Reducing your added sugar intake is a great decision to make for a healthier lifestyle. While doing so isn’t always easy, the benefits are worth it, as added sugar has been proven to have negative effects on your body.
Sugar may also reduce your energy levels, leading to fatigue and reduced alertness during the day, and eating sugar may even be a factor in depression, according to a 2019 review.
Cutting added sugar from your diet may help protect against chronic disease development and boost your overall health.
This article looks at how reducing your sugar intake may affect your body, both physically and mentally, along with effective ways to beat the side effects.
A number of
Food is a natural reward, and sweet foods and drinks stimulate your brain’s reward system, causing you to eat more of the food.
According to a
Studies have found that sugar triggers the release of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens — the same area of the brain implicated in the response to addictive drugs.
Sugar can also cause the release of endogenous opioids in the brain, which leads to a rush that may cause future cravings.
Eating sugar regularly
The average American consumes 22–30 teaspoons (about 88–120 grams) of sugar each day. This is considerably more than the recommended maximum, which is 6 teaspoons (about 24 grams) for females and 9 teaspoons (about 36 grams) for males.
Therefore, if your diet is high in added sugar, reducing your added sugar intake may come with some unpleasant symptoms.
Research suggests that sugar can be addictive, which is why reducing your sugar intake may lead to unpleasant symptoms in some people.
Cutting added sugar from your diet may lead to physical and mental symptoms.
How the body reacts to giving up sugar is different for everyone. The symptoms — and their severity — will depend on how much added sugar you were taking in through sweetened foods and beverages.
Some people find that their symptoms last from a few days to a couple of weeks.
As your body adapts to a low added sugar diet over time and your added sugar intake becomes less
You may find that your symptoms are worse at certain times of the day, such as between meals. Stress may trigger
Cutting added sugar from your diet may lead to a number of emotional and mental symptoms, including:
- Depressed mood. Some people may feel down when they cut added sugar from their diet. This is partly due to a decrease in dopamine release.
- Anxiety. Feelings of anxiousness may be accompanied by nervousness, restlessness, and irritability. You may feel like you have less patience than usual and are on edge.
- Changes in sleep patterns. Some people experience changes in their sleep when detoxing from sugar. You might find it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep through the night.
- Cognitive issues. You may find it difficult to concentrate when you quit sugar. This can cause you to forget things and make it hard to focus on tasks, such as work or school.
- Cravings. Along with craving sugar, you may find yourself craving other foods, such as carbs like bread, pasta, and potato chips.
When giving up sugar, you might notice that you’re feeling physically run down. Some people get headaches.
Other possible physical withdrawal symptoms include:
- light-headedness or dizziness
Giving up sugar can feel unpleasant, both mentally and physically. But rest assured, it will get better if you stick to it.
If you’re used to regularly eating sugary foods like cake, ice cream, sweetened breakfast cereal, candy, and cookies and regularly drink sugar-sweetened beverages, it may take time to reduce your reliance on added sugar.
For some people, cutting all forms of added sugar from their diet is helpful. However, others may find this method too extreme.
Fortunately, even making small changes to your sugar intake can significantly affect your overall health. Follow these helpful tips to slowly reduce your added sugar intake over time.
- Swap sweetened drinks for water. Cut out sugary soda, fruit juice, and energy drinks and replace them with plain or sparkling water. If you need a boost of flavor, add some mint or slices of lemon or lime.
- Start your day the low sugar way. Instead of reaching for that colorful box of sugary cereal or a frosted doughnut, fuel your body with a protein and fiber-rich omelet made with veggies and a side of avocado and fresh berries.
- Read labels. Many foods and condiments are sneaky sources of added sugar. Read the labels of products like salad dressings, barbecue sauce, oatmeal packets, and marinara sauce to scan for added sugar.
- Choose unsweetened snacks. Your favorite granola or protein bar may be packed with added sugar. Choose whole, nutrient-dense snacks like nuts and seeds, whole fruit and nut butter, hummus and veggies, or hard-boiled eggs when you need a refuel.
- Rethink dessert. Instead of reaching for your favorite pint of ice cream or go-to candy bar after dinner, check in with yourself. Are you truly hungry or is your nightly sugar fix a hard-to-break habit? If you are truly hungry, reach for something high in protein and healthy fat like a handful of macadamia nuts or unsweetened Greek yogurt with berries and unsweetened coconut.
- Focus on your whole diet. Optimizing the nutrient-density of your overall diet can help improve health and may help you cut back on added sugar. Focus on whole, unprocessed foods like vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, poultry, eggs, and seafood.
The tips above can help you slowly cut back on added sugar and improve the quality of your overall diet.
Here are some tips to help you beat the side effects and avoid — or at least limit — some of the symptoms related to cutting sugar out of your diet.
