Sugar — especially the type that’s added to food during processing — can lead to many chronic health conditions like diabetes, obesity and heart disease in the long-term. Short-term effects include blood sugar spikes and inflammation.
You might be thinking, “OK, then I won’t add sugar to any of my food.” Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Food manufacturers add sugar to 74% of processed foods to get you hooked and keep you coming back for more. Turns out that even though sugar isn’t good for you, it’s great for business.
Common foods with added sugars
You can probably guess the worst offenders – the most common foods with added sugar are sweetened drinks (soda, energy drinks, sports drinks, cocktail mixers), cakes, cookies, candy (chocolate and hard candy), ice cream, pies and pastries. But there are also many seemingly “healthy” foods out there with a significant amount of added sugar. Some examples include bread, breakfast cereals, canned and boxed soups, marinara sauce, condiments and sauces, flavored yogurts, dairy-free milk alternatives (almond milk, coconut milk, soy milk), granola bars, fruit juices and dried fruits. (Yes, there is usually sugar added to packaged fruits.)
Identifying added sugars
Since manufacturers don’t differentiate between the type of sugar that is naturally occurring (such as lactose in milk and fructose in fruit) and added sweeteners, the total grams of sugar on a nutrition label can be very deceiving. Rather than looking at the nutrition facts and total grams of sugar, hone in on the ingredient list.
You’ve heard us say this before: the fewer ingredients, the better. Manufacturers have created many — at least 60 — deceiving names for sugar. Some common names for sugar on ingredient lists include:
- Cane sugar
- Brown sugar
- Corn syrup
- Maple syrup
- Crystal dextrose
- Corn sweetener
- Liquid fructose
Watch for those, and look up any ingredient you can’t identify – you can find more extensive lists to check online, too.
Detoxing from sugar
If the sugar situation is starting to sound confusing and hopeless, don’t worry — avoiding added sugar is possible.
Before you get started, keep in mind that it’s common to have withdrawal symptoms like cravings, particularly for things like fresh and dried fruit, alcohol, juice and refined carbohydrates (white bread, white pasta), which are high in a combination of natural and added sweeteners. To deal with cravings, we recommend keeping a food journal. Every time you experience a craving, jot down what you’re craving, when you’re craving it, and how you’re dealing with the craving. Having a proper meal or snack with a healthy dose of fat and protein is one way, going out for a walk is another way. Find what works for you.
Eat this, not that
Now, let’s get down to details. The best way to detox from sugar is by preparing all of your own meals. If you do need to buy something like hummus, nut butter, yogurt or dairy alternatives, choose foods with a very short ingredient list and without any of the added sugars listed above.
In our 21-day sugar detox, we allow and encourage vegetables, fruits and unsweetened dairy because the natural sugars in these foods are paired with the food’s own complimentary nutrients, such as protein and/or fiber. This is also the reason why we don’t encourage fruit juices and smoothies with juice – even if they don’t have sugar added, the juices sans fiber have a similar blood sugar-spiking and addictive effect on your body.
Similarly, fruits and vegetables like bananas, pineapples, carrots, watermelon, parsnips and potatoes are high on the glycemic index and can spike blood sugar levels and lead to sugar cravings — especially when eaten alone. These healthy foods should be consumed in moderation and are best paired with healthy protein and fat.
Sugar detox do’s and don’ts
Let’s pair things down a bit. Here are your sugar detox do’s and don’ts.
- Do check the ingredient list and refer to the list of provided above.
- Do aim for 2-3 servings of fresh fruit per day and pair each with protein (e.g. unsweetened yogurt, a handful of nuts, cheese, etc.). Limit dried fruit and other fruits high on the glycemic index.
- Do try these helpful substitutes: fresh fruit for jam or jelly; homemade flavored water for soda or juice; and if you have alcohol, choose wine, beer, or spirits with soda water.
- Don’t consume processed foods with real or artificial sugar added.
- Don’t add sweeteners to your food or drinks. This includes maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, coconut sugar, Splenda, Equal, Nutrasweet, etc.
- Don’t be hard on yourself. If you end up eating sugar, don’t beat yourself up about it. At the same time, don’t use your slip up as an excuse to splurge the rest of the day. Simply accept it, give yourself kudos for trying, and move on.
Be sweet to yourself while you rid your diet of sweeteners. It’s not easy — it takes practice and discipline. If you need support, know that the full 8fit community has your back – tap into #8fit on social media for resources and accountability!