I think we all know and agree how bad sugar is for our bodies. Excess sugar is bad for the liver and teeth, and poses serious health risks such as diabetes + obesity. It’s also one of the primary causes of inflammation, of joint pains, and recently I’ve been reading quite a bit about how it’s more addictive than cocaine. Though all sugar isn’t inherently bad (more on that later), we could all stand to consume less of it. A sugar detox is a good place to start. It’s easier said than done, because sugar exists in just about every food that comes in a package – from pasta sauce, to salad dressings, and even the “healthy” protein bars.
It’s quite impossible to quit sugar entirely (and not good for you because your body does in fact require glucose for fuel); the idea of going on a sugar cleanse is to manage your intake and reduce cravings that make you splurge on sugar-laden treats.
A little over 10 days ago, I decided to go on a sugar detox on an impulse. I was inspired by fellow wellness enthusiast Neysa, (of the blog Good Slice), who posted about going on sugar cleanse on her Instagram. It was Sunday night, and I felt puffy, grey, and dull after sugary drinks and desserts from the previous day. Let’s do this, I thought to myself.
10 days and a successful sugar cleanse later, here are some things I learnt along the way:
There’s sugar in treats like cookies, pastries, and sodas; but it’s also hiding in so many other foods like salad dressings, ketchup, granola bars, nut butters, etc. The best way to avoid hidden forms of sugar is to eat less packaged food, and more of what is prepared fresh so you know what’s in it. It also helps to read nutrition labels, and to know that sugar is often masked as another ingredient ending with “-ose” or “syrup” in processed foods.
“Natural” substitutes for sugar are misleading; stevia, coconut sugar, brown sugar, palm sugar, agave, maple syrup, and honey are all still sugar. It’s also in artificial substitutes and “sugar-free” packaged foods found commonly in the supermarket.
For the duration of this period, it’s also best to avoid all of these forms of sugar.
Though I’ve played with the idea of going sugar-free previously, it never worked for me because I always set myself (over) ambitious goals of quitting for a year. Needless to say, I never made it through the end of day 1.
If the period you pick is too long, it feel’s like there’s no end in sight. A week/10 days is a time-frame that works: it’s not too short—gives your system enough time to reset and cravings to reduce—and yet it’s totally manageable.
IS FRUIT OK?
It goes without saying that you won’t be eating cookies or cakes during the cleanse, but don’t think this the only source of sugar your body gets. As I wrote previously, your body does in fact require sugar (i.e.glucose) to function, but you get that from veggies, fruits, and carbs anyway (the good sugars).
Desserts and candy are laden with refined sugar that cause a sudden spike in blood sugar levels. Whereas, if you’re getting your sugar from simple carbs like fruits — you’re also getting in the fibres, antioxidants, and other nutrients. Whole grains and veggies taken even longer to digest, which means they release glucose over a longer period of time.
The point of the cleanse isn’t to eliminate all forms of sugar, just to reduce the extra, non-beneficial sugar. That being said, create a plan that works for you. I am a big fan of fruit, and allowed myself fruit during the challenge. However, sticking to 1 serving of fruit + 1 date per day is recommended. Don’t do the cleanse only to load up on four servings of sugar fruit per smoothie! If you’re not big on fruit anyway, you can decide to leave it out too – you’ll get enough natural sugars from veggies and carbs either way.
There will be cravings, no doubt about it. The trick to manage them, is to understand what your body needs instead, and have those snacks on hand. While you’re at it, remove the ice-cream from your freezer, and any thing else that you might eat in a moment of weakness!
Keeping your blood sugar stable helps in managing sugar withdrawals, and snacks that include good fats works wonders. Eating well-rounded meals that are made up of a good amount of protein, healthy fats, and veggies is recommended. Things to avoid: overly processed foods, refined carbs, alcohol, and excessive caffeine as it will make your blood sugar go crazy.
Other bonuses: water + sleep!
A few things that worked for me:
Eat fermented foods: Now’s the time to revisit the pickles that every Indian grandmother swears by, and have plenty of plain (unsweetened) yogurt.
Include healthy fats: Unsweetened nut butters, coconut oil, ghee, nuts, and avocados are your friends.
Combine sweet + sour: A tip I picked up from Good Slice, eating a combination of sweet + sour helps with cravings. Think cranberries, raisins, grapes, or pomegranate.
Spice it up: Cinnamon is a great way to balance blood sugar levels, and manage cravings. Add it to your tea, or sprinkle it on fruit.
Substitute sugar with foods that are naturally sweet: Use a few cashews in your smoothie, add a pinch of cinnamon to your tea, eat a date or a serving of fruit, drink a glass of coconut water.
Recipes I loved:
~ Celery + date salad (from Bon Appetit)
Toss chopped celery stalks + 2-3 dates + handful of toasted almonds in a dressing of olive oil and lemon juice. Season with salt and chilli flakes, and serve with shaved Parmesan. This salad hits every craving: it’s equal parts sweet, salty, tangy, and crunchy!
~ Banana cocoa smoothie (from Good Slice)
Blend 1 frozen overripe banana + 1 date + 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa + a few cashews + some water/milk of choice + 1 tbsp chia seeds. It’s perfect for chocolate cravings, but without the sugar!
The goal of the cleanse, for me, was to give my body a break, to reset and reduce cravings. The hardest part was having many social events lined up during the detox, making it hard to stick to the challenge. (Also no sugar in my chai. That was rough!) I managed to get through it, and I’m inspired to try it again early next year.
If you try the sugar detox, and falter, don’t worry! Just minimise the damage, and get right back to it. Just mentally prepare yourself, and get ready to phase out the unnecessary sugar from your life! If I did it, I’m pretty sure you can too.
Let’s aim for January?
Are you thinking of going on a sugar detox?
Cover photo by Violet Tinder Studios; Other photos by Sam Morris Photography