Sugar Cleanse: How-To
I do a sugar cleanse every couple months because it helps me reset and retrain my (genetically ingrained) sweet-tooth. I figure, if it is difficult for me to find balance with sugar consumption day-to-day, then at least I can find balance month-to-month, knowing that there are large spans of time where I do not consume any refined sugar. If you’re addicted to sugar, it’s important to cut out added sugar completely, as eating sweets will cause a relapse.
I am not someone who eats ice cream every night, munches candy bars, or even puts sugar in coffee. But I can easily have a gluten-free muffin with a chai, some candied walnuts or sweetened cranberries on my salad at lunch, and a chunk of dark chocolate after dinner with a glass of red wine… and voila, I have already way overdone my daily sugar intake. That is all it takes. Seems pretty moderate and reasonable, right? Just the bhakti chai with almond milk from a coffee shop contains between 13-25 grams of sugar.
My version of “too much” sugar might be different from yours. The World Health Organization (WHO) believes that less than 5% of your calories should be from sugars to avoid negative consequences. There is good evidence that anything over 25g a day has a negative impact on your health. A can of regular soda contains about 40g of sugar. As you can imagine, most Americans are eating WAY above the recommended guidelines and this contributes to the obesity epidemic, the staggering increase in children with diabetes, every chronic disease, and astronomical health care costs associated with the increase of these diseases. We all suffer, whether directly or indirectly, physically or financially.
Here are my sugar cleanse guidelines:
What counts as sugar?
- Anything besides fresh produce. That means:
- All added sugar: there are a bazillion names for these. Don’t be fooled!
- Fruit juices
- Fruit juice concentrates
- Maple Syrup*
- Artificial Sweeteners
This means diligently reading labels on everything you eat, checking ingredient lists, and avoiding most processed foods. Beware of salad dressings, pasta sauce, granola, protein bars, yogurt, and all beverages. You’ll be amazed where you’ll find sugar hiding.
*If you aren’t addicted to sugar and are not on a sugar cleanse, raw unfiltered local honey, and organic pure grade B maple syrup are the best forms of sweeteners. These have health benefits, instead of being completely nutritionally empty like white sugar.
Toeing the line on your sugar cleanse
Most of the time my sugar cleanses include alcohol because alcohol falls into the same category as fruit juice: no fiber, and breaks down into sugar pretty instantly in your system. It causes the same blood sugar spikes as refined sugar, despite some healthy benefits of alcohol. Alcohol also lowers your inhibitions making it more difficult to resist other sweet stuff, especially the first 7-10 days of your sugar cleanse. Beware. When I am not on a sugar cleanse, I choose between alcohol and other sources of sugar each day and try not to do both. If I know I will want a glass of wine with a friend at happy hour, that means I am extra strict about no refined or added sugars the rest of the day, and I usually avoid fruit as well. Balance.
White rice is basically just sugar. It breaks down to sugar almost immediately in your system. As does white bread (which also has added sugar so is not allowed on the cleanse anyway!). All refined grains are bad news. If you eat your rice with some high-quality protein and veggies, it greatly reduces the impact the sugar has on your system, which is why I don’t make it a rigidly forbidden item. Again, deciding whether some refined carbs are allowed or not is up to you. The most important thing is to make it sustainable. If you make your sugar-cleanse rules too strict, and can’t stick with it past a few days, you aren’t doing yourself any favors. Do something you can really follow for a solid week AT Least. Which brings me to…
How long to see benefits from a sugar cleanse?
Depending on how much sweet you eat on a daily basis, you can have withdrawal symptoms from 3-10 days. I am pretty good at these cleanses, and it takes me about 7 days to feel my energy normalize and my mood even out, 12 days to get to the point where I am not craving sweet stuff daily. Some people forget about sugar faster, others never do. I think to get the benefits of the cleanse you need at least a week for your blood sugar to stabilize and for you to recognize the more stable energy and mood pay-off. Then, add however many days it takes after a week to reach a place where sugar doesn’t feel like a nagging addiction. It’s when you see your most favorite dessert and think, “meh, it’ll taste good while I’m eating it and then I won’t feel good afterward.” When you do enough of these little cleanses, you will know when you’re there. If this is your first one, I recommend just picking a length of time as your goal: 10 days, 2 weeks, or 3 weeks to start. Commit. If you have a setback, don’t give up! Just notice how it made you feel, and go right back to cutting out sugar the rest of the day, and each day until you’ve reached your goal.
