Most of us grew up with sugar as a reward: a cookie for good behavior, some candy for a job well done. And most of our kids associate sugar with parties, carnivals, and fun. From that morning cup of coffee to that glass of wine with dinner, sugar can be right beside us all day long, but is it just too much. The American Heart Association says that the average American consumes 24 teaspoons of sugar a day and the average child 34 teaspoons of sugar a day! And while we all know sugar puts our families at risk for diabetes and obesity, new studies show there are far more devastating illnesses that can result from too much sugar — reasons for us all to go on a sugar detox.
The Dangers of Sugar
Too much sugar in our diet can damage our body’s insulin response, leading to Type II Diabetes, but experts are now also linking sugar to cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, liver disease, cancer, arthritis, and gout. One of these experts, Dr. Robert Lustig, Pediatric Endocrinologist and co-founder of the Institute for Responsible Nutrition, has written a book and created a YouTube video, “Sugar, the Bitter Truth”. He is leading a crusade to teach about the dangers of sugar, particularly fructose, which is not only in high fructose corn syrup, but also in table sugar.
Humans used to get their fructose from fruit, which is very filling to consume. Nowadays, fructose is in everything from yogurt to nearly all processed foods. American heart disease and stroke have been on the rise since the 80s, when fat was linked to heart disease. Since then, companies have taken the fat out of foods (“low fat” products). Because that makes the food bland, it’s been replaced with sugar. According to Lustig, Americans now consume 1/3 of a pound of sugar every single day. While his theories have made him controversial in the past, researchers are now discovering the harmful effects of sugar.
“60 Minutes” investigation with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, “Is Sugar Toxic?” showcased these claims. Kimber Stanhope, a researcher and nutritionist at University of California, Davis, performed a study that showed that high fructose corn syrup increased cardiovascular risk within two weeks among her test subjects. In another study, biologist and biochemist and Harvard Medical School professor, Lewis Cantley has linked cancer to sugar. His research shows that sugar spikes insulin which can fuel certain common cancers – including breast and colon cancer. Cantley’s advice? Don’t eat sugar or keep it to a minimum.
Finally, sugar is as addictive as drugs like cocaine. When we ingest it, dopamine is released – exactly what happens when you imbibe illegal drugs like cocaine. You may even be building up a tolerance to sugar, just like addictive drugs, and you need to eat more and more to get the same pleasure reflex.
What Are The Hidden Sources of Sugar?
The fact is, sugar is in nearly every packaged and processed food you can find, making it difficult to know where to start a sugar detox. Sauces, salad dressings, and marinades often contain sugar, as well as, naturally, sweeter foods, like yogurt which contain higher levels of sugar. Microwavable foods are often high in sugar as well. Other surprising sources include pasta, instant oatmeal, granola, spaghetti sauce and ketchup. And don’t forget things like tasty calcium chews and other “sweet” supplements.
For those on gluten-free diets, remember that many of the acceptable flours are starchy and therefore, have high glycemic index — that is, they break down into sugar very quickly. These flours and starches include corn, rice (white or brown), potato and tapioca.
Finally, juice is a big culprit, with as much or MORE sugar than soda, according to Hooked on Juice. It’s far healthier to eat fresh fruit or juice it yourself. Juice should be considered a treat just like candy. Read our expose on orange juice to learn how toxic some brands of juice can be.
Bottom line? To reduce your sugar intake and start a sugar detox, you’ll need to start reading labels on all the foods you buy, including frozen meat. You also need to look out for sugar alcohols, which tend to be made with GMO corn and are frequently found in packaged foods. Look for words in your ingredient list that end in “tol”, like “maltitol.”
How Much Added Sugar is Enough?
Dr. Lustig recommends we greatly reduce added sugar: no more than 150 added calories per day for men, and no more than 100 added calories for women – less than what’s in a can of soda. Recommended maximum levels of added sugar intake are 6 teaspoons a day for women and 8 for men. If the sugar is listed in grams, 4 grams of sugar is about 1 teaspoon. To put this number in perspective, 1 medium banana contains 3.5 teaspoons of sugar. As mentioned, those with Celiac disease or other food sensitivities and allergies need to take special care. It’s all too easy to remove gluten or dairy from a child’s diet, only to replace it with products that use a lot of extra sugar in their allergen-friendly products and milks.
How to Do a Sugar Detox
If sugar is dangerous for you and your family, it’s time to detox. But how can you do it? First, make sure to consult your doctor before engaging in any dietary changes. Here are the top tips to getting started with a sugar detox:
- Set a goal to go without added sugar for a period of time. Popular sugar detox plans last from 3 to 21 days. If you are bringing your family along, you’ll have to gauge the near future in terms of activities and events and plan accordingly. Since your body needs glucose, I recommend eliminating excess sugar as recommended below, rather than eliminating it completely. Don’t deny your family fruit, but regulate how much they eat.
- Eat breakfast – with protein! Start your day with breakfast early in the morning, within 90 minutes of rising, or your blood sugar levels will rise. Don’t go for sweet foods, but enjoy sprouted grains, pastured eggs, vegetables and GMO-free bacon. If you drink coffee or tea, sweeten it with low glycemic sweeteners, such as Swerve Natural Sweetener or Pyure Organic Stevia.
- Make lunch and dinner with healthy fats that are loaded with omega-3’s to reduce sugar cravings. Foods like cold water fish, and pastured/grass fed animal foods like eggs, dairy and meat are loaded with animal-based omega-3’s and are important in any diet. Plant based omega-3’s may not have the DHA and EPA of their animal based cousins, but are great foods to fill up on. These include olives, avocados, flax and chia. If you need portable snacks, nuts and seeds are ideal.
- Snack on non-starch vegetables and legumes. The great thing about vegetables is that you can never eat too much of them! Spinach, broccoli, squash – all are great to add to your diet, unless you need to avoid leafy greens. Avoid potatoes altogether while you are detoxing.
- Fill up on fiber to ease hunger and reduce cravings. This includes whole wheat breads, bananas, carrots and sunflower seeds.
- Ditch the dressings…and marinades, and barbeque sauces. Season your food with fresh herbs, organic spices and clean ingredients. For example, choose whole, organic tomatoes rather than tomato sauce. For salads, use extra virgin olive oil and plain vinegar with seasoning. Or, combine lime juice and oil for a great dressing on an avocado salad!
- Drink plenty of water. If you feel thirsty, drink water or seltzer instead of going for a sugary drink. If you miss the flavor, add lemon to water and lime to seltzer for a great, natural taste. You can also drink unsweetened tea.
- Exercise! This will release endorphins to fight that craving for dopamine that we talked about earlier and help you fight feeling down as you detox.
- Get plenty of sleep and rest during your sugar detox. This is especially important if you’re used to reaching for a power bar, energy drink or extra cup of sweetened coffee when you’re tired. Find time to relax during the day as well so that you are not overtaxing your body.
Making the Choice to Cut It Out
Last year, I tried giving up sugar and I can tell you, it’s hard! The first thing that happens on a sugar detox is that you crave it. You may even obsess on it and count the hours to your next fix. If you are withdrawing from refined sugar, you can also take on emotional symptoms, which include anxiety, fatigue, depression, and decreased interest in things. If so, you might want to take it slow and reduce your sugar over time rather than a “cold turkey” sugar detox.
Eliminating refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup, cutting out the excess sugar in our foods and taking steps to feel full without the toxic sources of sugar will help our kids be in better shape, break our addiction to sweets and will help protect our families from chronic and terminal diseases. With all these pros, it’s worth it to do detox the sugar in your home now!
Swerve and Pyore have been clients of Mamavation.