Detoxing from Sugar?

January 31, 2012 in Food and the Brain, Health, Nutrition, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

Why are so many people trying to detox from sugar?

People are finally discovering that the average American consumes at least 19 teaspoons a day of added sugar. “Added sugars”, unlike the natural sugars in fruits, vegetables, milk, and meats are added to foods to increase the sweetness. Each teaspoon (4 grams) of sugar has 15 or 16 calories (depending which reference you use) so the calories for the added sugar, per day are 285 to 304.

In 2010 The American Heart Association published their numbers that suggest that women should not be eating more than 100 calories of sugar per day (about 6½ teaspoons) and men no more than 150 calories (about 9 or 10 teaspoons).  So to follow these guidelines, women on average will have to cut down to less than half, and men on average to less than 2/3. This is not easy, so this article provides some suggestions. You can do it!

One of the barriers to getting a handle on unnecessary calories is recognizing the calories that sneak into our diet from sweeteners.

Another helpful calculation is that people are beginning to recognize is that just taking the sugar out of their diet, not only directly reduces their risk of heart trouble and diabetes but also helps both of these and your appearance through the resulting weight loss. Three hundred calories per day adds up to approximately a 30-pound lower weight after one year. If you stick with the reduction of added sugars in your diet, for every 100 calories per day, it equates to about 10 pounds less on the scale. And, of course, half of all Americans are eating more than that average of 300 calories per day of added sugars.

Let me begin by saying that in this, and the following article, I’m going to use the word “sugar” to represent all sweeteners with calories. So in alphabetic order here are some other names for sugar – none of these are health foods:

Agave nectar

Anhydrous dextrose

Bakers’ special sugar

Brown rice syrup

Brown sugar

Corn sugar

Corn syrup

Corn syrup solids

Crystal dextrose


Evaporated cane juice


High-fructose corn syrup


Invert sugar


Liquid fructose

Malt syrup

Maple syrup


Pancake syrup

Powdered and/or confectioners sugar

Raw sugar


Table sugar

Some of you may be thinking that honey and agave, for example, are natural; but the fact is that they’re really still sugar. Sugar is sugar. They may have a few nutrients, but not enough to erase the negative attributes of sugar – making your blood sugar and weight rise. In addition, you will get plenty of those nutrients from eating healthy whole foods.

Certainly, the food processors are quite expert at trying to make acceptable names for ingredients that have become unacceptable to the general public. If it weren’t so deceptively despicable, I’d think their recent legal push to change high fructose corn syrup to simply “corn sugar” was funny. But knowing how desperately people are trying to improve their nutritional status/health by getting much of the calories devoid of nutritional value out of their diets, I think it is a serious, not funny issue. So I assume that they will continue to try to find names that sound healthy or are more acceptable, but the list above may help you get started. I have to give an Advertizing Emmy to that marketer who came up with “evaporated cane juice” to describe romantically, and with an aura of naturalness, how cane sugar has long been processed. (He also gets a 5-Bozo deceptive nonsense button from the nutrition field).

So one of the goals is to read labels – you will learn that pickle relish, barbeque sauce, ketchup, many salad dressings and dozens of products are a source of sugar – not just soda, candy, cookies, cake and ice cream.

Let’s start by clarifying a commonly asked question. Is sugar addictive?

It appears that the scientists are not ready to classify sugar with heroin, although sugar can lead to some of the same behavioral outcomes, like ‘getting or needing a sugar fix.’  Sugar does stimulate the same brain chemicals (including serotonin and dopamine) as addictive drugs, but it appears that it’s more likely a bad habit and our brains get used to the habit. Having said that, remember the Rats-Eye View of the Recent Junk Food Study that Dr. Grandpa, wrote about? The rats began to act like helpless addicts and their brains started to look like those of drug addicts when the were given unrestrained access to sugary foods 23 hours per day. All of them became obese. So even though the scientists are not ready to lump sugar with heroin, there is evidence that there are behavioral and brain changes similar to those in human drug addiction.

What can you do?

  • First, know what to expect. In the beginning of a withdrawal from high sugar consumption, you may notice feeling edgy or tired. If you’re not surprised by the feeling, you will be better prepared to take an alternative action than having the cookie. Enjoy some healthy food, in a predetermined amount; you may want to consider already having it portioned in a sandwich bag. In the past, I learned that a few peanuts or other high protein food helped me get over the hurdle. Distracting myself – like moving out of the kitchen also was effective. Non-fat Greek yogurt, with a little Delight and some vanilla will last for quite a while. Protein digests much more slowly than sugar and other simple carbs and nuts and Greek yogurt are great protein sources.
  • Look for high fiber snacks. In addition to fruit, vegetables and whole grains, try a little humus or nut butter on your apple slice or baby carrots. Fiber is an effective component to slowing down the rise and fall of blood sugar that commonly drives the sugar ‘addiction’ of many. The fiber in whole foods helps you feel full, without the eminent crash of sugary foods.
  • Focus on your success in the near future – it may be just enough to get you over an immediate hurdle.
  • Begin an exercise program at the same time as getting away from your sugar habit. The two activities may be synergistic with each other. Exercise seems to spill over into other healthy behaviors.
  • You may be surprised after a while that you don’t actually enjoy things as sweet as you did before detoxing.  Other tastes come out after you adjust to the removal of the terribly strong, harsh sweetness of the added sugars.
  • We always want you to avoid making a radical change in one large step because so often it leads to failure. Vic left his candy habit and sweet needs a step at a time. He was helped when we started using erythritol. Having erythritol in herb tea and cereal has been the magic charm for not feeling deprived. And ultimately that has spelled, really adequate and enjoyable sweetness in his management of diabetes for almost 8 years, despite a great reduction in added sugars. The point is to make changes that are sustainable over the long term. If you make a drastic change that you cannot sustain, then after a lot of effort you come back right back to where you started – but with reduced confidence.
  • Finding substitutes for your sweet treats can be helpful. In the beginning making a little effort to find special fruits, like kiwis, berries, even if they’re a bit more expensive in the off season, may be worth the expense if it gets you over the ‘sweet need of sugar.’ One of the first changes for Vic was my making strawberry syrup for pancakes instead of maple syrup. It’s easy. I do it winter or summer because frozen strawberries are inexpensive. Defrost berries in the microwave; add a little sweetener of your choice and whirl in the blender. You don’t get the added sugar, and in addition, you do get the benefits of the wonderful nutrients of the strawberries and fiber. Of course, this is not poured on white flour pancakes, but on whole wheat pancakes instead. You can make 100% whole-wheat pancakes with no-calorie sweetener yourself, too. Be creative!

So if you want to reap the benefits of a low sugar intake by taking steps to detox yourself from sugar, try a few of our hints above and remember to take small steps and be patient with yourself. Good Health Can Be Yummy!

Four of our most popular blogs on the 'sugar' issue are linked here: 1;   2;   3;   4.