Heart disease, diabetes and liver disease have two things in common: sugar, and a spot on the top 15 causes of death.
Eating a diet high in sugar raises your blood pressure, increases inflammation, fuels obesity and throws your whole hormonal system out of whack, making a mess of your skin and making it harder to stay trim.
There is no easy way to ditch the bad sugars from your life, nutritionists say that going cold turkey is the best way to siphon the sweet out of your diet.
But there is good news: even as you experience sugar withdrawals (and you will), if you do a sugar detox right, you will start to see the benefits of your freedom from sweeteners within a few days.
Lorraine Kearney, a sugar detox expert and associate professor of nutrition at the City University of New York, laid out the roadmap to sugar freedom for Daily Mail Online.
Day 1: Cut it out. Cut it ALL out
A sugar detox is a pure one, and requires that you simply go cold turkey on all added sugars, explains Kearney.
But the good news is that it only takes 21 days to ‘reset’ your habits, breaking old ones and making new ones.
‘Base your detox around removing all synthetic sugar from the diet,’ she says.
That means no means no more sugar in your coffee, no more soft drinks and no more granola bars as meal replacements.
The easiest way to make sure you cut out the right sugars is to stop buying or consuming anything that purports to be ‘low sugar.’
‘That usually means that the manufacturer is adding in more sodium or fats to increase the flavor or adding sugar alcohols that help the body digest it,’ says Kearney.
Sugar alcohols are actually neither part of their name. They are a long list of synthetics – the names of most of which end in ‘-itol,’ like sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol – that partially mimic alcohol and partially mimic sugar in their structures.
This means that the body gets confused and does not fully absorb the chemicals, so they contribute fewer calories to your diet. That sounds good, but is actually the opposite of nutrition.
‘People have the misconception that if they skip a meal and have a protein bar, it will benefit the body, but these will often have proteins that are not complete, or four or five sugar alcohols or sugar substitutes,’ Kearney says.
‘A lot of these actually increase sugar cravings,’ she adds.
On the other hand, what you do not want to do is stop eating whole foods that have natural sugar contents.
‘A lot of diets out there will remove entire food groups, but, scientifically, it’s not good to remove certain food groups because they are sources of energy,’ she says.
This is where a nutritionist can be helpful in determining how to modify your particular diet to make sure you’re ‘following a meal plan that’s based on optimal nutrition, choosing foods that are full and satiating and help to balance blood sugar,’ Kearney says.
‘Some diets remove all fruits, but this should not be the case because even though they do have natural sugar that the body knows how to process, they also have antioxidants and precious vital nutrients and fiber which are really key in balancing nutrition,’ she adds.
Days 3-7: Here come the withdrawals, but stay strong with healthy snacks
‘The first three to five days are the hardest as the body detoxifies,’ Kearney says.
Sugar withdrawal symptoms are not unlike any other withdrawal experience. The detox process typically comes with a headache, fatigue, muscle aches, and, of course, sugar cravings, but they can get worse.
‘I had one client that actually vomited. It’s the same as detoxing with anything,’ Kearney says, ‘you might have a lack of sleep and focus, sweats, dizziness, and even shaking.’
‘It’s bad, but after five days, it’s almost like a weight is lifted off of you,’ she adds.
When you’re in this stage, she says to make sure you continue to eat whole grains, greens, and keep a healthy snacks like a piece of fruit or some almonds on hand ‘to decrease the sugar craving, because that’s really just the body crying out for food.’
This is key, because you need to keep your blood sugar balanced.
‘When you don’t have a balanced blood sugar level, that’s when the cravings kick in.
‘It’s a sign you’ve waited too long between meals and need to fuel your body to make sure it’s nice and balanced.’
During this stage, your body will convert whatever it can to glucose, which is why keeping up some whole grains and greens is so important.
This is also the time to be ‘mindful’ and pay attention to ‘your whole digestion process, trying to pinpoint the foods that cause an inflammatory response in the body, like bloatedness, cramping, flatulence, the whole-abdominal swelling that should not be happening with digestion,’ Kearney says.
Identifying your problem foods will also make your diet more sustainable.
When the cravings kick in, she recommends asking yourself: ‘Is it really the sugar talking or does the craving represent an underlining issue?’
‘Has their blood sugar dropped so low that the feelings associated with “hangry-ness” are setting in? Are they bored, angry, excited or emotional. Sometimes, there can be a psychological need/factor that is making a person crave the comfort they feel when consuming a sugary food product,’ she says.
But, ‘if the urge gets too much, then I recommend they drink water, take a walk, meditate or do a fitness class that will get their endorphins pumping,’ Kearney advises.
Days 8-10: You can see clearly now the sugar is gone – and taste the difference
After a week, Kearney says you will find you are more able to focus and have better cognitive functioning over all. Some may even find this ability heightened within as little as four days of quitting sugar.
She explains: ‘Sugar highs and lows, spikes and crashing levels offset hormone levels. Those imbalances are like a roller coaster, so when they are stable it promotes better cognitive and body functioning.’
After about 10 days, your taste buds will start to change – or, more accurately, your entire taste system will change.
Sugar and its taste are signals that the hormonal system reads to tell us if it’s time to eat or not. Sugar is read by both our taste receptors and our gut, which work in coordination to decide how the molecule should be ‘read.’
As these receptors are less inundated with sugar, it may develop a heightened sweetness – to the point that it is too sweet.
‘I had one client that was forced to do a sugar detox because his partner was doing it and he was like “I love her so I’ll do it,” but he was apprehensive because he drank six diet cokes a day and was so upset he had to give it up,’ recounts Kearney.
‘On day 10 [of the detox], he tried to cheat and have a Diet Coke, and he literally spat it out. It tasted awful because his whole taste receptor [system] had changed,’ she says.
So, at this point, the cravings have begun to subside, and even when they occur, you will not want the same degree of sweetness any more.
But in case the temptation is still there, Kearney advises to keep up the home-cooked meals.
Days 15-21: You can have that bite of cake because you know the difference between what your body wants and needs
‘At the 15-day marker is when you have the most energy,’ says Kearney.
After this amount of time, she says you will have become ’95 percent aware of your whole digestion process.’
The theory is that with the tricky effects of sugar eliminated, you will have learned what foods are actually satisfying and which ones are causing inflammation.
‘You will feel lighter, more energized and confident about…identifying the difference between hunger pain and sugar cravings,’ Kearney says.
This is particularly important for busy people, for whom all that rushing around kicks the fight or flight – or adrenal cortisol response – mode into high gear.
When you are in this state, ‘a lot of digestion processes shut down, the body becomes hyper-aware, hyper-focused to complete the task at hand and you forget about the hunger,’ says Kearney.
‘But the minute you have five minutes to sit, the sugar cravings will kick in and put the closest thing into your moth just because you need the energy surge,’ she adds.
However, once that difference between sugar cravings and real hunger becomes clear, it is much easier to reach for a healthy snack than something full of empty, sugary (or faux-sugary) calories.
After 21 days, its OK to start eating outside the home again, and Kearney says many will notice that even a little salt will cause abdominal swelling or cramps.
But, at that point, you will be prepared to handle a little sweet treat.
‘After 21 days, having a little sugar is perfectly okay.
‘We’re all human and crave it. So split the cake, and if you do eat something sugary, make sure you’re going right back on track and having something high in fiber, with good lean protein and whole grains,’ Kearney says, ‘everything in moderation.’
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