Should You Go on a Detox from Sugar?

Should You Go on a Detox from Sugar?

Oh my gosh, the TODAY show just launched a new initiative called the 10-day sugar detox (#NoSugarTODAY). I’m so sick of detoxes! Though most people should reduce their intake of added sugars, let’s call a spade a spade: sugar is hardly “toxic”. Before giving a nutrient so much power, let’s get the facts right:

              –  No one single nutrient is responsible for poor health, weight gain, etc.

                –  Diet is a confluence of factors: food, lifestyle (exercise, activities of daily living,  sleep and more), etc.

                  –  Rather than focus on the single nutrient, think *really* hard about what you want to accomplish.

Why Should We Give Up Sugar?

It’s tough to tease out single ingredients like sugar and their potential health effects. However, we are eating too much added sugar – the kind that is mixed in during cooking or food processing. Men are averaging 335 calories from added sugars (20 teaspoons) whereas women are taking in an average of 239 calories (15 teaspoons) from added sugar each day. Kids are consuming a whooping 16% of their calories from added sugars.[1] The majority of added sugar in our diet comes from our food (as opposed to beverages). And while some of the sources are things you might expect: sodas, desserts, nutrition bars, etc., some of the added sugar culprits are seemingly healthy foods such as salad dressings and sauces. Added sugar enhances taste and provides calories but has no real nutrition value, in other words, no vitamins, minerals or plant based compounds that are important for good health. Naturally occurring sugars are found in foods packed with good nutrition including fruits, vegetables and dairy products. Though added sugars have nothing to offer you, giving up the sweet stuff for 10 days may be a short-term solution yet ineffective for the long term.

Here’s why the TODAY Show is missing the mark with this 10-day detox:

– 10 days isn’t long enough to change a habit. It’s more like taking a vacation.

– The cold turkey approach rarely works. You’re better off gradually reducing.

– Foods with naturally occurring sugars such as 100% fruit juice and dried fruits are wrongly maligned. In fact, the majority of research shows moderate amounts of 100% fruit juice are not linked to overweight or obesity in adults or children).

– You’re allowed to go right back to your old eating habits after 10 days. So what’s the point?

Why Limit Yourself to 10 Days? Set Yourself Up for a Lifetime of Success

–  Figure out why you are tempted to do a sugar detox and then plan to specifically address that issue.

–  Log your food intake for at least 3 days via MyFitnessPal. See how much sugar   you’re really eating. Can you tell which foods are sugar-added vs. naturally sweet?

–  Find small changes to reduce added sugars. For instance, you may need to cut down on sodas, or swap ice cream for a 100% fruit juice pop, or make your own vinaigrettes (really easy – especially if you take flavored vinegars and combine them with extra virgin olive oil; or try one of these simple, unique recipes)

–  Don’t deprive yourself of foods with naturally-occurring sugars. When I crave something sweet I reach for dried figs (or other fruit), plain yogurt, or sparkling water mixed with 100% fruit juice. All of these give me vitamins, minerals, and healthy plant-based compounds called polyphenols.

–  Reassess your food intake after 1 month and see if you can make any additional improvements).

–  Bottom line: progress is in the small steps, not giant leaps (or in this case, detoxes).

Many Americans should cut down on added sugars and make room for more nutrient-dense foods. But, don’t thrown the baby out with the bathwater and then go on an all-out sugar binge because you feel deprived. Forget the “detox,” figure out your “why” (why would you do a detox? What do you hope to gain?) and then carve out a reasonable plan for change that doesn’t focus on one single dietary variable. After all, there is no one food or ingredient that leads to obesity, chronic disease, feeling like your energy is zapped, or any other health issue.

[1] Ervin RB, Ogden CL. Consumption of added sugars among U.S. adults, 2005– 2010. NCHS data brief, no 122. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2013. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db122.pdf

[2] O’Connor TM, et al. Beverage intake among preschool children and its effect on weight status. Pediatrics. 2006. 118:e1010-e1018.

[3] Field AE, et al. Association between fruit and vegetable intake and change in body mass index among a large sample of children and adolescents in the United States. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2003. 27:821-826.

[4] O’Neil CE, et al. A review of the relationship between 100% fruit juice consumption and weight in children and adolescents. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2008. 2:315-354.

[5] Johnson L, et al. Is sugar-sweetened beverage consumption associated with increased fatness in children? Nutrition. 2007. 23:557-563.