While some people jokingly refer to themselves as sugar addicts, the truth is no laughing matter. Refined sugar causes real, clinically verifiable addictive patterns in your brain and ruinous effects on your body. The average American consumes between 22 and 30 teaspoons of added sugar every day. That’s sugar that you could easily cut from your diet entirely by making intelligent dietary decisions — or you could if sugar didn’t have you hooked. A sugar detox is a way to break the hold sugar has over you.
Basically, a sugar detox is when you cut all sugar out of your diet for a set period of time. ALL sugar. That means no honey, no maple syrup, no agave syrup, no white bread, no alcohol, no natural sweeteners, no artificial sweeteners, no high fructose corn syrup. You’ll be amazed by how much better you’ll feel when you cut the added sugar.
Natural Sugars vs. Added Sugars
It’s important to make the distinction between natural sugars and added sugars. Natural sugars are those found naturally in fruits and vegetables. Bound to other nutrients like protein and dietary fiber, these sugars are broken down more slowly and provide a healthier source of energy.
Added sugars are often refined and stripped of these nutrients, leaving only empty calories. These refined sugars are then added to processed foods and beverages. You may feel a temporary surge in energy from these refined sugars, but they burn fast, and you’ll crash hard afterward. These sugars are absorbed very quickly, which leads to a spike in blood sugar, followed by a sharp increase in insulin, which is in turn followed by a steep drop in blood sugar. Low blood sugar causes hunger, and the whole process repeats in a vicious cycle.
When combined with a sedentary lifestyle, refined sugars lead to weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, and increased oxidative stress throughout the body.
How Is Refined Sugar Addictive?
Most people will accuse you of exaggerating if you liken sugar addiction to drug addiction, but studies have found the comparison to be spot on. When you eat sugar, your body releases opioids and dopamine. These compounds stimulate the pleasure centers of your brain, much like addictive drugs. What’s worse, studies have found that cutting off your sugar intake causes withdrawal symptoms. The effects of withdrawal are less intense than that of hard drugs like heroin, but the process is essentially the same.
Health Effects of Refined Sugar
Refined sugar is one of the most harmful things you can put in your body that isn’t outright classified as a narcotic or poison. We now know that sugar is one of the top contributors to metabolic syndrome, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Two out of every three Americans are overweight, and one-third of the country’s population is considered obese. Diabetes now affects 26 million Americans and heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S.[5, 6]
Emerging research implicates sugar in a growing list of serious health conditions. Sugar causes our cells to degrade faster, leading to DNA damage and accelerated aging. It’s linked to Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss, and other detrimental cognitive effects. Excess sugar consumption even increases your risk of certain types of cancer, including colon cancer.[5, 7]
Benefits of a Sugar Detox
You may not feel like you consume too much sugar, but I urge everyone to try a sugar detox at least once. The results may astonish you. You’ll lose weight, have fewer headaches, have more energy, and generally feel loads better.
A 2015 study found that cutting sugar for as few as ten days significantly improved virtually all aspects of metabolic health in obese children. It reduced diastolic blood pressure, triglyceride levels, blood glucose, and LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol). Restricting sugar intake improves heart health, cholesterol profile, liver function, and longevity.
One of the more unusual effects of a sugar detox is that your palate will become more attuned to the natural sweetness of fruits and vegetables. There’s a reason food like sweet onions and sweet potatoes have the word “sweet” right in their names. If you can’t taste it, it’s because your taste buds are seriously desensitized.
With your sugar tolerance back in balance, foods you never thought of as particularly sweet, like bell peppers, carrots, and beets, will start tasting very sweet. An apple will taste like candy.
Once you’ve broken the cycle of sugar dependency and cleansed your system of its effects, sugary snacks like donuts and cake won’t have the same irresistible appeal they once had. I’m not saying that you’ll never want a cookie ever again, but outside of the stranglehold of sugar dependency, you should be able to make clear-headed decisions and enjoy those type of treats in the extreme moderation they deserve.