If you follow healthspiration accounts on Instagram, you’ve likely seen a lot of #sugarfree challenges floating around as of late. Sugar has joined the list of demonized foods in recent years, along with carbohydrates (again), while fat has become all the rage.
So why exactly is sugar so bad? Like many foods—carbs included—it’s not so much the sugar itself, but the amount, particularly in the form of added sugars found in many processed foods, that is the real issue.
The average American consumes 19.5 teaspoons (82 grams) of added sugar every day. That’s 66 pounds of added sugar consumed each year, per-person! Way more than the 6 teaspoons (25 grams) per-day for women and 9 teaspoons (38 grams) for men that the American Heart Association recommends.
With obesity rates in the U.S. increasing over the last three decades, and chronic disease following the same trend line, taking the sugar issue seriously can help us enjoy our best lives for a long time, beyond achieving temporary summer #bikinibod #goals.
The challenge with an added sugar detox is that added sugar is sneaky, finding its way into many of the packaged foods we eat, even things we would assume are healthy (like juices, yogurts, peanut butter and even marinara sauce). Added sugars are literally everywhere.
I’m no stranger to the occasional sugar-free challenge, and recently completed a no added sugar detox for five whole days with a few consciously healthy friends. The goal of these challenges is to increase awareness and thought around food choices, revealing where sugar is added in so many of the foods we eat. It is through this awareness that we can be empowered to make more informed decisions about what put in our bodies. Keep in mind throughout these tips that I’m focusing on no added sugars; naturally occurring sugars (like the kind in your favorite fruits) are totally fine for this type of challenge.
Here are some tips on how to detox yourself, the healthy way, and hopefully incorporate a decreased added sugar regimen into your fit and fabulous lifestyle.
1) Remove all packaged foods with added sugars from your cupboards and fridge/freezer.
The best way to set yourself up for success is to remove any foods that might tempt you away from the added sugar-free course. Thankfully, the FDA now requires packaged foods to include “added sugars,” in grams and as a percent Daily Value in the Nutrition Facts section of the nutrition label. This means you can easily see how much sugar is naturally occurring in a food versus what has been added. This is an important distinction, since many whole foods, like fruit, have sugar naturally occurring in them, which is much different nutritionally than a candy bar, which has sugar added to it (and no nutritional value).
Quick Tip: Cane sugar is an obvious name to look out for, as is high fructose corn syrup, but there are many other common names for added sugars, including: anhydrous dextrose, brown sugar, fructose, honey, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, molasses, nectar (like agave), syrup, raw sugar, and sucrose.
2) Replace sugar with healthier alternatives for sweeteners.
Fruit is always a great, natural alternative to sugar-filled deserts. To keep things healthy, stick to one to two servings per-day, as consuming more than this can have the same effect as processed sugar. Fruit provides immune-boosting antioxidants and other important vitamins and minerals we need as part of a complete diet.
Stevia and monk fruit are other great alternatives to sugar because they are sugar and calorie-free and sourced directly from a plant (stevia) and fruit (monk fruit) — but they’re still sweeteners, adding that punch of taste to your food or drink. Sugar alcohols are yet another option, though some can cause digestive upset, so they should be consumed less frequently.
Quick Tip: Make your favorite dessert, replacing sugar with stevia or monk fruit, ahead of a sugar challenge to satisfy your sweet tooth throughout the week.
3) Replace packaged foods with whole foods
Food found in the produce section of your grocery store or purchased at your local Farmer’s Market doesn’t have a nutrition label on it. This is because the only ingredient found in these foods is that food. For example, you won’t find added sugar in tomatoes or broccoli. In a canned good or frozen entree on the other hand…all bets are off.
Quick Tip: What is OK when it comes to packaged foods? Anything with real food ingredients you know/can pronounce. As a rule of thumb, I mostly stick to packaged food with five ingredients or less. Sugar is obvi not one of them.
4) If you must eat out, say “no” to sauces.
Avoiding restaurants or store bought food is not always easy, or possible, in our busy bee lives. We have appointments to make in rush hour traffic, or kids to pick up from daycare, or a work event/dinner…the list goes on. I did my last sugar-free challenge as a first-time mom with a newborn so I definitely get it—I wasn’t cooking all of my meals. By ordering food without sauces, and asking for it plain, you can be sure that what you’re eating is free of sneaky added sugars.
Quick Tip: Order food that is easy to modify, such a lettuce wrapped burger with no sauce (even ketchup contains added sugar). Sweet potato fries on the side? Totally ok! Sugar-free life doesn’t have to be boring.
5) Try to make #NoSugarAdded a part of your lifestyle, not just a five day challenge
Living sugar-free 100% of the time is not only unrealistic, it’s also not a healthy, balanced way to live. This is because many foods that naturally have sugar in them are good for you, too (like fruit as mentioned above).
However, sticking to mostly whole foods can help ensure you’re keeping sugar in check, and consuming it in foods that nourish you. That dessert consumed while out with friends, or solo ice cream date (sometimes it’s the best kind of date, right?!) has a much smaller impact (read: insignificant) when it’s treated as a treat, as opposed to a regular occurrence, reward or replacement for real food.
Quick Tip: Avoid falling into the trap of punishment/reward with sugar by ensuring your nutrient needs are met—we crave sugar less when we’re filled up on a well-balanced and sufficient diet. Reward yourself with non-food related things, like a massage, bubble bath or other activity you enjoy.