What Actually Happens When You Cut Out Sugar

We know that consuming sugar in large amounts isn’t the best thing for your health, but saying “no” to that extra piece of candy is sometimes damn near impossible. But with everyone raving about the effects of a sugar-free diet (including TIkToks about a snatched jawline or reduced bloat after a sugar detox), we can’t help but wonder if life is sweeter without sugar. So, what actually happens when you cut out sugar from your life? Is it worth limiting the sugar, or is the daily sweet treat OK? Ahead, the answers straight from the experts, along with what actually counts as sugar, how long it takes to detox from sugar, and tips to realistically reduce sugar from your diet.

First of All—What Counts as Sugar?

Contrary to popular opinion, cutting out sugar doesn’t mean simply forgoing desserts and candy. Sugar is not only found in sweet treats but in a wide range of processed foods and beverages. “Added sugars include any sugars or caloric sweeteners added to foods or beverages during processing or preparation,” explained Kara Corey, MA, RD, a fitness trainer and registered dietician. Even some salad dressings or loaves of bread contain added sugar, which is why most of us are likely consuming a lot more sugar than we think. “Women should be consuming six teaspoons or less of sugar daily,” advised Jamie Koll, an ingredient expert and founder of Girls Who Eat. “On average, American adults consume approximately 17 teaspoons of sugar per day.”

But wait, it gets worse: Decreasing added sugar isn’t as simple as checking the ingredients list for “cane sugar.” Food brands use a long list of names for sugar, with sucrose, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and artificial sweeteners (like sucralose or aspartame) being most popular. Table sugar is a common form of sucrose, while soda, fast food, and breakfast cereals typically contain HFCS.

And then there are “natural sugars.” As the name suggests, Corey explained that some sugar is found naturally in foods like fruits, veggies like corn or root vegetables, and dairy products. The most common forms of sugars naturally found in food include glucose (a primary source of energy for the body), fructose, and lactose.

What Actually Happens When You Cut Out Sugar?

1. It may be easier to lose (or maintain) weight

Numerous studies have shown sugar’s connection to obesity, inability to lose weight, and weight gain. For example, a 2021 Clinical Diabetes study found that the overconsumption of added sugars contributes to overweight and obesity. This likely happens for a few reasons. Dr. Steve Gendron, Ph.D, a scientist and expert in physiology-endocrinology, explained that sugar contains empty calories, meaning the body is taking in more calories that do not serve any physiological purpose (besides glucose, which is the body’s primary source of energy).

Sugar can also cause you to overeat. After the glucose spike that happens when you eat sugar, you experience a crash which causes the body to need more sources of energy, and the quickest form of energy is glucose, which leads to more sugar cravings throughout the day. Translation: The more sugar you eat, the more you crave it. Eating too much added sugar (particularly fructose) can also significantly increase levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin (according to research such as this 2015 study). Cutting out sugar therefore lowers your consumption of empty calories and decreases glucose spikes and imbalance of the hunger hormones to assist in healthy weight management or weight loss if that is your goal.

2. You may experience improved gut health

Added sugars are notorious for their ability to cause inflammation throughout the body and wreak havoc on gut health. “Excessive sugar consumption can disrupt the delicate microbial balance [of the gut], leading to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria and yeast, such as Candida,” explained Lisa Richards, a nutritionist and author of The Candida Diet. “These disruptions can contribute to conditions like leaky gut syndrome and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).”

Richards also explained that high sugar intake promotes the growth of pathogenic bacteria that ferment sugars and produce gas, and this can lead to bloating, discomfort, and altered bowel movements. “By eliminating or reducing sugar intake, the gut environment becomes less hospitable to harmful microbes, allowing beneficial bacteria to thrive,” Richards said. “This supports better digestion, absorption of nutrients, and overall immune function.”

3. You’ll feel more energy

Since sugar gives the body energy by converting carbohydrates into glucose, consuming an excess amount of it can lead to energy spikes and crashes throughout the day. Essentially, you feel good when your sugar levels are up and sluggish when they’re down. This is why removing sugar from your diet can ultimately lead to better energy levels throughout the day because you’ll have more stable blood sugar levels. According to Dr. Gendron, removing these sugar highs and crashes will keep energy levels more stable, and you’ll feel more energized as a result.

