A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Sugar detox: 5 small changes to reduce your sugar intake

A young woman eats an apple.

A healthier diet by slowly reducing sugar intake is a helpful tip if you want to start getting healthier.

If you’re looking for a way to improve your overall health, a sugar detox and better nutrition can be key components in helping you feel better.

Cutting down your sugar intake offers many benefits, said Samantha Bulgrin, Marshfield Clinic Health System registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator.

“Energy levels tend to be down overall for people with high sugar intake,” Bulgrin said. “It gives you that initial boost, but there is a fatigue factor for people who consume a lot of sugar. You get that boost, but the crash comes with it.

“Another regular problem we see is using sweets as a reward. When we do that it releases dopamine and makes you happy, but eventually tolerance increases and you have to have more to get that same feeling.”

Here are some ways to reduce your sugar consumption.

Find healthier replacements for soda

Energy drinks. Soda. Sweet tea. Juice. All contain high levels of sugar.

Sugar-sweetened beverages are associated with weight gain and obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, tooth decay, cavities and more according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Limiting the amount of sugary beverages you drink can help you maintain a healthy weight and have a healthy diet.

Beverages are the leading category source of added sugars (47% of all added sugars) according to the American Heart Association.

Some better options other than water include flavored water packets or low calorie drinks.

While it would be nice to cut out sugar, Bulgrin says we shouldn’t aim to get rid of sugar “cold turkey.”

“I tell people it’s important to assess yourself as an individual. Some can just decide they’re not going to buy anything with a lot of sugar, and they can do that,” Bulgrin said. “But most people need to go for a gradual pace.”

Find natural sweetness

If soda or drinks aren’t your problem, perhaps it is your diet that needs a closer look. There are many temptations for someone with a sweet tooth – cake, candy, cookies.

According to the American Heart Association, the recommended amount of sugar is 6 to 9 teaspoons – about 36 g – per day or about 100 to 150 calories of sugar. The average amount of sugar consumed is roughly three times that at about 22 teaspoons of sugar and around 350 to 400 calories per day.

Bulgrin said a tip is to look for things with natural sweetness like fruit, yogurt, pudding and sugar-free popsicles. If you can’t go completely without that sweet-taste quality, Bulgrin says to try and use smaller portions, like a mini candy bar instead of say a king size.

“Sometimes all we crave is the taste and that’s enough,” she said.

Pay attention to food labels and recipes

One pivotal part of a diet is grocery shopping. When going to the grocery store, look at food labels. You can keep the temptation out of the house.

By looking at food labels, you can be made aware of some of the surprising foods packed with sugar like some cereals, granola bars and other foods.

”I tell my patients to stay out of the middle aisles,” Bulgrin said. “A lot of sugary cereal, granola bars and fruit snacks are there. Look at food labels and compare them to others on the shelf.”

Keep a food log

Write down what you eat. Sometimes we don’t pay attention or even remember having a snack when we’re bored or it is so engrained in our nightly routine.

Food logs can help bring clarity to areas of your diet that need attention.

“It doesn’t have to be overly detailed, just write down what you eat,” Bulgrin said. “Then you can go through and look for a substitute. A food log helps see where the problem areas are and what’s missing. Sometimes we don’t pay attention overall to the quality of our diets.”

Decrease portion size

“I am a big supporter of small portions in a diet,” Bulgrin said. “Maybe instead of three cookies, eat one. Or try for something like string cheese or nuts to replace sweets. Sometimes it isn’t that we want to eat, but we’re bored or just want a taste.”

If you’re concerned about your diet or nutrition, talk with your primary care provider.

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