Sugar Detox: How To Quit Sugar In 6 Steps

Expert Advice, Food, Nutrition

By: Chris Freytag, CPT // August 24, 2023

It’s hard to find the best way to quit sugar when it’s in so many of our foods! That’s why it’s important to cut back in a smart, sustainable way since doing it cold turkey can be pretty jarring for your body.

Luckily, it only takes around five days to curb your cravings and your body’s need for refined sugar.

Let’s take a look at some of the sugar basics, why you crave it, and how to quit sugar without making yourself totally miserable.

Understanding Natural Sugar vs. Added Sugar

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Before we dive in, it’s helpful to point out the difference between natural and added sugars:

Natural Sugar

Natural sugar is naturally found in foods like fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. There’s no need to stop eating fruits and vegetables or drink a glass of milk (unless you’re lactose-intolerant). These items are not what we refer to when discussing a sugar detox!

Foods with natural sugar also have naturally occurring fiber, meaning they are more slowly absorbed into your system and don’t spike blood sugar like added sugars.

Related: 9 Foods That Lower Blood Sugar Naturally

Added Sugar

On the other hand, added sugars are those that are added to food by manufacturers or when cooking with a recipe that uses it. Think white sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, molasses, and more. In fact, there are over 50 different names for sugar, so you have to ensure you’re checking food 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.

Why Do You Crave Sugar, Anyway?

reaching for donuts
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Sometimes, a sugar craving is a sign that your body needs more energy and carbsbut it can also be prompted by stress or another powerful emotion.

Sugar is an “upper,” meaning 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:

  • Exercise
  • Meditation
  • 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. Studies have shown that sugar has habit-forming properties, and most people are addicted to sugar.

Sugar is even as powerful as some controlled substances because it activates dopamine receptors.

Unfortunately, sugar addiction is linked to weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, and damage to teeth, bones, and skin. 

Tips for Starting Your Sugar Detox

A woman in a pink shirt blending a smoothie in the kitchen.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Keep these tips in mind as you work our 6-step plan into your daily routine:

  • Mindset is key: Quitting takes time because you need a few days to adjust, crave less sugar, and develop healthy habits. Give yourself grace! If you slip up once, don’t let that stop you from trying again the next day. 
  • Keep yourself distracted: Do something new or fun on the days you plan to reduce sugar. Adding in a daily workout will not only be a good distraction but also gives you the natural high you’re craving!
  • Reward yourself: And not with a sweet treat! Instead, try some much-needed self-care or a fun purchase.
  • Make food at home whenever possible: 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’s in it. Check out some healthy and delicious recipes if you need help getting started! 

How to Quit Sugar: Your 6-Step Plan

Remember, you can implement these steps gradually over a few days without going cold turkey!

Here’s how to quit sugar in six steps:

1. Start Hydrating

It’s hard to quit sugar when the cravings can be so powerful. Your secret weapon is free and always availablewater.

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 unexpected hunger come on? Maybe you just at recently, which makes the sudden attack even stranger.

When you’re dehydrated, the body often confuses this with hunger, which makes you more likely to 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. Eat More Satisfying Foods

Satiating macronutrients are the foods that help you feel full and satisfied after you’ve finished eating.

The top foods that help keep you full and curb your sugar cravings are:

  • Boiled or baked potatoes
  • Beans, peas, chickpeas, and lentils
  • Whole fruits and vegetables
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Lean meats, poultry, and fish
  • High-fiber foods, such as oats, whole wheat bread, bananas, and carrots

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 control over your willpower.  

Related: Healthy Lunch Ideas For Weight Loss

A salad topped with chicken, tomatoes, apples, and quinoa.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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 corn syrup.

The top foods that include hidden sugars are:

  • Whole-grain cereals
  • Granola bars
  • Pasta sauce 
  • Low-fat salad dressings
  • Store-bought smoothies
  • Yogurt
  • Salad dressings
  • Milk alternatives such as almond milk and coconut milk
  • Canned fruit 
  • Bottled tea
  • Ketchup
  • BBQ sauce

You should also be a nutrition label investigator! If you read any of these on a nutrition label, know that point to sneaky sugar ingredients.

Other words for sugar include:

  • Evaporated cane juice
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Dextrose
  • Glucose
  • Sucrose 

4. Take Inventory of What Sugar You’re Drinking 

It’s essential to cut out the most unnecessary (and easily missed) form 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. (A vicious cycle.)

The best beverage alternatives to help you quit sugar include:

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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 or wait until mealtime, we get lethargic and distracted. When hunger strikes, the easiest options are often the worst, like cookies, candy, and granola bars.

Pinpoint these highly sugary snacks and switch them for healthier options that give you energy instead of causing you to crash.

Try starting with fruit when the craving for sugar hits! Some of the best options to satisfy your craving are bananas, apples, and oranges.

More alternatives to satisfy a sugar craving include:

  • Dark chocolate: Make sure to look for a bar that’s at least 70% cacao.
  • Snack bars that are made with whole foods.
  • Sugar-free mints or gum.
  • Sweet potatoes.
  • Smoothies made with whole fruits.
  • Yogurt that is free of added sugars.
  • Trail mix.

You can also try:

A group of purple, pink, and green smothies.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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.

Some simple carb alternative ideas:

  • If pasta is your pal, try cutting your serving in half or using zucchini noodles, spaghetti squash, or lentil noodles. It’s an easy swap that still feels satisfying but gives you way more nutrition.
  • Swap sandwiches for lettuce wraps.
  • Try vegetablesthey are complex carbs, so they’ll keep you satisfied much longer than simple carbs.
  • Leafy greens are also a must, as they’re slow-digesting foods that keep you fuller longer. 

Related: 12 Drool-Worthy (And Healthy!) Smoothie Bowl Recipes

Sugar Withdrawal Symptoms

A sugar detox can be uncomfortable, even if it’s sensible and gradual. When you reduce your sugar intake, your body takes notice. This is called sugar withdrawal. The symptoms are not dangerous, bu they may be bothersome.

When cutting out sugar, you may experience the following withdrawal symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Loss of focus
  • Insomnia
  • Extreme cravings
  • Thirst

If you were consuming a lot of refined sugar before starting a detox, these symptoms might be more severe or noticeable. Luckily, your body will adapt to a low-sugar diet over time, and as your intake becomes less frequent, the withdrawal symptoms will become less intense.

Remember, 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, incorporating healthy habits, and making long-lasting changes that will free you from those sugary cravings.

READ THIS NEXT: The Connection Between Sugar And Hot Flashes

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