Raise your hand if you crave dessert after dinner, frequently find yourself buying packaged foods, or tend to eat out or order in a few times a week. Sound like you? You’re probably consuming more sugar in your diet than you think, even if you’re not pounding soda or eating candy. And it’s no surprise that foods containing sugar make you feel good whenever you eat them. In fact, research has proven that sugar activates your brain’s dopamine pleasure-centers, the same area of the brain that’s associated with substance use addictions. Those feel-good chemicals can exacerbate cravings for sugar. But doing a sugar detox or sugar cleanse, which involves eliminating refined sugar and carbs from the diet for a metabolic, gut health , and full-body reset, can help you cut sugar cravings and reverse some of the side effects of too much sugar.
The most immediate effect sugar has on your body is through your blood sugar . When you eat things like simple carbohydrates in the form of bread, cookies, soda, candy, or anything containing table sugar, it enters the bloodstream quickly, causing a spike in the sugar content of your blood. When this happens, your body experiences a sudden energy high and your pancreas kicks into gear and releases insulin to balance out blood sugar. As your body clears the sugar in your blood, this leads to the infamous sugar crash when your energy dips. Constantly put your body through this cycle and your pancreas goes into overdrive, leading to diseases like type 2 diabetes.
Sugar overconsumption also feeds the bad bacteria in your gut. Your gut is made up of trillions of bacteria (a.k.a. bugs) and what you eat influences which bugs are in control. Sadly, bad bugs thrive on simple carbs, especially sugar. When you eat too much, you’re promoting the growth of candida and yeast—both of which cause brain fog , rashes, digestive issues, and more.
Overloading on sugar and refined carbs can also cause inflammation . Short term inflammation is a good thing when your body is repairing a cut or a broken bone, but chronic inflammation, the kind that comes from a poor diet, can have serious health implications. It’s associated with depression, heart disease, and eczema, among other things.
Luckily, you can improve the state of your body and reverse your symptoms by changing your diet and cutting out refined foods full of sugar.
You might be experiencing those blood sugar spikes and then the sugar crash or energy level dip, or the GI symptoms caused by inflammation from sugar in the gut microbiome, which may lead you to question how to flush sugar from your system. The first step in cleansing sugar from your body is focusing less on refined carbs and sugars. That way, you naturally focus more on real, whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, gluten -free grains, and high-quality, pasture-raised meat and seafood, if you eat animal products. Eating fewer processed foods allows for a greater percentage of the diet to include real clean foods, which can help improve digestion, lower inflammation, and boost your energy and mood, too.
A sugar detox implies a total elimination of sugar, but that may not be as simple as it sounds if you’re used to eating foods containing sugar often. You can start slower by including only one or two foods in your daily diet that contain added sugar and slowly weaning yourself off of sugar. When you’re shopping to fill your pantry, try to purchase more whole foods and fewer foods that have added sugar. There are some hidden ones: Things like store-bought salad dressings, sauces, condiments, juices, frozen meals, dried fruits, and flavored yogurts all contain sugar. Check the label if you’re unsure. Cutting these foods will improve your digestion and mental clarity.
Sugar can easily sneak into your diet if you’re not thinking ahead about what to eat, because it becomes easy to reach for something in the freezer, get take out, or fill up on other convenience foods. Our Parsley 5-Day Clear Mind and Body Reset makes it easy by giving you a shopping list and recipes for five days of sugar-free meals. The five days are a realistic entry point for a sugar detox, but a long enough period of time to notice an impact on your energy level, mood, and quality of your digestion.
Kale, collard greens, and spinach are your best friends right now. They will help alkalize the body (reduce inflammation) and give you a high dose of nutrients like Vitamins K, C, and A, which are stored in the liver , one of the body’s major detox organs. They’re also chock full of fiber , necessary to keep you full when you’re cutting carbs and flushing sugar out of your system.
Of course, those antioxidant-packed greens are important, but you’ll also need to up your protein and healthy fat consumption (think nuts, legumes, and plant-based oils). Since you’re eating fewer carbs when you remove sugar from your body, you’ll need those other key macronutrients to fill you up. Out of all the macros, protein keeps you satiated for the longest, and then healthy fats like omega-3’s help slow digestion, making sure you feel fuller for longer.
Hydration is important all the time, but it’s especially important when your body is going through sugar detox mode. Water helps your vital organs move toxins , waste products and stagnation out of the body, moving along the detox process. Then, with that extra water intake, you’re going to want to make sure you sweat enough too.
Getting your heart rate up will not only get you sweating, which helps with detoxification in general, but it will help naturally boost your energy and normalize insulin levels. Exercise helps move sugar into your muscles for storage, immediately increasing your insulin sensitivity, according to a 2016 review . The effects can last for up to 48 hours.
Don’t go overboard with too intense exercise , as your body needs time to adjust to a lower carb intake. Demanding too much energy output too quickly while your body is adjusting to this change can leave you feeling more fatigued during a sugar detox when the goal is to feel lighter and more energized.
Incorporating mindfulness into your meals is a way to make more attentive choices around your meals in general. Research on mindful eating has found that it promotes not only more enjoyment around food but more appropriate portioning of food. Practice eating mindfully during your sugar cleanse by eating slowly, chewing your food thoroughly, and in an environment free of distractions like electronic devices. This allows for more heightened awareness around mealtimes, hunger cues, and more complete satiation.
As you’re going through the sugar detox process, it might be beneficial to track your symptoms before and during the sugar cleanse. Pay specific attention to your mood, digestion, and energy. Are you less sluggish when you eliminate more sugary or carb-heavy foods? Do you notice a difference in symptoms of GI irritation? Keep track in a journal, with as much detail as possible, as you remove sugar from the body. Then, you can discuss the changes you notice in your body and your mental state and energy with your health coach to better understand the progress you’ve made. Parsley’s health coaches can help use the information to develop a long-term nutrition plan that works for you.
Dr. Robin Berzin is the founder and CEO of Parsley Health. A Summa Cum Laude graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Robin completed medical school at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, and trained in Internal Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.