How To Ease Sugar Withdrawal Symptoms

Reducing your added sugar intake may lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, and other health conditions.

Your body needs sugar to give you the energy necessary to survive. Specifically, your body runs on a type of sugar called glucose, found naturally and artificially in many foods.

Although natural sources of sugar, such as those found in fresh fruits and vegetables, fuel your body, many people in the United States consume too much added sugar. Excess added sugar fuels your body like natural sugar without supplying other vital nutrients. As a result, consuming too much added sugar may have adverse effects, like upping the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

Experts advise limiting added sugar intake to 10% of your daily calories. That may include limiting drinks and foods like soda, candy, fruit juice, sweet pastries, and ice cream.

Still, you do not need to completely give up sweet foods to control your added sugar intake. Try replacing added sugars with natural ones, boosting your essential nutrient intake. For example, opt for plain oatmeal rather than flavored types. Then, add fresh fruits like banana slices, blueberries, or strawberries.

In that way, you consume vitamins and minerals your body needs to maintain health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

Quitting or limiting added sugar can be tricky since it's found in so many foods. You may even develop physical and mental side effects when reducing sugar intake. Luckily, there are ways to ease sugar withdrawal symptoms. Here's how to reduce your added sugar intake and tips for making healthy swaps to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Benefits of Cutting Out Sugar

Glucose is your body’s main source of energy. Your body makes glucose by breaking down carbohydrates, proteins, and fats from your food.

Natural sugar sources include fruit, vegetables, and milk, which provide many other key vitamins and minerals. Still, in the United States, people often consume foods that have added, rather than natural, sugar. Nearly 15% of the average person’s diet includes added sugar, which is found in many common foods of the American diet, such as bread.

In contrast to natural sugar, excess added sugar intake may raise your risk of several health conditions, like:

  • Weight gain and obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Tooth decay

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) advises cutting your added sugar intake to protect your health. For example, on a 2,000-calorie diet, the DGA recommends consuming no more than 48 grams, 10% of your daily calorie intake.

Cutting added sugar may help lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer, cavities, and obesity.

What Is Sugar Withdrawal?

One study published in 2021 found that cutting sugar out of your diet might bring about adverse physical and psychological symptoms. As a result, some people may refer to the side effects of reducing sugar intake as "sugar withdrawal" if they consume too much added sugar. Although, remember that sugar is not an addictive substance.

People that regularly consume excess added sugars may experience the following:

  • Impaired control: You may not realize how much sugar you eat. Obvious sources of added sugar include soda, candy, and cake. Added sugar may be in less obvious foods, like whole-grain granola, instant oatmeal, and pasta sauce.
  • Social impairment: This happens if added sugar hinders your relationships with friends, family, or co-workers.
  • Risky use: Regularly exceeding the DGA's advised added sugar intake can have physical and mental health effects. In addition to health conditions like type 2 diabetes and obesity, excess added sugar intake links to a high risk of depression.
  • Effects on the body: You may have symptoms like headaches and irritability after decreasing your added sugar intake.

In response to added sugar, your body releases dopamine and opioid. Those hormones induce pleasure, making you associate sugar with feeling good. Your body begins to crave added sugar if you consume too much. Then, you may have unpleasant symptoms, like headaches, when you deprive your body of added sugar.

Stages of Sugar Withdrawal

You may notice physical and psychological symptoms lasting days to weeks when you cut out sugar after often consuming it. For example, you may immediately notice physical symptoms like headache and fatigue. Mental symptoms may include a lack of motivation, happiness, and the ability to concentrate.

Then, while fighting off those side effects, your body may kick in sugar cravings. During that time, you can satisfy your cravings in other ways, Brooke Alpert, RDN, a nutritionist and author of "The Sugar Detox: Lose Weight, Feel Great and Look Years Younger," told Health.

Opt for foods with natural sugar, like fresh fruit and vegetables. According to Alpert, your body will eventually adjust to low levels of natural sugar.

