According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 6 in 10 youth (60 percent) and 5 in 10 adults (50 percent) drink a sugar-sweetened drink in their daily diet. And that doesn’t even account for added sugars from fruits and other foods like carbohydrates and grains throughout the day.
Too much sugar can be one of the greatest risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Sugar consumption can lead to obesity and diabetes, high blood pressure, inflammation, fatty liver disease, heart disease, and more. According to a 15-year study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, people who got 17 to 21 percent of their calories from added sugar had a 38 percent higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than those who only consumed 8 percent of their calories from added sugar.
This spring, challenge yourself, your team, or your family to a sugar detox for better health. Here’s how to get started.
- Read your labels.
You’d be surprised just how many foods have added sugar—everything from soup to nuts. While you may know those tasty treats in the bakery or sugary cereals are high in sugar content, other foods may sneak up on you. Even condiments are dirty sugar culprits. Always read your labels, looking for sugar in all forms (fructose, corn syrup, sucralose, cane sugar).
- Fat-free does not mean sugar-free.
Fat equals flavor. And when you remove that fat from food, it tastes bland. That’s why food manufacturers often add sugar in place of fat to make fat-free foods taste better. Read your labels and try to avoid fat-free options, or at least make sure they’re not loaded with added sugars. Some fats like nuts, salmon, and avocados are actually healthy fats and okay to consume in moderation.
- Track when you eat sugar.
Notice any patterns in your sugar cravings? Perhaps you hit that late afternoon slug and crave a sugary coffee or snack. Or maybe you prefer your sweets first thing in the morning. Practicing mindfulness and preparing yourself for these moments of weakness will help you really think about each meal or drink you consume.
- Choose unsweetened snacks.
When grocery shopping and meal prepping, make it easier to detox from sugar with plenty of healthy snack options. Chop vegetables or fruit to snack on throughout the week. Think celery sticks with nut butters, hardboiled eggs, olives, sugar-free turkey, or apples. When you feel like reaching for candy or chips, reach for one of these unsweetened snacks instead.
- Replace sugary drinks with water.
Don’t forget about beverages in your sugar-free diet. It’s the 0 in 5-2-1-0—drink 0 sugary drinks. Many beverages contain added sugars and offer little or no nutrients. Opt for water or low-fat dairy. If you need some motivation, check out this resource for making better beverage choices or use our handy water tracker.
- Prep healthier meals.
Prepping your meals ahead of time reduces your chances of dining out or ordering food to go. It can also reduce your urge to reach for sugary snacks or drinks. Plan your meals for the week, all sugar-free foods with healthy fats, protein, and whole grains. When you get home from the market, try to prep as many foods as you can. Wash your fruits and veggies, cut healthy items up you may need for meals, or just have them ready to grab from the fridge when it’s time to cook.
- Look for an energy boost elsewhere.
We all know that feeling when our energy takes a quick dip south. What do you do when this happens? Reach for chocolate or the closest sugary snack in the work vending machine? Instead, stand up from your seat and stretch, take a brisk walk, or even do a brief exercise. All of these activities get your heart pumping and your energy rising. Talk to a friend or colleague for support, or find other healthier things to do in place of the craving.
- Rethink dessert.
Every post-meal treat doesn’t have to be loaded with sugar. Get creative and think of other dessert recipes. Instead of ice cream, for example, enjoy a bowl of fresh fruits. This is especially helpful at weaning yourself off of desserts if you reach for sweets after every meal. Fruit has natural sugars but also fiber and other nutrients and antioxidants. Healthy fats like macadamia nuts are another great option.
- Get at least 1 hour of exercise daily.
If you follow our 5-2-1-0 program, then you know the drill. We recommend 1 hour or more of daily physical activity. When it comes to sweets, exercise can increase energy, reduce stress, and combat symptoms like fatigue, low-energy levels, and stress-induced cravings. Visit our Resources page for physical activity inspiration.
- Manage stress and sleep well.
Both stress and sleep deprivation can lead to intense cravings for junk food and sweets. A single night of poor sleep, for example, reduces insulin sensitivity the next day, which makes your blood sugar less stable and you more prone to crave sweets. And stress depletes your body of important nutrients like magnesium that can also lead to cravings. Consider a yoga class from one of our LiveWell Frederick partners to reduce stress. Or, if you have ongoing sleep issues, it may be time to visit our partner Frederick Health’s sleep lab.
Giving up sugar may feel unpleasant and even miserable, both mentally and physically, in the beginning. But stick with it. These are signs that your body is adapting to lower sugar content. The longer you avoid sugar, the less intense and frequent these symptoms will be. And the best part: you’ll cut the craving for sugar completely!