A trendy sugar detox is a three-week diet said to rid you of your craving for sweets. The goal: to lose weight at last. But can eating masses of veggies really get the sugar monkey off your back for good? Here's the truth about sugar cravings and how to tame a wild sweet tooth.
Can You Really Be Hooked on Sugar?
You say you can't live without your daily donut. But are you really "addicted" to sugar? The answer is complex. Early evidence suggests a dependency on sugar may lead some people to show addict-like behaviors. Sugar even affects the same "feel-good" brain hormones as street drugs. No one is saying sugar is the same as heroin, but it can still mess with your brain and body.
Big sweet tooth? You may just have plain bad habit. Anyone can use sugary foods in ways that aren't healthy. Some signs of a more serious problem: You crave sugar, lose control, and eat more than you planned. This vicious cycle of craving and bingeing can lead to weight gain -- even an eating disorder.
Your Brain on Sugar
Sugar fuels every cell in the brain. When you overload on sugary foods, it may alter the parts of the brain that control how much you eat. In lab studies, rats that binged on sugar had brain changes like those of getting off drugs. In humans, just seeing pictures of milkshakes triggered brain effects like those seen in drug addicts. It was strongest in women whose answers showed they were more hooked on eating.
Quick Sugar Highs...
Why do you get a rush when you eat a midday candy bar? The sugar in it -- called a simple carbohydrate -- is quickly turned into glucose in your bloodstream. Your blood sugar levels spike. Simple carbs are also found in fruits, veggies, and dairy products. But these have fiber and protein that slow the process. Syrup, soda, candy, and table sugar don't.
…And Sugar Lows
Your body needs to move glucose out of the bloodstream and into your cells for energy. To do this, your pancreas makes insulin, a hormone. As a result, your blood sugar level may have a sudden drop. This rapid change in blood sugar leaves you feeling wiped out and shaky and searching for more sweets to regain that sugar "high." So that midday candy bar has set you up for more bad eating.
Starch Can Equal Sugar
Think you don't have a sweet tooth, but crave bagels, chips, or French fries? These starchy foods are complex carbs that the body breaks down into simple sugars. Eaten without better foods, starches can make blood sugar surge and crash like sugar. White rice, white flour, and potatoes do this. Highly refined starches like white bread, pretzels, crackers, and pasta are worst.
Do Sugar Detox Diets Work?
Can you beat your sugar habit by quitting cold turkey? Some sugar detox plans urge you to avoid all sweets. That means all fruit, dairy, and refined grains. The idea is to purge your system of sugar. Diet changes like this are too drastic to keep up. Changes that you can do only for the short term mean you'll fall back to your old habits.
Retrain Your Taste Buds
You don't need sugar as much as you think you do. In fact, you can train your taste buds to enjoy things that aren't as sweet. Try cutting out one sweet food from your diet each week. For example, pass on dessert after dinner. Slowly reduce the sugar in your coffee or cereal. Over time, you will lose your need for that sugar taste.
Choose Good-for-You Sweets
You don't have to give up sweetness. Just get it from other sources. Try fresh berries or pureed fruit on oatmeal instead of sugar. Explore fruit that's dried, frozen, or canned fruit (without too much added sugar). A glass of fat-fat milk or low-sugar yogurt can help.
Kick the Habit in Baby Steps
There's no need to go drastic. If you make small, simple changes to your diet, it's easy to keep them up. Start by eating more fruits and vegetables. Drink extra water. Use fewer processed products, which hide loads of sugar. Start buying foods without sugar and add just enough to satisfy your taste. Cut out a little bit of sugar each week. After a few weeks, you'll be surprised at how little you miss it.
Let Protein Help
When you're starving, every cookie cries out to you. Hunger robs you of the willpower to resist sugar cravings. Eating protein is an easy way to curb those cravings. High-protein foods digest more slowly, keeping you feeling full for longer. Protein doesn't make your blood sugar spike the way refined carbs and sugars do. Pick proteins like lean chicken, low-fat yogurt, eggs, nuts, or beans.
Fill Up on Fiber
Fiber helps fight a sugar itch in many ways. First, it keeps you full. High-fiber foods also give you more energy. Because they don't raise your blood sugar, there's no hungry crash after. Look for soluble fiber from fruits and vegetables, as well as insoluble fiber from whole grains. Or smear some peanut butter on an apple for a protein/fiber combo.
Exercise can help wipe out those sugar cravings and change the way you eat in general. As people who work out start to feel better, they often feel a desire to eat more healthy foods. Do what you like, such as walking, riding your bike, or swimming. Start out slow and work up towards at least 30 minutes at a time, five days a week.
Can Fake Sugar Help?
Some studies suggest artificial sweeteners may leave you craving more sugar. That could make it harder, not easier, to control your weight. The problem is, some experts say, that fake sugars don't help you break your taste for sweets. While researchers continue to try to figure out the truth behind artificial sweeteners, what should you do in the meantime? Pay attention to your body. Are sweeteners making you crave even more sugar? If so, look elsewhere for that sweet taste.
Limit the 'Healthy' Sugars, Too
Honey, brown sugar, and cane juice may sound healthy. In truth, they're about as bad for you as white table sugar. Sugar is sugar. Whether it comes from bees or sugar cane, it can cause your blood sugar to rise. Honey and unrefined sugars are slightly higher in nutrients. They still contain calories, which will go straight to your hips if you eat too much.
How Much Sugar Is Too Much?
If you're like most people in the U.S., you eat 19 teaspoons or more of added sugar a day. That adds up to 285 calories, which health experts say is way too much. How much sugar should you be eating? No more than six teaspoons daily for women.That's 100 calories. Men should get a max of nine teaspoons. That's 150 calories.
Sugar by Any Other Name
You don't always see the word "sugar" on a food label. It can still be hiding inside the package under another name. Some names sugar goes by:
Brown rice syrup
High-fructose corn syrup
Evaporated cane juice
Packages that list any form of sugar in the first few ingredients, or contain more than four total grams of sugar aren't worth the calories.
Scout Out Hidden Sugar
Sugar can hide in foods where you least expect it. Although they don't seem sweet, ketchup, BBQ sauce, and pasta sauce can have loads of sugar. So can reduced-fat salad dressings, bread, baked beans and some flavored coffees. Get in the habit of reading labels. Filter out high-sugar foods before they hit your shopping cart.
Does Sugar Cause Diabetes?
Sugar itself doesn't cause diabetes. But lots of sugar splurges can point you there. Anything too much of anything, including sugar, can pack on pounds, for one thing. Heavy bodies have a harder time using insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar. When your body resists insulin, blood sugar and your risk of diabetes go up.
Tame Sugar Withdrawal
When you first cut back on sugar, you may feel bad. You may feel tired, listless, or edgy. Luckily, this is very short-lived. Use specific goals to help get you through. For instance, vow to lose 5 pounds or to cut out desserts for a week. Get inspired by knowing that above all, you're on the road to better health.
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.