How To Ease Sugar Withdrawal Symptoms

Once you cut your usual supply of sugar, your body will likely rebel by shifting your mood and energy level. According to Alpert, to ease those symptoms, try some of the following tips: 

  • Eat a balanced diet: Nourishing yourself with high-quality foods can help fight moodiness and energize you when you cut back on sweets. For example, eating lots of vegetables and organic protein will keep you full and your appetite controlled. To avoid feeling "hangry" throughout the day, eat snacks with fiber and good fats, like celery and guacamole.
  • Satisfy your cravings with spices: Try spicing up your savory food if you long for a sweet treat. Just because you're sugar-free doesn't mean your meals have to be totally bland. Try adding onion, garlic, and lime to help you withdraw from sugar without feeling like your food tastes terrible.
  • Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water, which can help fight fatigue and headaches, another side effect of cutting out sugar. 
  • Have an unsweetened drink: Fill your glass with unsweetened iced tea or cold brew, suggested Alpert: "I've found that really cold drinks help curb sugar cravings."

How To Cut Out Sugar

To reduce your added sugar intake, start by nixing added sugars all at once, suggested Alpert. Cutting out added sugars from your diet entirely can be challenging since it's found in so many staples of the American diet.

Try avoiding foods that list added sugars in their ingredients lists, such as:

  • Brown sugar
  • Corn sweetener and syrup
  • Dextrose
  • Fructose and high-fructose corn syrup
  • Glucose
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar
  • Lactose
  • Raw sugar
  • Sucrose

Instead, opt for natural sources of sugar, such as fresh fruit. For example, eat two servings of fruit daily, like apples and bananas. Choose unsweetened dairy products, like plain low-fat yogurt, then add blueberries for sweetness.

You do not need to remove those naturally sweet foods from your diet. For example, fruit contains essential vitamins and minerals for maintaining health, such as potassium, fiber, vitamin C, and folate. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that adults eat 1.5 to two cups of fruit daily.

Keep in mind that you don't have to ban added sugar forever. After reducing your added sugar intake, you can still enjoy "intentional indulgences" in moderation, whether it's a sweet treat like a slice of cake at a birthday party or a hot chocolate when it's chilly outside. Depriving yourself of an entire type of food can end poorly.

"If we fully restrict ourselves long-term, we set ourselves up to make bad decisions," added Alpert.

Consult a healthcare provider before trying a sugar detox if you take blood sugar medications, have diabetes, or follow a low-carb diet. Significantly restricting your sugar intake may result in hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. 

Hypoglycemia symptoms include:

  • Dizziness
  • Feeling nervous, irritable, or confused
  • Hunger
  • Quickened heartbeat
  • Shaking
  • Sweating

Long-Term Tips

Cutting down on added sugar can take time and effort. Try some of the following tips for reducing your added sugar intake in the long term:

Stay Mindful Without Being Strict

You don’t have to go entirely sugar-free to reduce your risk of adverse health effects. Instead of nixing added sugar altogether, occasionally enjoy your favorite sweet treats. 

Then, focus on eating a balanced diet of fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. Make fruit and vegetables the centerpiece of your meals, then add one-quarter of whole grains and one-quarter of lean proteins.

The most important part is to listen to your body, eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full.

Consider Natural vs. Added Sugar

Remember that natural sugar can satisfy your sweet tooth while delivering health benefits. For example, swap flavored yogurts for plain low-fat yogurt and add a handful of berries.

Another way to replace added sugar with natural sugar is to cut down on processed food, if possible. For example, make pasta sauce using fresh tomatoes. You can control how much sugar goes into your meals and snacks when you make your food.

Alter Your Cooking and Baking Habits

Prioritize fresh fruit and vegetables when it comes to cooking and baking. For example, add avocado to your recipe if you're baking brownies. Swap instant oatmeal for whole-grain oats. You can add a banana for natural sweetness.

A Quick Review

Eating less added sugar may lower your risk of several health conditions, including type 2 diabetes and obesity. One of the best ways to reduce added sugar intake is to nix it altogether, instead opting for natural sugars.

Keep in mind that cutting down on added sugar doesn't mean you have to avoid sweet treats. After reducing your added sugar intake, you can still make time to enjoy pastries and flavored coffee. Just remember to be mindful. 

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