Are you curious about how to reduce sugar in your diet? Wondering what happens when you reduce sugar and how to do it without dealing with increased cravings?

What Actually Happens When You Cut Out Sugar?

1. It may be easier to lose (or maintain) weight

Numerous studies have shown sugar’s connection to obesity, inability to lose weight, and weight gain. For example, a 2021 Clinical Diabetes study found that the overconsumption of added sugars contributes to overweight and obesity.
Sugar can also cause you to overeat. After the glucose spike that happens when you eat sugar, you experience a crash which causes the body to need more sources of energy, and the quickest form of energy is glucose, which leads to more sugar cravings throughout the day. Translation: The more sugar you eat, the more you crave it.

2. You may experience improved gut health

Added sugars are notorious for their ability to cause inflammation throughout the body and wreak havoc on gut health. “Excessive sugar consumption can disrupt the delicate microbial balance [of the gut], leading to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria and yeast, such as Candida,” explained Lisa Richards, a nutritionist and author of The Candida Diet. “These disruptions can contribute to conditions like leaky gut syndrome and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).”

3. You’ll feel more energy

Since sugar gives the body energy by converting carbohydrates into glucose, consuming an excess amount of it can lead to energy spikes and crashes throughout the day. Essentially, you feel good when your sugar levels are up and sluggish when they’re down. This is why removing sugar from your diet can ultimately lead to better energy levels throughout the day because you’ll have more stable blood sugar levels. According to Dr. Gendron, removing these sugar highs and crashes will keep energy levels more stable, and you’ll feel more energized as a result.

4. You’ll experience better moods

There’s a reason why you may reach for a sleeve of cookies when you’re stressed out, and while it may feel good in the moment, it’s bad for your long-term mood. Dietician Trisha Best explained that consuming large amounts of sugar creates a dopamine response in the brain, leading to increased feelings of pleasure and happiness. But these feelings are temporary, and once they wear off, you’re left feeling irritable, anxious, and unhappy.

5. You’ll be less likely to get cavities

It turns out the adults who told you that candy would rot your teeth when you were a child were onto something. Sugar molecules combine with saliva and bacteria present in the mouth, which leads to plaque on teeth. “Sugar feeds the bacteria that cause cavities and tooth decay,” Corey explained. “Reducing sugar intake helps maintain better oral health.”

6. You may notice positive changes in your skin

Cutting out sugar can also lead to glowier, clearer skin. Dr. Gendron explained that inflammation caused by excess sugar consumption can lead to skin breakouts and blemishes—something that can be attributed to the sebum the skin produces whenever the body’s insulin response is triggered (also a cause of eating sugar). Similarly, this inflammation can also lead to increased redness and puffiness and exacerbate pre-existing skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis.

How Long Does It Take to Detox From Sugar?

The amount of time it takes to detox from sugar varies from person to person since it’s based on every individual’s daily consumption and lifestyle. “Detoxing from sugar is a bit like adjusting to a new time zone—it can take a little while for your body to get the memo,” Dr. Gendron explained. “Generally, you might start feeling better in a few days, but it can take up to two weeks for your cravings to really subside and for you to feel like your energetic self again.”

Corey echoes this sentiment, noting that days one through four are often the most intense. During this time, you’ll typically feel the majority of the physical symptoms that come from sugar withdrawal, like headaches and fatigue, along with irritability, cravings, and digestive changes. However, these symptoms usually dissipate or go away completely after the first week. This is when you’ll likely notice the positive side effects, like better sleep, stable energy levels, and less sugar cravings.

How to Reduce Sugar: Realistic Tips

Here are some guidelines about how to reduce sugar in your diet:

1. Decrease the amount of “sneaky sugars” in your diet

Instead of cutting out sugar completely, reduce the amount of “sneaky sugars,” or sugars that you may not even know are there and do not need. For example, make your own salad dressing instead of packaged options, snack on dark chocolate with no refined sugar, and opt for ketchup and other condiments from brands like Primal Kitchens that do not add sugar.

Corey also recommends reading every food label and ingredient before purchasing or consuming. “USDA food labels now require ‘added sugars’ to be listed, so aim for products without any or less than 5 grams of total sugar,” she said. This practice will not only help you get in the habit of learning about what you’re eating but also help you learn to look for and identify foods with hidden sugars. Koll warns that any ingredient ending in “-ose” is a sugar, so you can be aware of all the names food brands use to sneak in sugar.

2. Make healthy swaps

Rather than focusing on eliminating sugar from your diet altogether, Dr. Gendrom recommends making healthy swaps instead. Prioritizing adding more whole foods in your diet (AKA foods that don’t come with a nutrition label) like fruits, veggies, seeds, and nuts can also make this adjustment easier. When you’re craving something sweet, opt for a piece of fruit and dark chocolate (which is higher in antioxidants and lower in sugar) instead of cookies.

3. Stay hydrated

When you feel a sugar craving coming on, it actually just might be dehydration. “Sometimes thirst masquerades as a sugar craving,” Dr. Gendron explained. To combat this, he recommends keeping a water bottle nearby at all times and sipping it throughout the day to help keep unwanted sugar cravings at bay. This will also make you less likely to reach for a sugary beverage whenever you need a pick-me-up.

4. Don’t cut it out cold turkey

Changing your diet to drastically reduce your sugar intake won’t happen overnight. It’s a process, and that’s OK. Instead of trying to go 0-100, Corey recommends taking it one step at a time. “Identify one item you can swap out, and once you’ve successfully made that change, keep gradually making changes.” If you’re having a really hard time saying “no” to sugar, she suggests simply cutting your intake in half. This will help get you on the right track without feeling like you’re being deprived of something or that your entire diet is changing.

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