Giving up sugar can help you shed pounds, improve your heart health, increase your energy and lower your risk of diabetes and even cancer. But if you're used to eating a lot of sugar, the road to living a sugar-free lifestyle can be bumpy. Although your body naturally detoxifies itself without the help of detox diets, having a targeted plan to wean yourself off the sugar will help you give it up for good and live a healthier life.
Get the Scoop on the Sweet Stuff
Added sugars are the kinds found in commercial and homemade foods like cookies, ice cream, cake, candy and soda. They are different from naturally occurring sugars in fruit and dairy because they don't come with any essential nutrients, such as the vitamins, minerals and protein that are in a piece of fruit or a glass of milk. Added sugar provides empty calories, and consuming too much is largely blamed for the obesity epidemic. It's a main culprit in the development of metabolic syndrome and diabetes, and it may play a role in heart disease and some types of cancer. According to the American Heart Association, men and women should limit added sugars to 150 and 100 calories per day, respectively.
Be a Sugar Sleuth
Sugar sources are not always obvious. Everything from cereals to salad dressings and coffee drinks to pasta sauce may contain added sugars. And added sugar doesn't only refer to the white stuff; it also includes honey, brown sugar, raw sugar, agave, corn syrup, malt syrup, invert sugar, maltose, dextrose, molasses, sucrose and fructose. In addition to avoiding the obvious sources of sugar, you'll have to carefully read the labels of any processed foods you buy to be sure they don't contain added sugar.
Clean Up Your Diet
Avoiding all types of sugar and eating a diet rich in nutritious foods will help you feel as good as possible while starting your sugar-free lifestyle. Focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats and seafood, low-fat dairy, and nuts and seeds. Snack on low-fat cheese, whole-grain crackers, low-fat unsweetened yogurt and fresh fruits and vegetables, and drink a glass of ice water whenever the craving for a sugary drink hits. Instead of reaching for a bowl of ice cream after dinner, snack on a piece of fresh fruit. You'll get a mouthful of sweetness, as well as fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Dining out can be difficult during your first week or two off sugar. Many prepared and restaurant foods have sugar added, and a sugary cocktail or the dessert list might be too tempting. Plan for these pitfalls by looking at the menu online ahead of time and planning what you are going to have. Skip the sweet cocktail and have water or iced tea, or a sugar-free drink such as a vodka and soda with lime. Ask the waiter for sugar-free menu options such as plain steamed fish with vegetables. Commit ahead of time to skipping dessert, and ask the waiter if plain fresh fruit is available.
Wait It Out
Although the beginning of your quest to ditch sugar can be tough, it will get easier with time. Once you stop your blood sugar roller coaster, the sugar cravings will also cease. Eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of sleep -- seven to nine hours a night -- will enhance your health and keep you strong enough to hold out against your cravings. Don't turn to artificial sweeteners to replace sugar. They'll simply reinforce your flavor preferences and keep your sugar cravings going, according to a review published in Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine in June 2010.