4. You’ll experience better moods

There’s a reason why you may reach for a sleeve of cookies when you’re stressed out, and while it may feel good in the moment, it’s bad for your long-term mood. Dietician Trisha Best explained that consuming large amounts of sugar creates a dopamine response in the brain, leading to increased feelings of pleasure and happiness. But these feelings are temporary, and once they wear off, you’re left feeling irritable, anxious, and unhappy.

When you remove sugar from your diet, your brain doesn’t have to suffer from those dopamine hits and crashes. Instead, you’re left with stable and steady emotions, and this, in turn, leads to a better, improved mood overall. Plus, cutting out sugar can also help with mood disorders like anxiety and depression due to the gut-brain connection. “The inflammation caused by refined sugar is the primary culprit to mood disorders,” agreed Best. “Severe, chronic, and low-grade inflammation is largely linked to depression.” Cutting out sugar may help ease symptoms of anxiety or depression.

5. You’ll be less likely to get cavities

It turns out the adults who told you that candy would rot your teeth when you were a child were onto something. Sugar molecules combine with saliva and bacteria present in the mouth, which leads to plaque on teeth. “Sugar feeds the bacteria that cause cavities and tooth decay,” Corey explained. “Reducing sugar intake helps maintain better oral health.” When sugar is left on the teeth, the acids can eat through the enamel and even deeper into layers of the teeth, which is what causes cavities. By cutting out sugar, you can stop this process to avoid cavities and keep this essential protective enamel.

6. You may notice positive changes in your skin

Cutting out sugar can also lead to glowier, clearer skin. Dr. Gendron explained that inflammation caused by excess sugar consumption can lead to skin breakouts and blemishes—something that can be attributed to the sebum the skin produces whenever the body’s insulin response is triggered (also a cause of eating sugar). Similarly, this inflammation can also lead to increased redness and puffiness and exacerbate pre-existing skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis.

As for the TikTok claims that a sugar detox created a more pronounced jawline? That’s mainly due to sugar’s ability to cause water retention and inflammation. Cutting out sugar helps the body get rid of water retention and inflammation that leads to puffiness. In an article for Today, journalist Shweta Sengar divulged the profound benefits going sugar-free had on her face shape, writing, “As the weeks went by, the puffiness that had once plagued my cheeks began to recede, revealing contours I never knew existed. It was like uncovering a hidden treasure buried beneath layers of sugar-induced inflammation.”

Source: Payton Butler | Dupe

How Long Does It Take to Detox From Sugar?

The amount of time it takes to detox from sugar varies from person to person since it’s based on every individual’s daily consumption and lifestyle. “Detoxing from sugar is a bit like adjusting to a new time zone—it can take a little while for your body to get the memo,” Dr. Gendron explained. “Generally, you might start feeling better in a few days, but it can take up to two weeks for your cravings to really subside and for you to feel like your energetic self again.”

Corey echoes this sentiment, noting that days one through four are often the most intense. During this time, you’ll typically feel the majority of the physical symptoms that come from sugar withdrawal, like headaches and fatigue, along with irritability, cravings, and digestive changes. However, these symptoms usually dissipate or go away completely after the first week. This is when you’ll likely notice the positive side effects, like better sleep, stable energy levels, and less sugar cravings.

Should I Cut Out Sugar From My Diet?

The purpose of this article is not to make you feel afraid of sugar, but to give you all the info you need to be an informed consumer and make decisions that are truly best for you. At The Everygirl, we do not believe in completely eliminating any food group (unless you are allergic or as recommended by your doctor). The ice cream cone on the beach in the summer or splitting a stack of pancakes with your friends at Saturday brunch is where life happens; joy is a nutrient, too. Stressing and restricting will always be worse for your body than eating a little sugar here and there.

