Thinking Of Going On A Sugar Cleanse? Here's What To Expect
STORY: Priyanka Elhence
19 March 2022
Sugar is hidden in almost all foods, so cutting it out can be hard at the beginning, but it’s well worth it when it helps improve overall health, stops premature ageing and gives you more radiant skin. But initial side effects of a sugar detox can be a little hard, with symptoms including fatigue, dizziness and low blood sugar.
Here’s what to expect:
1. Added sugar is EVERYWHERE
While sweet treats are obviously laden with sugar, it’s the added sugars in non-obvious foods that are the problem. Salad dressings, tomato sauce, dairy, condiments and breads are all full of sugar. But cutting out added sugar (going cold turkey) helps recalibrate the palate, so you will be able to taste natural sugars in fruits or vegetables faster and much more easily. To cut out sugar, you also have to cut out fruits and starchy vegetables (such as corn, peas, sweet potatoes and butternut squash), dairy, grains and alcohol. Though they don't contribute calories, artificial sweeteners are not allowed on the cleanse, either.
2. A sugar cleanse is akin to a detox
Refined sugar is hard on the body and when you eliminate it, the detox pathways begin releasing toxins. When you start a sugar cleanse, the first two weeks can be a bit challenging emotionally and physically, often manifesting as symptoms such as mood swings, brain fog, depression, digestive issues, hives and fatigue. The strength of the symptoms varies according to how much sugar you have been consuming, and thus, how much the body has to go without now.
3. Preparation is key
Before irritability and fatigue rear their ugly heads, prepare your home and kitchen to get yourself as ready as possible for the challenge. Clean out your pantry of sugar, desserts, sweet treats, and anything else that is likely to throw you off your sugar-free diet. Instead, stock up on wholesome and nutritious foods and sugar-free snacks. It’s very important to avoid feeling like you have nothing healthy (and substantial) to eat while staring at your open fridge and pantry!
4. Replace sugar with high quality foods
Replace the empty calories in sugar with those found in nutrient-dense foods such as good quality protein (protein helps promote feelings of fullness, which helps manage food cravings and low energy hunger pangs), good fats and high-fibre vegetables so you aren’t constantly hungry and always thinking about food. To have a sustainable sugar cleanse, it’s important to satisfy your cravings, but do it in a healthy manner and improve the overall nutrient-density of your diet. For instance, swap sodas, energy drinks and juice for water; swap sugary breakfast cereal for eggs and fruit; read labels for hidden sugars; instead of dessert, opt for something high in protein and healthy fat like nuts or unsweetened Greek yoghurt with berries.
5. Managing your stress levels, exercising more and sleeping better are vital
Research shows that stress affects food preferences and increases cravings for sweet foods (hence the name comfort or stress eating). Keeping your stress in check will make it easier to cut sugar from your diet and help keep cravings under control.
Exercise is also beneficial when cutting added sugar from your diet, as it helps increase energy and reduce stress, which can help combat fatigue, low energy levels, and stress-induced cravings. Something as simple as a brisk 15-minute walk can help distance you from the foods you are craving, but more importantly, exercise helps release endorphins, or “feel good” chemicals in your brain, which can help turn the craving off. Finally, not getting enough sleep also increases cravings for sugar and other unhealthy comfort foods, so make sure you’re getting enough quality sleep every night.
6. Be realistic
Be realistic in your expectations. While you might expect to be able to completely cut out sugar from your diet immediately, it’s not realistic. Instead, start small by eliminating a particular source of sugar (sodas and desserts for instance), and then add items from there. The focus of a sugar cleanse should be on reducing your added sugar intake for life, not just for a particular time only, so expect to fall off the wagon from time to time. If you do end up having a cheat day, enjoy the sweet indulgence, and then get back to reducing sugar the next day.
7. Your taste buds will change
Once you stop consuming excessive sugar, taste buds get hyper-sensitised to anything sweet. You’re likely to actually find raw vegetables flavourful! By resetting your taste buds, your brain will eventually stop craving sweet foods so it will be easier to ward off the cravings.