How To Quit Sugar: Your 6 Step Detox

By: Chris Freytag, CPT // April 18, 2024

Knowing how to quit sugar is tough when it’s in so many of our foods! That’s why it’s important to cut back in a smart, sustainable way.

Since a cold turkey approach to quitting sugar can be pretty jarring for your body, I’ve laid out my gradual, six-step plan.

Here, I’ll explain how to reduce your sugar intake, the difference between natural and added sugar, the most common reasons you can’t shake your sweet tooth, and how to deal with sugar withdrawal symptoms.

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


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    1. Start Hydrating

    It’s hard to quit sugar when the 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 your sugar habit. Have you ever had a sudden sweet craving or unexpected hunger come on? Maybe you just ate 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 food choices.

    Drinking enough water makes you feel full and flushes out excess sugar from the body, therefore keeping cravings at bay. These are my favorite tips for drinking more water every day.

    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 the sweet stuff, and cravings will be less likely to take control over your willpower.  

    3. Pinpoint Hidden Sugars in Prepared Foods

    While cake and ice cream are obvious sugar offenders, you may be missing plenty of other sugary culprits—and some of them might shock you! Even so-called “healthy” items can be packed with added sugar, artificial sweeteners, and corn syrup.

    As a matter of fact, foods like pop tarts and breakfast cereals have been banned in European countries, yet get marketed as healthy choices here in the United States.

    Top Foods That Include Hidden Sugars

    • Whole-grain cereals
    • Granola bars (try my protein bar recipe to make your own instead!)
    • Pasta sauce 
    • Low-fat salad dressings
    • Store-bought smoothies (try my healthy smoothie recipes instead!)
    • Yogurt
    • Salad dressings
    • Milk alternatives such as almond milk and coconut milk
    • Canned fruit 
    • Bottled tea
    • Condiments like ketchup and 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

    • 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 you’re drinking sweetened waters, fizzy sodas, fruit juice, or dessert-like coffee beverages, you’re only raising your blood sugar levels, which in turn 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, granola bars, and other sweet foods.

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

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

    More substitutes 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 check out my guides for healthy snacking:

    6. Eliminate Simple Carbs

    Whether it’s pasta, bread, or chips, simple carbohydrates 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.

    Understanding Natural Sugar vs. Added Sugar

    While on your journey to reduce sugar in your life, it’s helpful to understand the different types of sugar.

    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.

    To help adjust your blood sugar through diet, check out these 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?

    Sometimes, a sugar craving is a sign that your body needs more energy and carbs—but 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:

    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. 

    Additional Tips For Your Sugar Detox

    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 these delicious and filling low-calories recipes if you need help getting started! 

    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 side effects are not dangerous, but they may be bothersome.

    When cutting out sugar, you may experience the following sugar 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 sugar consumption 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.

    Expert Advice, Food, Nutrition

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    on Reply

    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!

      on Reply

      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!

    on Reply

    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!

    on Reply

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    on Reply

    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.

    on Reply

    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

    on Reply

    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.

    on Reply

    good morning 31 min walking then 12 min billy blanks now signed up for 60 day challengs

    on Reply

    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.

    on Reply

    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...

    (This will help us personalize your experience so that you can get the best advice possible from us!)
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