. This helps combat sugar cravings, and bonus, they’re great for gut health!
- Make your own dressings.
- If you’re someone who finds yourself buying premade products, check out this guide to the best-packaged foods for clean eating.
4. Do An Inventory Of What Sugar You’re Drinking
You must cut out the most unnecessary and easily-missed of all the forms of sugar: the liquid kind. Whether it’s sweetened waters, fizzy sodas, or dessert-like coffee beverages, you’re only causing your blood sugar levels to spike, which in turn just triggers your brain to crave MORE sugar.
Beverage Alternatives that help you quit sugar:
- Make your own bubbly water with SodaStream
- Enjoy homemade water infusions
- Skip coffeehouse drinks and flavor your own coffee.
- Start sipping on a cup of tea
5. Overcome The Sugary Snack Sabotage
Have a sudden desire for a sweet afternoon pick-me-up? Don’t we all! This is your body’s way of telling you it needs an energy boost.
Often when we deprive ourselves of fueling up, waiting it out until mealtime, we get lethargic and distracted, which hinders us from completing our work and following through with various other priorities. When hunger strikes, often the easiest options are the unhealthiest ones, like cookies, candy bars, and granola bars.
Pinpoint these highly sugary snacks and switch them for healthier options that are sure to give you energy as opposed to make you crash. Try starting with fruit when the craving for sugar hits.
Read This Next: 55 Healthy And Easy Snacks and 15 Best Late-Night Snacks
Also, incorporate high protein, fat, and fiber foods that keep the body full for longer, like eggs, nuts, avocados and hummus.
More Snack and Dessert Alternatives
There are healthier treats you can look forward to, and these will help to slowly curb your sugar cravings over time.
- Trade your milk chocolate for Dark chocolate. Make sure to look for a bar that’s at least 65% cacao. It’s chock-full of so many incredible health benefits.
- Trade your ice cream for Banana “Nice” Cream
- Sweettooth-approved Healthy Cookie Dough Dip
- 5 Healthy And Easy Snacks
- 15 Best Late-Night Snacks
6. Eliminate Simple Carbs
Whether it’s pasta, bread, or chips, simple carbs serve as sugar for the body.
Identify all the refined foods you incorporate into your diet, and try to eliminate or replace them one by one so it doesn’t feel entirely overwhelming or depriving.
Simple Carb Alternatives
- For instance, if pasta is your pal, try cutting your serving in half and adding in zucchini noodles, spaghetti squash or my favorite lentil noodles. It’s an easy swap that still feels satisfying but gives you way more nutrition to boot.
- Swap sandwiches for lettuce wraps
- Vegetables are complex carbs, so they’ll keep you satisfied much longer than the simple kind. Adding in leafy greens is also a must, as they’re also slow-digesting foods that keep you fuller longer.
- Try a better-for-you chip like The Good Crisp Chip or Beanitos Black Bean Chips
Tips for Quitting Sugar
1. Mindset is Key
Quitting takes time because you will need your 5-day detox period for your brain chemistry to adjust and crave less sugar and develop healthy new habits so give yourself grace if you fall off the wagon! If you slip up once, don’t let that stop you from trying again the next day.
Everything is better when you have a buddy cheering you on. So find a friend who whats to quit sugar and do this sugar detox together!
2. Keep Yourself Distracted
You can also make your sugar withdrawal a little easier if you make sure to stay distracted. Make Plans to do something new or fun to do on the days you plan to reduce sugar. Adding in a daily workout will not only be a good distraction but also help give you that natural high you’re actually craving!
3. Reward Yourself
You’re doing something hard when you decide to take on your sugar addiction, so don’t forget to reward yourself! This might look different now that you aren’t eating sugar since oftentimes, a reward comes in the form of something sweet. So now you get to think of a new reward for yourself in the form of some well-deserved self-care. Way to go! You can do it!!
4. Whenever Possible, Make It At Home
If you aren’t a natural chef, this can feel daunting, but the absolute best way to cut sugar out of your food is to know exactly what is in your food. The only way to do that is to make it yourself! Check out these healthy and delicious recipes to get you started!
READ THIS NEXT: Your Guide To Healthy Cooking & Baking Substitutions
Queen Cagouya on October 22, 2022 at 10:33 AM
I can tell you that I am very addicted to sugar. And it never occurred to me to reduce his consumption. And now I think about it. After all, we are what we eat. It's all mental, really, and you have to change your mind to change your diet. It is not easy. Thanks for the article!
Chris Freytag, CPT on October 26, 2022 at 8:50 AM
YES!! You are so right - we are what we eat! And remember it doesn't have to be quitting cold turkey over night. Try to take small steps to reducing the amount of sugar you are consuming on a daily basis! You can do it!
lindalewis on August 21, 2021 at 2:17 PM
I can tell you that I am very addicted to sugar. And it has never occurred to me to reduce its intake. But now I'm thinking about it. After all, we are what we eat. It's all psychological, of course, and you have to change your mind to change your diet. It's not easy. Thank you for the article!
riya baid on August 7, 2020 at 6:50 AM
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Pauline @ I Really Like Food on July 24, 2020 at 11:17 AM
I've also found that strangely if I exercise more, I find myself craving sugar less. It feels like I deserve something better in that moment, and I usually go for low sugar or flavoured water.
Paula De Jesus on June 19, 2020 at 2:21 PM
I am making these changes slowly in my house my family is held together by preservatives. I don't want to lose them right away lol. Is Lacroix or Zevia sparkling water, it says 0 everything. Thanks for the great tips. Paula RI
Chris on January 1, 2020 at 10:31 AM
I find it really hard when you are a super picky eater. Sure I can cut the sugar but I can’t replace it with hummus, sauerkraut, avocados or squash because I actually throw up when I try eating foods I don’t like.
Geneva Freeman on December 30, 2019 at 10:46 AM
good morning 31 min walking then 12 min billy blanks now signed up for 60 day challengs
AmeriBev on January 8, 2018 at 2:25 PM
Beverages can be part of a balanced lifestyle – there are lots of choices that have little to no sugar or some that are in smaller packages. America’s beverage companies agree that it’s important for Americans to be mindful of their sugar intake. We've been broadening beverage choices dramatically through innovations like lower calorie sodas, teas, sports drinks, flavored waters, enhanced waters and premium waters. We've developed mid-calorie versions of longtime favorites; we created mini-cans. The beverage aisle looks much different today than just 10 years ago. We are committed to being part of real solutions to public health challenges with initiatives like Balance Calories - an initiative to reduce the calories Americans consume from beverages nationally by 20 percent by 2025.
Kris on January 8, 2017 at 4:52 PM
The hard part is not waying I'll quit sugar, but replacing the taste - it sounds good to have nuts & seeds & veggies, but after a few days it's so hard to get the same feeling from tastes that don't give me the same enjoyment...