The average American consumes 32 teaspoons of added sugar per day. That’s right—32 teaspoons a day. (Test your sugar IQ!)
We all know that sugar can lead to weight gain, but that’s just the beginning. People who eat a lot of sugar have nearly double the risk for heart disease as those who eat less, according to data from the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study. They’re more likely to develop insulin resistance and diabetes. They also tend to look older because sugar triggers the production of advanced glycation end-products (AGEs), chemical compounds that accelerate skin aging.
If you want to avoid these problems, you may want to kick the sugar habit with an easy-to-follow sugar detox. Here's how...
It’s not enough to merely cut back on sugar. In my experience, patients need to eliminate it from their diets—at least at the beginning—just like addicts have to eliminate drugs from their lives. In fact, a study showed that sugar cravings actually are more intense than the cravings for cocaine.
You don’t have to give up sugar indefinitely. Once the cravings are gone, you can enjoy sweet foods again—although you probably will be happy consuming far less than before. After a sugar-free “washing out” period, you’ll be more sensitive to sweet tastes. You won’t want as much.
Bonus: Some people who have completed the four-week diet and stayed on the maintenance program for four or five months lost 35 pounds or more.
For sugar lovers, three days without sweet stuff can seem like forever. But it’s an essential part of the sugar detox diet because when you go three days without any sugar, your palate readjusts. When you eat an apple after the three-day period, you’ll think it’s the sweetest thing you’ve ever tasted. You’ll even notice the natural sweetness in a glass of whole or 2% milk (which contains about three teaspoons of naturally occurring sugar).
You may experience withdrawal symptoms during the first three days. These can include fatigue, headache, fogginess and irritability, but soon you’ll feel better than you have in years.
Caution: If you have any type of blood sugar problem, including hypoglycemia, insulin resistance or diabetes, you must consult your physician before starting any type of diet, including the sugar detox diet. In addition, if you are on insulin or an oral medication to control blood sugar, it is likely that your dosage will need to be adjusted if you lower your daily sugar intake.
During the three days…
This is the fun part. During the three-day sugar “fix,” you focused on not eating certain foods. Now you’ll spend a month adding tasty but nutritious foods back into your diet. You’ll continue to avoid overly sweet foods—and you’ll use no added sugar—but you can begin eating whole grains, dairy and fresh fruits.
WEEK 1: Wine and cheese. You’ll continue to eat healthy foods, but you now can add one apple a day and one daily serving of dairy, in addition to having a splash of milk or cream in your coffee or tea if you like. A serving of dairy could consist of one ounce of cheese…five ounces of plain yogurt…or one-half cup of cottage cheese. You also can have one serving a day of high-fiber crackers, such as Finn Crisp Hi-Fibre or Triscuit Whole Grain Crackers.
You also can start drinking red wine if you wish—up to three four-ounce servings during the first week. Other alcoholic beverages such as white wine, beer and liquor should be avoided. Red wine is allowed because it is high in resveratrol and other antioxidants.
WEEK 2: More dairy, plus fruit. This is when you really start adding natural sugar back into your diet. You can have two servings of dairy daily if you wish and one serving of fruit in addition to an apple a day. You can have one-half cup of blackberries, blueberries, cantaloupe, raspberries or strawberries each day. Or you can have a grapefruit half. You’ll be surprised how sweet fruit really is. You also are allowed one small sweet potato or yam (one-half cup cubed) daily.
WEEKS 3 AND 4: Whole grains and more. The third and fourth weeks are very satisfying because you can start eating grains again. But make sure it’s whole grain. Carbohydrates such as white bread, white pasta and white rice are stripped of their fiber during processing, so they are easily broken down into sugar. Whole grains are high in fiber and nutrients and won’t give the sugar kick that you would get from processed grains.
Examples: A daily serving of barley, buckwheat, oatmeal (not instant), quinoa, whole-grain pasta, whole-wheat bread or brown rice.
You might find yourself craving something that’s deliciously sweet. Indulge yourself with a small daily serving (one ounce) of dark chocolate.
