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Cutting out sugar: How to deal with sugar detox symptoms

The average American consumes 270 calories of added sugars, which translates to roughly 17 teaspoons daily. This amount is a far cry from the amount recommended in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, which notes that less than 10 percent of a person’s daily caloric intake should come from added sugars. According to the American Heart Association, this translates to roughly no more than six teaspoons or 24 grams of added sugar daily for women, and nine teaspoons or 36 grams of added sugar for men on a daily basis.

Added sugars, as defined by the Department of Health and Human Services, are sugars and syrups that are added to mass-produced food products like sodas, yogurt, candies, cereals and baked goods. This does not include sugars that are naturally occurring, such as those in fruits and milk. (Related: Curb cravings with fruit: Eat natural sugars to break bad food habits and wean yourself off added sugars)

The consumption of foods with added sugars must be limited since studies have shown that having too much added sugar in your diet can be linked to an array of adverse effects, such as:

  • Increased risk of developing obesity
  • Increased risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases
  • Fatigue
  • Increased risk of diabetes
  • Cavities and poor oral health
  • Acne and other skin problems

This means that cutting out added sugar and generally reducing your sugar intake are two necessary steps one must take in order to maintain and promote optimal health.

Be warned though, since cutting back on your sugar intake can cause some unpleasant symptoms, most of which are brought about by the changes caused by sugar to the brain’s natural chemistry.


With that said, here are some of the symptoms you may experience once you start reducing your sugar consumption:

  • Low mood and increased anxiety. Sugar has been linked to an increase in dopamine production — a feel-good neurotransmitter and hormone — in the brain. This means that cutting down on sugar can cause some people to feel down and moody. Sugar is also tied to the release of endorphins in the brain, which means that reducing your sugar intake can cause feelings of anxiousness and irritability.
  • Cognitive issues. Sugar is known for its ability to boost energy, which, for most people, tends to translate as mental focus. This means that cutting on sugar can temporarily cause feelings of confusion, as well as a distinct lack of focus.
  • Intensified cravings. According to nutritionists, cutting down on sugar will cause the body to go haywire at first, sending out signals demanding calorie-heavy foods — including sweet ones. To address this, you can simply have a bottle of drinking water or unsweetened iced tea on hand to control the cravings as they come.

Aside from symptoms affecting your mental and emotional faculties, reducing your sugar intake can also trigger physical manifestations of sugar withdrawal, such as:

  • Light-headedness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Bloating
  • Stomach cramps
  • Muscle aches

Feel like your sugar withdrawal symptoms are too much? Here’s how you can manage them:

  • Eat foods that are rich in protein. An essential nutrient, protein can help you avoid feelings of hunger, as well as give you enough energy as you power through your sugar detox. According to research, eating protein can help promote feelings of fullness, which can help one avoid the temptation to snack on a sugary chocolate bar. Remember to stick to healthful sources of protein, however, such as wild-caught fatty fish, organic lean meats and eggs from free-range poultry. Vegan choices include beans, legumes, and nuts.
  • Eat a high-fiber diet. Much like protein, dietary fiber is packed with benefits that can help one manage a sugar detox. These include helping keep one feeling full as well as maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. Foods with high fiber content include vegetables, legumes and nuts.
  • Start an exercise routine. Exercise, according to experts, is particularly helpful to people who are cutting added sugar from their diet. One reason is that it can help increase their energy level and at the same time, reduce their stress. This, experts said, can help them combat symptoms like fatigue. Short bouts of exercise, such as brisk 15-minute walks, have also been shown to reduce one’s cravings for calorie-heavy and sugary foods.

Cutting added sugar from your diet can cause several symptoms that may prove unpleasant and even stressful. However, these pale in comparison to the health benefits you can get from reducing your sugar intake.

Sources include:

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