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26th April, 20216 min read

Expert advice: Do I really need a sugar detox?

Medical reviewer:Dr Ann Nainan
Author:Clarissa Lenherr
Last reviewed: 20/04/2021
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

Wondering whether you need to cut sugar from your diet – or if it’s even possible? Our guest expert, Clarissa Lenherr, weighs in on the pros and cons of cutting out sugar and offers tips for cutting down.

Trendy, no-sugar diets promise to help you lose weight, feel energised, reduce your cravings and even prevent premature ageing. But do they actually work, and is a sugar detox healthy? Read on to learn the truth about low-sugar fruits, sugar substitutes, cravings and how to reduce your overall sugar intake.

How much sugar am I allowed per day?

It’s recommended that we consume no more than 5% of our daily calories from free sugars. Free sugars include sugar added to food and drinks, as well as sugars found naturally in honey, maple syrup and juice.

The recommendations are:

  • adults: no more than 30g of free sugars per day
  • children aged 7 to 10: no more than 24g of free sugars per day
  • children aged 4 to 6: no more than 19g of free sugars per day

What are the benefits of cutting out sugar?

There are a whole host of possible benefits of reducing or cutting your sugar intake, including:

  • better dental health
  • healthy weight maintenance
  • lower risk of type 2 diabetes
  • improved symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • healthier skin (high-sugar diets are linked to acne and skin ageing)

Do I need to totally cut out sugar?

Many sugar detox diets advise cutting out all added sugar from your regime. While giving your body a reset can be beneficial, your focus should be on making a more sustainable change – in other words, reducing your overall intake of added sugar for life.

Is it even possible to do a ‘no-sugar’ diet?

Perhaps, but it would be very difficult and unsustainable.

A no-sugar diet is one that restricts all added sugars. This includes the obvious culprits – fizzy drinks, sweets, pastries, chocolate bars and desserts. It also includes sugars found in savoury foods such as crackers, crisps, pasta sauces and even bread. This means skipping the odd slice of birthday cake, celebratory cocktails or eating out at many restaurants.

More extreme versions of sugar-free or no-sugar diets cut out naturally occurring sugars found in fruits and vegetables. It would be fairly impossible to remove these and this isn’t recommended as part of a healthy diet.

Tips for cutting back on sugar

Eat regularly

Eat 3 meals a day, and if needed, 1 or 2 snacks. For many people, not eating regularly can cause blood sugar levels to drop. This may trigger sugar cravings.

Focus on a balanced plate

Make sure each plate of food you eat has a balance of protein, healthy fats and lots of colourful vegetables. These macronutrients can help you feel full and energised and may help to offset cravings.

Read labels

Reading product labels can help you identify hidden sugars, particularly those found in processed foods. Sugar has many different names – some of the common added sugars to look out for include barley malt, rice syrup, honey, maple syrup and fruit concentrate.

Opt for low-sugar fruits

Although fruit is a great source of nutrients, some fruits are higher in natural sugars than others. Ever wondered how much sugar is in a banana? This popular snack is high in fibre, potassium and vitamin B6, but it’s also high in sugar, at 12g. Opt for lower-sugar fruits like berries, citrus fruits and kiwis when you’re craving something sweet.

Add spices

Swapping sugar for spice can be a good way to keep your taste buds satisfied. For natural sweetness, add cinnamon, vanilla, cardamom and nutmeg to your coffee, porridge, yoghurt and baked goods.

Try getting more sleep

When we’re tired, our energy levels drop and our cravings for sugar increase. Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night and avoid sugar late in the evening.

Distract yourself

Next time a sugar craving strikes, go for a walk, call a friend or have a bath. Cravings usually last 10 to 20 minutes, so if you can distract yourself, they may well pass.

Be mindful of artificial sweeteners

Sugar substitutes are safe to use but aren’t regularly recommended by health practitioners. This is because of their impact on gut health and their potential to trick the body into thinking it’s getting sugar.

Using stevia and other natural sugar substitutes may be helpful if you’re trying to reduce added sugar in your diet, but try not to use them longer term.

Possible side effects of cutting down on sugar

You may experience side effects when reducing your sugar intake, including:

  • headaches
  • cravings for energy-dense foods
  • lack of energy
  • nausea
  • irritability
  • anxiety

Tips for managing the side effects of reducing sugar intake

It’s important to cut back on added sugars gradually. Your sugar withdrawal should pass within a few days if you follow these simple rules:

  • drink plenty of water, ideally 1 to 2 litres of pure water per day
  • take your time – you don’t need to detox from sugar in a day
  • fill up on healthy fats that can help reduce cravings and keep hunger at bay – opt for nut butters, avocado and yoghurt

Key points

  • adults should have no more than 30g of added sugar per day
  • reducing your added sugar consumption can help with weight management, improve dental health, reduce diabetes risk and improve mood
  • you don’t need a complete sugar detox
  • low-sugar fruits can satisfy cravings and give you more nutrients
  • artificial sweeteners are not a long-term solution for reducing sugar intake
  • going slowly, drinking plenty of water and eating healthy fats can help with the side effects of cutting down on sugar
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Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.