What sweet stuff is okay?
Don’t worry, there are ways to get you through the toughest days.
Fresh fruit, in moderation
If you are someone who typically eats cookies, sweet cereal, chocolate, or other sweets on a daily basis, cutting out sugar might be pretty tough. If you need to eat a few pieces of fruit every day for the first week to survive, do it! You are getting fiber, which slows down the release of fructose (fruit sugar) into your bloodstream, and there are lots of healthy antioxidants in fruit. Fruit is a heck of a lot better than refined sugar. Too much fruit is still too much sugar, but we are looking for progress, not perfection. Eat the whole piece of fruit, no smoothies and fruit juices which skip the important step of chewing which helps to moderate the effects of fruit sugar by activating your digestive system and including the role of salivary amylase (an enzyme in your spit which starts to break down carbohydrates into sugar).
- Fresh-cut pineapple.
This is for the desperate moments. Pineapple is so sweet, it almost never fails to take care of the “I’m gonna scratch someone eyes out for a piece of chocolate” feeling. Keep some on hand at all times for emergencies.
- Apples with almond butter.
Great when you get that afternoon slump where your energy dips and you think something sweet sounds like your ticket to surviving the work day. Also effective as an after-dinner placation, when your roommates are eating ice cream and you’re imagining dipping your bare hands into the carton and rubbing it all over your face (did I mention I love sugar?).
I should say, I used to think dates were gross. It’s strange how our taste buds will change over time. Now dates taste like little morsels of sugary heaven. Naturally, this makes it tempting to eat 10 dates a day. Sure, they are full of fiber and some healthy nutrients, but they are still high fructose bombs. The best bet with dates is to mix them in with some nuts and healthy fats like coconut oil and make raw balls so you get the protein to balance the fructose. See my recipe for Superfood Raw Balls.
Stevia actually HELPS balance your blood sugar, despite being an alternative sweetener. Read about the benefits of stevia. Some stevia tastes icky, and be careful as Truvia uses other compounds besides the two beneficial parts of the stevia plant: Stevioside and Rebaudioside A. There are a few brands like Stevia in the Raw which are actually mixed with regular sugar (hidden as dextrose), so avoid them! Powdered forms tend to taste better than the liquid kind. There is still an aftertaste that takes some getting used to. You need far less stevia than you do sugar, so do not use it in a 1:1 ratio. I have used this Now foods Organic whole leaf stevia, which I like. More info on good stevia and which to avoid.
My favorite way to use it: 2 ripe bananas, 2 ripe avocados, raw cacao powder or 100% powdered baking chocolate, vanilla, sea salt, coconut oil/water to adjust thickness, and stevia to taste. Put it all in a high-speed blender. This makes decadent raw chocolate pudding which will make you feel like you never gave up sugar. Just ask my boyfriend who recently survived 3 whole weeks without alcohol or sugar–his first sugar cleanse! If he can do it, you definitely can.
Purple Sweet Potatoes
These are a life-saver for me. I love them steamed, then put in the blender with organic grass-fed butter or coconut milk, cinnamon, cardamom, and stevia with a dash of flaxseed. They’re full of healthy flavonoids, creamy and decadent tasting, and the cinnamon, stevia, and flaxseed minimize their effect on blood sugar, making them a guilt-free sweet tooth fix.
Check out The Sugar Diaries for laughs, tips, and commiseration during your sugar cleanse. Also, contact me for help supporting your sugar cravings with acupuncture. I have often “cheated” by using ear seeds, and specific points which help cut down on cravings, balance out energy and mood faster and speed up the detox period.
My favorite benefit of cutting sugar? It makes a huge difference in my anxiety level. I specialize in treating anxiety, and cutting sugar is one of the best ways to start helping yourself feel better.