Also, there are a lot of those sources of natural sugar that are really good for you. Fruit, complex carbohydrates, and even natural sweeteners like raw honey provide a ton of benefits for the body and are full of antioxidants. They also deserve a spot in a healthy diet. Sugar itself is not inherently evil; it’s the added sugars found in processed foods and beverages that can do more harm than they’re worth. Aim to reduce the sneaky sugar where it’s not necessarily leading to joy (read our tips below), or limit sugar on a daily basis so that you can fully enjoy sugar in those special moments that are worth it. If you give your body the nutrients, movement, and love it needs on a regular basis, a little sugar here and there won’t make much difference, just like eating the occasional vegetable won’t make much difference if your diet consists of mostly sugar.

“The ice cream cone on the beach in the summer or splitting a stack of pancakes with your friends at Saturday brunch is where life happens; joy is a nutrient, too.”

Tips to (Realistically) Reduce Sugar

1. Decrease the amount of “sneaky sugars” in your diet

Instead of cutting out sugar completely, reduce the amount of “sneaky sugars,” or sugars that you may not even know are there and do not need. For example, make your own salad dressing instead of packaged options, snack on dark chocolate with no refined sugar, and opt for ketchup and other condiments from brands like Primal Kitchens that do not add sugar.

Corey also recommends reading every food label and ingredient before purchasing or consuming. “USDA food labels now require ‘added sugars’ to be listed, so aim for products without any or less than 5 grams of total sugar,” she said. This practice will not only help you get in the habit of learning about what you’re eating but also help you learn to look for and identify foods with hidden sugars. Koll warns that any ingredient ending in “-ose” is a sugar, so you can be aware of all the names food brands use to sneak in sugar.

2. Make healthy swaps

Rather than focusing on eliminating sugar from your diet altogether, Dr. Gendrom recommends making healthy swaps instead. Prioritizing adding more whole foods in your diet (AKA foods that don’t come with a nutrition label) like fruits, veggies, seeds, and nuts can also make this adjustment easier. When you’re craving something sweet, opt for a piece of fruit and dark chocolate (which is higher in antioxidants and lower in sugar) instead of cookies.

3. Stay hydrated

When you feel a sugar craving coming on, it actually just might be dehydration. “Sometimes thirst masquerades as a sugar craving,” Dr. Gendron explained. To combat this, he recommends keeping a water bottle nearby at all times and sipping it throughout the day to help keep unwanted sugar cravings at bay. This will also make you less likely to reach for a sugary beverage whenever you need a pick-me-up.

4. Don’t cut it out cold turkey

Changing your diet to drastically reduce your sugar intake won’t happen overnight. It’s a process, and that’s OK. Instead of trying to go 0-100, Corey recommends taking it one step at a time. “Identify one item you can swap out, and once you’ve successfully made that change, keep gradually making changes.” If you’re having a really hard time saying “no” to sugar, she suggests simply cutting your intake in half. This will help get you on the right track without feeling like you’re being deprived of something or that your entire diet is changing.

Experts Consulted

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Meet The Expert

Jamie Koll

Jamie Koll is an ingredient expert, health coach, and founder of GIRLS WHO EAT, a platform that focuses on clean eating and non-toxic living in an accessible and approachable way.

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Meet The Expert

Steve Gendron, PhD

Dr. Steve Gendron is the founder of Mindful Living Choice, a platform designed to educate and inspire individuals to embrace a natural and organic lifestyle. He earned his PhD in Physiology-Endocrinology with a focus on biomedical research and immunology from Laval University in Quebec City.

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Meet The Expert

Kara Corey, MA, RD

Kara Corey is a fitness trainer and registered dietitian with over 15 years’ experience in her field. Her commitment to promoting straightforward yet effective nutrition advice is reflected in her professional endeavors and vibrant online community.

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Meet The Expert

Lisa Richards

Lisa Richards is a nutritionist, author, and creator of The Candida Diet. She created her Ultimate Candida Diet program to help people on their journey to better digestive health.

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Meet The Expert

Trista Best, RD

Trista Best is a registered dietitian at Balance One Supplements, an environmental health specialist, and adjunct nutrition professor. As a Dietitian, she seeks to provide her clients with the skills necessary to take control over their health, one decision at a time.

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