Reducing your intake of added sugar over time can benefit your overall health, including helping you maintain a moderate weight and healthy blood sugar levels.
There’s no doubt that consuming too much added sugar harms your overall health.
Unfortunately, most Americans consume far too much added sugar in the form of soda, candy, sweetened baked goods, sugary breakfast cereals, and more.
Cutting back on added sugar is important, as excessive consumption is linked to an increased risk of certain health conditions, including fatty liver, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease (
To reduce their added sugar intake, some people take part in “no sugar” challenges. These challenges typically involve cutting out all forms of added sugar for a set amount of time, often 30 days.
This article explains what 30-day no sugar challenges are and whether they’re beneficial for your health.
Many types of 30-day no sugar challenges exist, but most have similar guidelines.
The main goal is to cut out all sources of added sugar for 30 days. Instead, you focus on consuming nutrient-dense, whole foods that don’t contain added sugars.
Natural sugars, which are found in foods like vegetables, fruits, and dairy products, are OK to eat. The focus is on cutting out added sugars and foods high in added sugars, including sugary breakfast cereals, ice cream, cookies, cakes, candy, soda, and sweetened coffee drinks.
Again, there are many variations of the 30-day no sugar challenge, so the rules and recommendations may differ by program.
Alternatively, you can easily create your own 30-day no sugar challenge using the information in this article.
All you need to do is cut out — or limit — added sugar for 30-days and fuel your body with nutrient-dense foods.
30-day no sugar challenges are 30-day plans focused on cutting out sources of added sugar from the diet and consuming nutrient-dense foods instead.
Any dietary pattern that reduces or cuts out added sugar is likely to benefit overall health, especially among people who regularly consume high amounts of added sugar.
However, the most important factor in any dietary pattern is consistency, which isn’t necessarily the point of a 30-day no sugar challenge.
If you cut out added sugar for 30 days only to return to a diet that’s high in added sugar, the benefits of following an added-sugar-free diet will be quickly lost.
The following benefits are related to reducing added sugar in general.
Frequently eating foods and drinking beverages high in added sugar harms blood sugar management and may increase your risk of type 2 diabetes.
Sweetened foods and drinks like baked goods, soda, candy, and energy drinks contain rapidly absorbable sugars like high fructose corn syrup.
Diets high in these types of sugar have been linked to high blood sugar levels and insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a condition in which your cells become less sensitive to insulin, a hormone that regulates your blood sugar levels.
This may lead to elevated blood sugar and insulin levels, which can eventually cause cell damage and increase your risk of several diseases (
Cutting back on added sugar is a good way to reduce blood sugar and insulin levels, even if you only do so for a short time period. However, if you cut out added sugar for 30 days only to return to a high sugar diet after the challenge is over, these benefits will be quickly lost.
For this reason, a less strict, long-term approach to cutting back on added sugar is likely a more realistic choice for sustainable blood sugar management.
Foods and beverages high in added sugar tend to be rich in calories yet low in filling nutrients like protein and fiber. For this reason, a diet high in sugary foods has been linked to weight gain (
High added sugar intake is also associated with elevated visceral fat, the type of fat that sits around your organs. Having increased visceral fat is strongly correlated to increased disease risk (
Cutting out sources of added sugar may help you lose weight, especially when paired with a nutrient-dense diet that’s high in protein and fiber (
It’s known that sugary foods and beverages aren’t good for dental health.
In fact, added sugar intake is strongly linked to an increased risk of cavities and gum diseases in both children and adults (
This is because bacteria in the mouth break down sugar and produce acid that may damage your teeth.
Therefore, cutting out added sugar can protect your teeth. That said, only cutting out sugar for 30 days is unlikely to have a lasting effect on dental health.
High sugar diets, especially high fructose diets, can increase the risk of developing nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a condition characterized by fat buildup in the liver (
One study in 47 people found those who drank 34 ounces (1 liter) of sugar-sweetened soda daily for 6 months had significantly higher levels of liver fat, visceral fat, and blood triglyceride levels than those who drank the same amount of low fat milk, diet soda, or water (
Another study in 41 children and teens with obesity and high sugar consumption showed that just 9 days of a sugar-restricted diet resulted in a 3.4% reduction in liver fat, on average, and improved insulin resistance (
Based on these findings, it’s likely that cutting out sugar, especially foods and beverages sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, is likely to reduce liver fat and improve liver health.
Sugar-rich diets are linked to heart disease risk factors, including high blood pressure, triglyceride, and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
Studies also show that consuming too much added sugar is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and heart disease mortality (
Diets that limit added sugar, such as the paleo diet and whole foods plant-based diets, have been shown to significantly reduce heart disease risk factors like high triglyceride and LDL cholesterol levels (
Plus, these and other dietary patterns that restrict or reduce added sugar may encourage fat loss, which may also help reduce heart disease risk (
Other potential benefits
In addition to the benefits listed above, participating in a 30-day no sugar challenge may improve health in other ways.