Source: Patricia Farris, MD, FAAD, clinical professor at Tulane University, New Orleans, and member of the media-expert team for the American Academy of Dermatology. She is coauthor, with Brooke Alpert, MS, RD, CDN, of The Sugar Detox: Lose Weight, Feel Great, and Look Years Younger (Da Capo Lifelong). DrPattiFarris.com
Bottom Line/Personal had a great Facebook Chat on how to kick the sugar habit. Patricia Farris, MD, and Brooke Alpert, RD, coauthors of the book The Sugar Detox, were on hand to answer reader questions. Here are the questions posed by readers and the answers from our experts. Be sure to “like” our page for more about other upcoming chats with top experts. Facebook.com/BottomLinePersonal
|READER||I’ve been on the sugar detox for over 31 days. I’ve lost 7 pounds and feel great. I have a question about maintenance. I’m thinking of letting myself eat whatever I want on Saturdays and Sundays and then going back on the sugar detox during the week. Do you think that will work?|
|EXPERT||We don’t love the on/off approach. It sets you up to fail and makes this more of a diet instead of a lifestyle change. Stick to the maintenance plan of allowing 2 treats a week for long-term success.|
|READER||On my 5th day I have lost 9.2 lbs. I was getting concerned about all of the sugar I was consuming. So far this has worked for me.|
|READER||Tomorrow I start week 2 and I’ve only lost 4 lbs. Gotta say, I’m a bit disappointed. Been following all the guidelines and exercising.|
|EXPERT||Stay the course—it depends on what your starting weight is as to how much you will lose. Think of this as a healthy way to eat as opposed to a diet. Sugar out and good foods in.|
|READER||I suppose the less one has to lose, the slower it goes?|
|EXPERT||Yes, if you don’t have a lot of weight to lose, it will definitely take longer.|
|READER||Many who give it a try lose 5-7 lbs in the first week, and then the weight-loss part of it slows down. Is that likely due to calorie reduction or due to some other metabolic reaction in the body from suddenly no sugar?|
|EXPERT||Often, some of that early weight is due to water weight that’s lost.|
|READER||A reader wrote to us that she had leg cramps during the first few days of the diet. Could that be a withdrawal symptom? She said the cramps went away when she added dairy back to her diet.|
|EXPERT||As for leg cramps, I would suspect she was not drinking enough water. Keep up the hydration, it’s very important.|
|READER||I have been making kale chips for a snack. How about carrots?|
|EXPERT||Carrots are fine, just not in the first three days.|
|READER||My husband, daughter, and I all had problems with low energy for the first two weeks of the detox. We were fine doing “routine” activities, but didn’t have much energy for real exercise. And now, after 4 weeks, I still don’t feel like I have the stamina that I used to–especially if I exercise early in the morning. Any advice?|
|EXPERT||Make sure you always have a preworkout snack or meal, especially if you’re exercising in the morning.|
|READER||I did the sugar detox for 31 days and really appreciate tasting and enjoying foods that are unsweetened and liking them, like plain Greek yogurt. But I really missed watermelon, especially in the summer. Is watermelon bad?|
|EXPERT||Yes, watermelon is too high in sugar for our diet plan. You can have it on maintenance if you’re really missing it.|
|READER||What can we use for dressing on our salad besides olive oil and lemon?|
|EXPERT||A simple salad dressing recipe is ½ cup red wine vinegar and 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus spices.|
|READER||Now that I am through the 31 days, what is your view on sugarless chewing gum? I’ve always found that it satisfies my desire to chew – and it is easier than brushing my teeth, say, after a cup of coffee. Do you think gum should still be avoided?|
|EXPERT||We are anti all artificial sweeteners including those in sugar-free gum.|
|READER||What should gluten-free people do? The only crackers that are gluten-free on the approved list should not be eaten until the week that grains are added.|
|EXPERT||Good question—Mary’s Gone Crackers can be eaten in week 1. Enjoy.|
|READER||It also seems like calories are going to really add up. If you start with 6 oz of protein 3 times per day, plus the veggies and an apple, and one serving of crackers, that’s already up to about 1200 calories. Shouldn’t smaller people cut back on the amount of protein as they add dairy, additional fruit and grains so the calories don’t become too high?|
|EXPERT||Good question—we have portion size ranges so if you need more, you can have more. But this diet isn’t about counting calories—it’s about reducing your sugar and that will help you lose weight no matter what.|
|READER||For long-term maintenance, are bagels, Italian bread, regular pasta and white rice just no longer options anymore, or do you group them as part of the “2 treats a week"? In other words, is it a choice between a dessert Saturday night OR a bagel Sunday morning, or is it that the maintenance program promotes limiting breads that are not whole grain and desserts over the long-term?|
|EXPERT||We consider white bread and rice equal to dessert. You can have them in maintenance if you choose to.|
|READER||Has anyone had strange cravings?|
|READER||Regarding strange cravings...not for me, but I did find it hard to resist temptation the more I was out in public. I ate mostly at home or brought my lunch to work at the beginning, but then began to venture out, and did have a few “slips,” but always went back on the wagon at the next meal.|
|EXPERT||It’s a very sugar-y world out there and it’s hard to resist. Wise move to stay close to home until you have your cravings under control.|
|READER||Any suggestions for someone who is not good at kitchen tasks as to what to plan to eat during this time?|
|EXPERT||I am not too swift in the kitchen myself, but manage to get along by eating out and preparing simple stuff at home. We have a great section on how to eat out in the book. Hopefully that will help.|
|READER||Day one here. Is avocado recommended on my 3-day start-up?|
|EXPERT||We LOVE avocado. You can have it starting the first day.|
|READER||When are the “other” vegetables allowed? Or are they forever forbidden?|
|EXPERT||We add different veggies each week which keeps it interesting and eventually you get most of them back. The only ones you don’t get back are corn, winter squash, potatoes and peas.|
|READER||Why only 3 4-ounce servings of wine a week? I was accustomed to drinking a glass with every dinner. Too much sugar?|
|EXPERT||Red wine has lots of healthy antioxidants, but because of the sugar content, we limit it in week 1.|
|READER||So after week 1, one glass a day is OK again?|
|EXPERT||You get three glasses of red wine in weeks 1 and 2. Then, four glasses in week 3, and five glasses in week 4.|
|READER||I’m on day 11. I feel great. Hardest part is morning coffee without sweetener.|
|EXPERT||That was the biggest change for so many people. Try it iced – makes it much easier to go sugar-free in your coffee.|