There is a lot of buzz about sugar lately and how it can impact wellness, but why exactly is sugar problematic and how can you reduce sugar to boost health? I am pleased to help decode how sugar impacts your health and vitality, and offer quick and easy steps to reducing sugar intake for a summertime detox that will leave you feeling strong, energetic, and balanced.
Before we dive into the six tips for a summertime sugar detox, let me help shed light on the probing health question: Why is sugar problematic?
Sugar (the white granular or powered stuff that we put in coffee, baked goods, and many packaged foods and beverages) in large quantities triggers an ever-increasing insulin response by the body. At some point your cells will stop responding to the high levels of insulin (known as insulin resistance) and your pancreas may even stop making so much insulin (known as diabetes). When sugar is not able to get into your cells it is instead turned into body fat, leading to weight gain, and/or can attach on to tissue in your body causing damage to your eyes, kidneys, blood vessels, and more. In addition, the high levels of sugar are a stress on your liver because excess fat is stored in the liver too.
When you look at the nutrition facts on a product label you will see "carbohydrates" and then you will see "fiber" and "sugar." Sugar (also known as sucrose) is what you want to watch out for on package labels and minimize in your diet. Carbohydrates, on the other hand, is a more general term referring to grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds that are broken down by your digestion into sugar molecules (glucose and fructose). You don't need to avoid carbohydrates during a sugar detox, although it is helpful to keep carbohydrates to a minimum and in balance with protein. I recommend keeping to no more than 15 grams of carbohydrate each time you eat and to balance out the carbs with a similar amount of protein (7 to 15 grams), plus healthy fats.
Dr. Doni's TIP #1: Understand Where Sugar is Hiding
The first step is to fully understand where sugar is hiding. For example, "sugar" on the label could be actual sugar, or it could be sugar disguised in another form. If you see that there are grams of sugar in the product, then look at the "ingredients list" to find out what that sugar is coming from. "Sugar" on your food packaging could be coming from the following:
• Beet sugar
• Brown sugar
• Brown rice syrup
• Cane sugar or juice
• Dried or raw cane sugar
• Evaporated cane juice
• Malt sugar
Dr. Doni's TIP #2: Watch for Fructose, Not Just Sucrose
Fructose, which is in fruit and vegetables, as well as agave, honey, and maple syrup, can be a problem as well, especially when highly concentrated, such as in high fructose corn syrup. It doesn't trigger insulin, but is instead a direct issue for your digestion, liver and metabolism when consumed in large quantities.
Watch out for fructose in these forms:
• Corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
• Maple syrup
Dr. Doni's TIP #3: Take a Break From Alcoholic Beverages
Alcoholic drinks can contain sugar so it is wise to watch what you sip! Mixers, soda, and syrups added to drinks contain sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup. Alcohol itself (in any form) triggers insulin, which means that it can lead to a rebound in low blood sugar and, in the long term, a decrease in insulin response. All in the all, alcohol is a stress of your sugar metabolism, so try to avoid it altogether for ultimate health.
Dr. Doni's TIP #4: Outsmart The Sugar Addiction
Sugar is addictive! Soon after you eat it, your body releases "feel good hormones" such as the neurotransmitter dopamine. So at first it seems to make you feel better. As your blood sugar level rises, you may experience an increase in energy, focus, and mood, but not for long. As insulin moves glucose out of your blood and into your cells, and subsequently your blood sugar levels fall, you are more likely to feel down, low energy, and irritable. Then of course, at that point, all you can think about is eating sugar and returning to the previous state of a sugar high.
Therefore, it is not uncommon to have intense cravings for sugar at the outset of your sugar detox. Rest assured, over time, once you avoid sugar long enough, your cravings will subside.
Dr. Doni's TIP #5: Don't Be Fooled By Foods That Seem Healthy
Some packaged foods, such as crackers, juices, and cereals that say "fat-free" or "reduced calorie" may seem healthy but when you look carefully they are packed with sugar. Be careful and don't let "healthy" labeling fool you, ALWAYS check out how many grams of sugar are contained in the product and then look to the list of ingredients to find out the source of that "sugar."
Instead choose small amounts of healthier forms of sweeteners that don't cause such a strong insulin response, for example:
• Coconut sugar
• Palm sugar
• Raw honey
• Stevia -- an herb that is sweet but doesn't trigger insulin at all.
Dr. Doni's TIP #6: Replace Your Sugar-Filled Foods With Whole Foods!
I suggest heading to your local health food store and replacing the products in your home containing sugar, opting for products that are free of sugar. Look for whole, unprocessed foods to add to your cupboards, like whole fruits, vegetables, meat/fish/poultry and whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and millet. Foods that are higher in fiber are also better because fiber slowly down the digestion and absorption of carbs, delaying the insulin response.