• mikeanderikaulrich

The Sugar Cure

For many people, the first hurdle on a detox is disengaging from a sweet habit –– but it's the key to getting your system back in order.

The simplest way to detox? Go off sugar. There’s a reason that cutting out added sugars is number m-one on many cleanse lists. Sugar has a lot to answer for. There was a time when researchers felt that fat was the greatest health risk, because of its effect on cholesterol, and even counseled that while sugar might be bad for your teeth and was empty calories, that was the extent of its danger. That has now been soundly debunked by reams of research that show sugar’s toxic role in inflammation, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and obesity, to name just a few ailments. “Sugar, along with processed foods, are thought to be at the root of today’s public health crises,” says Gavin Van de Walle, MS, RD, president of Dakota Dieticians. Not only has high consumption of sugary foods been linked to the above roster of chronic diseases, says Van de Walle, but “these diseases hinder your body’s ability to naturally detoxify itself by harming organs that play an important role, such as your liver and kidneys. For example, high consumption of sugary beverages can cause fatty liver, a condition that negatively impacts liver function.” And if your number-one detoxing organ is operating at a reduced capacity, other toxins beyond sugar are being allowed to circulate through your system and cause damage. “Sugar’s not dangerous because of its calories, or because it makes you fat,”wrote Robert Lustig MD, MSL, professor of pediatric endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco, in his landmark essay, “The Toxic Truth About Sugar”. Sugar is dangerous because it’s sugar. It’s not nutrition. When consumed in excess, it’s a toxin. And it’s addictive.” Lustig has expanded the list of conditions caused by too much sugar to also include suppressed immune system, hyperactivity, inability to concentrate, anxiety, depression, ADD/ADHD, premature aging, arthritis, headaches, over eating, mood swings, asthma and allergies, highly acidic blood and insomnia. Here’s how to flush sugar out of your system — for good.


People have been beating up on themselves for their sweet tooth for decades, but research has shown that, at least for some people, it is powerfully addictive. Brain scan studies have shown how fructose (a form of sugar used extensively in processed foods) affects the dopamine system, which controls the experience of pleasure. Consuming loads of added sugar changes the brain in ways that looks similar to changes in the brains of people addicted to alcohol or to drugs like cocaine. “Yes, there is a real “sugar high”, and it put you on a roller coaster that starts in your brain and affects your whole body. Sugar hijacks your pleasure centers in the way addictive drugs do, inducing bingeing, craving and tolerance, and when you suddenly stop taking it, you can literally have withdrawal symptoms, as you would from an opioid. But there’s another reason why it’s hard to “just quit” a sugar habit: it’s everywhere, even where you don’t expect. This includes savory foods like sauces, condiments, soups and many other processed foods people don’t consider sweet. These foods comprise nearly 60% of the standard American diet, and the content of added sugar in such foods is five times higher than unprocessed or minimally processed foods. Ultra-processed Foods contribute almost 90% of the added sugars eaten in the United States.

It’s possible that you may not be cutting sugar even when you think you are by eliminating the obvious culprits, like cookies and soft drinks. But as long as you are taking in these hidden sugars, your dopamine centers are being triggered again and again in a vicious cycle. To break that, try the following strategies:


For one thing, if you’ve been sugar-dependent, you’ll trigger more intense cravings by quitting all at once. And there may be a psychological price as well, because trying to cut “all sugar” can create stress, turning on your fight-or-flight mechanisms and increasing hormones like cortisol that in turn raise blood-sugar levels — in essence, defeating the purpose. There is also evidence that you can retain your tastes overtime, as your brain weans itself from sugar highs. “Try to consume foods in their natural, unsweetened state,” advises Franziska Spritzler, RD, a certified diabetes educator. “Learn to appreciate the sweetness of fruit and the subtle flavors of nuts and other foods.” The flavors will become more apparent as you cut down on super-sweet foods.


Speaking of eating fruit: Go ahead. The natural sugars in foods like fresh strawberries or apples are different from the sweeteners being pumped into processed foods. Fruit contains glucose, fructose, and a combination of the two called sucrose, in for a smaller amounts than packaged foods do. It also has fiber, which slows the release of sugar into your blood, and other nutrients such as vitamins and antioxidants. All this means that natural sugars enter your system slowly, without causing the sugar spikes (and dopamine hit) of concentrated sugars. There are two forms of fruit, though, that aren’t a good idea: dried fruit (it has much more sugar than whole fruit) and fruit juices, which are concentrated and lack all fiber. Go for the whole thing, peel and all if possible.

CUT PROCESSED FOODS You want to be doing this anyway as part of any cleanse or detox. But eliminating all packaged foods is the number one way to lower your sugar intake instantly. The multiple sugars used by the food industry differ in nature and structure from whole-food sugars, and they’re used in huge amounts to boost flavor. If you do buy something in a package, become a better label-reader; sugars go by many stealth names.

BE CAREFUL AT NIGHT You’re not imagining it: you do get more cravings at night, for both sugary snacks and salty ones. A study in the journal “Obesity” found that the bodies circadian clock increases hunger for sweet, starchy and salty foods in the evening. Researchers hypothesize that consuming more at night may have helped our ancestors store energy to survive times of food scarcity. Have a cup of herbal tea instead.

HANG IN THERE Lustig feels it takes three weeks of no added sugar to normalize your brain’s dopamine system. That also gives your taste buds time to adjust to more subtle sweetness than that offered by the food industry.

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