Although cutting all sources of added sugar might be helpful for some people, others do best by focusing on reducing or cutting out one source of added sugar at a time.
For example, if the main source of added sugar in your diet is soda, try cutting back on or cutting out sugary beverages from your diet first before moving on to other sources of added sugar.
There are many added sugar “detoxes” that involve cutting all added sugar from your diet for a specific time period.
While these might be beneficial for some people, the focus should be on reducing your added sugar intake for life — not just a set time period.
To do that, you must do what works best for you. This may mean slowly cutting out added sugar over time rather than eliminating all sources of added sugar at once.
Eat protein-rich foods
Add protein to every meal to help you avoid hunger and low energy levels during your sugar detox.
Research suggests that eating protein can promote feelings of fullness, which can help you manage food cravings.
This will help you avoid the temptation to reach for a candy bar or other sugar fix.
Healthful sources of protein include fatty fish, lean meats, eggs, beans, legumes, and nuts.
Increase your dietary fiber intake
Eating high fiber foods may help you stave off hunger and cravings. They take longer to digest, causing you to feel fuller for longer.
High fiber foods also contribute to healthy blood sugar regulation. Keeping your blood sugar levels stable may help prevent cravings.
Aim for high fiber vegetables, beans, and legumes.
Pairing high protein and high fiber foods is best for healthy blood sugar control. Examples include mixing high fiber veggies like broccoli into your eggs or spooning some pumpkin seeds over your oatmeal.
Staying optimally hydrated is essential for overall health and may help you manage sugar cravings.
Replacing drinks high in sugar, such as soda and energy drinks, with water can help reduce your added sugar and overall calorie intake.
Plus, reducing your sugary beverage intake may help reduce sugar cravings.
Drinking water can likewise help keep your bowel movements regular. This is especially important when you increase your fiber intake.
Fiber-rich foods and adequate water intake are needed to help keep stools soft and move them through your digestive system, preventing constipation.
Avoid artificial sweeteners
Swapping out sugar for artificial sweeteners may seem like a good idea when you’re giving up added sugar, but it can derail your efforts.
Reducing your intake of sweet foods — even those that are sugar-free — may be the best way to cut added sugar from your diet.
Manage your stress levels
Research shows that stress affects food preferences and increases cravings for sweet foods.
Sugar also appears to have a calming effect on stress hormones, which contributes to your desire for sugar when feeling stressed.
Keeping your stress in check will make it easier to cut sugar from your diet and help keep cravings under control.
Taking a short walk, talking to a friend, and reading a book are a few simple ways to relax.
Exercise is beneficial in several ways when cutting added sugar from your diet.
It can help increase energy and reduce stress, which can help combat symptoms like fatigue, low energy levels, and stress-induced cravings that may occur when decreasing your added sugar intake.
Remember to start slowly and speak to your doctor before you start exercising if you have any preexisting medical issues.
Focus on overall diet quality
For example, eating fewer foods high in added sugar like ice cream, cake, and cookies and increasing your intake of nutrient-dense foods like beans, vegetables, fish, and whole fruits may help reduce your reliance on added sugar and help you crave healthier foods.
Get enough sleep
Insufficient sleep could worsen symptoms of added sugar reduction, such as fatigue, cravings, and low mood.
Not getting enough sleep may increase cravings for sugar and other unhealthful comfort foods.
Getting a good night’s sleep may help you:
- make healthier food choices
- lower your stress levels
- boost your energy levels
- improve your concentration and memory
Avoid daytime napping and aim for the same bedtime every night.
Eat something bitter
Eating bitter foods may help prevent sugar cravings by acting on receptors in the brain that drive sugar intake, according to
You can make your own bitters or choose bitter foods, such as coffee, arugula, or broccoli raab (rapini). Read more here.
Giving up or reducing sugar can be difficult, especially if your diet was high in added sugar, so go easy on yourself.
Try writing down your motivators for giving up sugar. Look at these when you feel a craving for sugar.
If you start adding back foods and beverages high in added sugar, remind yourself of your motivations, you can always try again and learn from your experiences.
For instance, if you find that the cravings are worse during certain times of the day, schedule activities to keep yourself busy during that time, or be prepared with high protein snacks and water.
The most important thing is to decrease your overall intake of added sugar. It’s important to note that occasionally enjoying a sugary treat will not derail your efforts or overall health. It’s your overall diet quality that matters most.
Making key dietary and lifestyle changes can help people beat their sugar cravings. This includes eating plenty of protein and dietary fiber, staying hydrated, making time for stress relief, and getting enough sleep.
Giving up or reducing sugar may come with unpleasant symptoms. That said, reducing added sugar consumption can have substantial health benefits.
There are many ways to make reducing the amount of added sugar in your diet easier. Making key changes to your diet, exercise, and sleep patterns can help beat cravings and create a healthier lifestyle.