For example, research suggests that diets high in added sugar may be linked to anxiety and depressive symptoms, and that reducing sugar intake may help reduce these symptoms (
Cutting out added sugar may also enhance skin health. Studies have linked high added sugar consumption to increased acne risk and skin aging (
Lastly, cutting back on sugary foods and beverages may help improve your energy levels. Substituting refined foods with foods higher in protein, healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals is likely to enhance overall health and help you feel more energized.
Consuming high amounts of added sugar is harmful to your overall health. Reducing added sugar intake can encourage weight loss and improve various aspects of your health, including your blood sugar levels and heart, liver, and dental health.
Although similar foods are typically restricted when participating in a 30-day no sugar challenge, specific rules may vary by the program you choose to follow.
Foods to avoid
While following a 30-day no sugar challenge, people are encouraged to restrict foods and beverages high in added sugars, including:
- Sweeteners: table sugar, honey, maple syrup, corn syrup, agave, coconut sugar
- Sweetened beverages: soda, sweetened smoothies and juices, sweetened coffee drinks, sports drinks
- Condiments with added sugar: ketchup, BBQ sauce, honey mustard, coffee creamer
- Sweetened dairy products: flavored yogurt, ice cream, chocolate milk
- Sugary baked goods: cookies, cakes, donuts, bread with added sugar
- Sugary breakfast foods: sugar-sweetened cereals, bars, granola, flavored oatmeal
- Candy: chocolate, gummy candies, caramels
- Sugary alcoholic beverages: mixed drinks, sweetened liquor, sweetened canned alcoholic drinks
Additionally, most no sugar challenges recommend forgoing artificial and naturally derived low or no-calorie sweeteners such as Splenda, Equal, stevia, and monk fruit.
It’s commonly recommended that refined grains, including white bread, white pasta, and white rice, are kept to a minimum and replaced with whole grain products without added sugars.
Foods to eat
During 30-day no sugar challenges, participants are encouraged to fill up on whole, nutrient-dense foods, including:
- Vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, carrots, asparagus, zucchini, sweet potatoes, etc.
- Fruits: apples, oranges, berries, grapes, cherries, grapefruit, etc.
- Proteins: chicken, fish, beef, tofu, eggs, etc.
- Healthy fat sources: egg yolks, avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil, unsweetened yogurt, etc.
- Complex carb sources: beans, quinoa, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, brown rice, etc.
- Unsweetened beverages: water, sparkling water, unsweetened coffee, and tea
Overall, most no added sugar challenges encourage whole, nutrient-dense foods like the ones listed above.
30-day no sugar challenges involve cutting out sources of added sugar and increasing your intake of nutrient-dense foods that are free of added sugars.
There are no adverse physical health effects associated with reducing your added sugar intake, as long as you do so responsibly and couple it with healthy eating choices for the duration of the 30-day challenge.
However, like any restrictive dietary pattern, no added sugar challenges may lead to unhealthy eating behaviors in some people.
For example, some people may find that they develop an unhealthy preoccupation with healthy food or harmful food rules around foods they used to enjoy after participating in this type of challenge.
People with disordered eating tendencies may be more likely to experience this (
Additionally, the emphasis on short-term restriction is problematic because long-term, sustainable dietary and lifestyle modifications are most important for overall health.
If you cut out added sugar for 30 days only to return to a high sugar diet, the health benefits of added sugar reduction will be canceled out.
Like any restrictive diet, participating in a 30-day no sugar challenge may lead to an unhealthy fixation on sugary foods. The short-term restriction may also be problematic, as long-term modifications are needed to optimize your health.
If you decide to partake in a 30-day no sugar challenge, use it as a time to discover which foods or beverages are contributing most to your total added sugar intake.
This can help you cut back on those sources when the 30-day challenge is over.
After the challenge, try not to focus on giving up all sources of added sugar for good, as this is unrealistic for most people. Instead, attempt to transition to a diet low in added sugars and high in healthy foods that you can follow long term.
Keep in mind that you can create your own challenge that focuses on reducing — not completely restricting — added sugar. This may be a better choice for people who currently consume a high amount of added sugar.
For example, if you currently consume four cans of soda per day, try reducing your soda intake by one can every week for 1 month. This can help you slowly cut back on your added sugar consumption in a realistic way.
Lastly, it’s important to understand that your focus should always be on your long-term health.
Instead of focusing on completely cutting out certain foods or beverages, try adopting a way of eating that nourishes your body while allowing you to enjoy your favorite foods occasionally.
This is much more powerful when it comes to overall health than any 30-day challenge could ever be.
A 30-day no sugar challenge can be used to discover which foods or beverages contribute most to your added sugar intake. Instead of participating in short-term challenges, try to develop a healthy eating pattern that you can follow long term.
30-day no sugar challenges are a popular way to cut back on added sugar, and there’s no doubt that reducing your intake of added sugar can improve many aspects of your health.
However, while participating in a 30-day no sugar challenge may help you reduce your added sugar intake, these programs focus on short-term fixes, not sustainable dietary and lifestyle modifications.
30-day no sugar challenges may help some people, but slowly reducing your sugar intake over time and making lasting changes that benefit your long-term health may be healthier and more sustainable.