What do spaghetti sauce, iced tea, and cookie dough ice cream have in common? The short answer—they’re full of added sugars, which can wreak havoc on your health.
In fact, due to the high number of pre-packaged food that we consume, we’re often unaware of exactly how much sugar we take in on a daily basis. According to the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, “the average American consumes almost 152 pounds of sugar in one year.” That’s over 75 times the amount consumed 200 years ago.
All of this added sugar doesn’t come without consequences. With the increase in sugar consumption, studies have also shown an increase in preventable diseases like diabetes and obesity. According to the Center for Disease Control, in the last fifty years, the percentage of those affected by diabetes has climbed from less than 1% to over 7%, while obesity has increased almost 22%.
If you’re feeling weighed down by all that extra sugar, you might want to give a sugar detox a try. A sugar detox, though often used for short periods of time, is unique from its unsustainable cousins (like juice cleanses and leek diets) because it can eventually be adopted as a permanent lifestyle change. While there are multiple different types, the general idea of the detox is to remove refined sugar from your diet for an extended period of time to decrease sugar cravings. Generally, this is accomplished by avoiding processed foods and opting for fresh, whole-food options.
For fitness professional and independent consultant Erin Bailey, pictured, a sugar detox lasts for one week. “I like to go for 7 days without added refined sugar. So, natural sugars that are already in your food, like fruit, are okay,” she explains. “Therefore, [instead of using refined sugar,] I try to sweeten anything I normally would with real food.”
If surviving a whole week without sugar sounds like a daunting task, don’t be discouraged. There are plenty of healthier options to keep your sweet tooth in check. Erin suggests stocking up on fresh fruit so that a “sugar craving can be satisfied without refined sugar.” Additionally, she mentions that if you’re someone who normally enjoys one last sugary treat before bed, consider replacing it with “either tea or a healthy ice cream, like frozen banana blended with unsweetened cocoa.”
Of course, for many of us, giving up sugar is easier said than done. According to a 2013 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a meal that was high on the glycemic index “decreased plasma glucose, increased hunger, and selectively stimulated brain regions associated with reward and craving.” In an article for Harvard Health, David S. Ludwig, a leading researcher on the project, explained that the part of the brain that deals with the “reward and craving” associated with sugar “is also linked to substance abuse and dependence, which raises the question as to whether certain foods might be addictive.” With this in mind, it’s not surprising that undergoing a sugar detox can be a real hurdle for some people to clear.
For Bailey, this hurdle is a fun way to challenge herself. “I’m someone who could give up pizza and French fries no problem,” she explains, “but sugar is really tough for me. I think of a sugar detox as a way to reset those cravings and the amount of sugar your body wants. I also like the challenge. I know ending my night without a serving of ice cream isn’t going to kill me, but can I really go a week without my favorite thing? It’s kind of cool to test your own limits in a healthy way.” And if she’s struggling, she reminds herself to keep it real: “You’re not going to fail or die if you have some [sugar,] so the goal is always just to push yourself and do what you can!”
That means that even if your detox involves just cutting down on sugar without eliminating it all together, it still counts. “I get tons of questions when I launch a sugar detox,” Erin assures, “and people think they can’t participate because of an event that week, or because they already meal-prepped and their pesto had some added sugar in it, so they think they’re out. That’s not the point. The point is to do your best with what you have.”
So whether you brave a full-fledged sugar detox, or just cut down on the amount of sugar you normally consume, a sugar detox can be a great way to push the “reset” button on your healthy eating habits.