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How to Cut Sugar from Your Diet Without Losing Your Cool

Cut out sugar

It’s hump day and you’re trying hard to charge through the rest of your long week. That’s when you remember — someone brought cookies to work. And so the battle begins to resist your nagging cravings for the delectable sweets. Sugar, the ultimate pitfall. Whether you’re celebrating or commiserating, it always seems to hit the sweet spot. And yet you’ve heard the health benefits of cutting it from your diet.

Still, sugar addiction is real, and you may wonder if the benefits are really worth depriving yourself of your favorite treats. Before you completely write off the idea, you might want to hear out the experts on the topic. Here’s what they have to say on why you should seriously cut out sugar from your diet and how to do it without drastic changes.

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1. Know the facts

They say knowledge is power. In this case, knowing sugar’s negative impacts may steel your will to drastically reduce it from your diet.

For example, excessive sugar intake has been scientifically proven to cause a host of health problems, reduce quality of life, and, at worst, shorten your lifespan. Most people know sugar is connected to weight gain, but there’s more to it than that. If you still need to be convinced that sugar should go, consider that too much sugar in your diet can lead to:

Though you may not be able to see the negative impact of sugar readily, it’s important to remember that too much sugar can kill you over time, experts say.

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“Sugar is important to reduce because it performs like a drug in your body. You want to remain sensitive to it,” says Brandon Mentore, a sports nutritionist and functional medicine practitioner. “Sugar has many health benefits for energy production and optimizing many of the body's biological systems, however the dose makes the poison. Excessive sugar can suppress your metabolic capacity, make you insulin sensitive, and even suppress your immune system. You want it to work for you and not against you.”

2. Cut back on secretly sugary foods and drinks

Contrary to what you might suspect, not all sugary snacks are actually sweet. So the next best step to cutting out sugar is identifying foods and drinks that are secretly packed with it.

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One of the biggest culprits? Fruit juice.

“OJ may seem like it's a healthy fruit juice. However, if we look at the nutrition facts for it, you may not want to have a glass at breakfast every day. One cup of orange juice contains 21 grams of sugar,” says Puja Mistry, MS, RD, LD. “Even though the 21 grams are not added sugars, they're still fruit sugars that our bodies metabolize as sugar. Also, it takes about eight oranges to make one cup of orange juice. Chances are you won't be able to sit down and eat eight oranges, so you shouldn't drink eight oranges’ worth of juice either. It's always better to eat the fruit rather than drink the juice because you receive the added benefits of fiber along with mindful eating.”

Low fat means high sugar

It’s also important to be wary of low-fat or nonfat foods, or anything labeled “lite” or “diet,” because these items are notorious for their high sugar content. If you’ve ever wondered how manufacturers can make these foods and drinks still taste so good, it’s because they’ve replaced fat with sugar. The substitution is equally bad for your health, if not worse.

“By now, most people realize that almost all processed foods (basically, anything in a box) is full of added sugar. There are, however, unexpected places for the sugar to hide, including some so-called healthy foods,” says Vadym Graifer, author of The Time Machine Diet. “One of the most striking examples would be yogurt. Low-fat and flavored versions of it are downright harmful, which is unfortunate — the original, full-fat, unsweetened variations were really beneficial for us. The same can be said for light cream cheese and other low-fat dairy products.”

You should double check the sugar content of many foods and drinks, including:

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  • balsamic vinegar
  • barbeque sauce
  • cereal
  • bread
  • cocktails
  • flavored bottled water
  • store-bought granola

Read more: 7 foods that are secretly loaded with sugar »

3. Watch out for natural sweeteners

Sugar substitutes are another pitfall to avoid when trying to kick the sugar habit. While some natural sweeteners, like agave nectar, honey, and stevia leaf, can be better alternatives to table sugar, they should also be consumed in moderation. These sweeteners contain moderate to high levels of fructose, which is associated with:

Fructose can cause problems based on how it works in our body.

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“Our liver is like a traffic cop that coordinates what we eat, including sugars. It’s the liver’s job, when it encounters glucose, to decide whether the body needs to store it as glycogen, burn it for energy, or turn it into triglycerides,” says Maria Emmerich, nutritional therapist and author of The Ketogenic Cookbook: Nutritious Low-Carb, High-Fat Paleo Meals to Heal Your Body. Triglycerides are a type of fat.

“Fructose, on the other hand, enters this metabolic pathway downstream, bypassing your liver traffic cop and flooding the metabolic pathway. It basically sneaks into the rock concert without a ticket. This dumping of fructose contributes to lots of triglyceride synthesis. So, in the end, fructose gets made into fat very easily!”

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Keep reading: Sugar vs. sugar substitutes »

4. Do it gradually

When trying to cut sugar out of your diet, remember to do it gradually. As with any other addictive substance, quitting sugar cold turkey can cause serious withdrawals and send you into spiraling remorse. Not only is this bad for your health, it could cause you to relapse back to your sugary ways.

Take our expert’s advice:

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“I believe in making gradual but lasting change. When clients come to me drinking three or more sodas a day, I rarely recommend that they immediately drop down to zero because it's too drastic of a change,” says Monica Ortiz, certified nutritionist, wellness educator, and founder of the Exceptional Life Institute. “Instead, my recommendation is to cut back to two sodas, and make sure to drink more water. Sometimes their taste buds have become altered due to long-term soda drinking, and at first water tastes weird to them. I also offer other suggestions, such as getting sparkling water to mimic the taste and make the transition smoother.”

Keep reading: Experts say sugar as addicting as cocaine »

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5. Remember why you started

Making any lifestyle change is difficult at first, but the payoff can be more rewarding than you imagined. The key is to remember why you’re setting this goal for yourself and how it will help you live a healthier, more fulfilling life. A sugar detox won’t be easy or all that fun, to be honest. But your body (inside and out) will thank you for the change.

What tips do you have for cutting out sugar from your diet? Share them with us below!

Watch: How sugar is making you sick »

Article resources
  • Ahmed, S. H., Guillem, K., & Vandaele, Y. (2013, July 16). Sugar addiction: Pushing the drug-sugar analogy to the limit. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care, 16 (4), 434–439. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23719144
  • Emmerich, M. Personal interview (2017, February 2).
  • Graifer, V. Personal interview. (2017, February 3).
  • Mentore, B. Personal interview. (2017, February 2).
  • Mistry, P. Personal interview. (2017, February 2).
  • Ortiz, M. Personal interview. (2017, February 2).
  • Skerrett, P. J. (2011, April 26). Is fructose bad for you? Retrieved from http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/is-fructose-bad-for-you-201104262425
  • Yang, Q., Zhang, Z., Gregg, E., Flanders, W. D., Merritt, R., & Hu, F. B. (2014, April). Added sugar intake and cardiovascular disease mortality among US adults. JAMA Internal Medicine, 174(4), 516­–524. Retrieved from http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1819573
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