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One-month sugar detox: A nutritionist explains how and why

Lisa Drayer, CNN | 6/9/2017, 7:02 a.m.
If you've read about the latest wellness trends, you may have entertained the idea of a diet detox.
Sugar Pixabay

(CNN) -- If you've read about the latest wellness trends, you may have entertained the idea of a diet detox.

But whether you've considered juicing, fasting or cleansing in an effort to lose weight or improve your well-being, you're probably aware that drastically cutting out foods is not effective as a long-term lifestyle approach to healthy eating.

In fact, strict detoxing can cause issues including fatigue, dizziness and low blood sugar.

But there is one kind of sustainable detox that is worthwhile, according to some experts. Reducing sugar in your diet can help you drop pounds, improve your health and even give you more radiant skin.

"Sugar makes you fat, ugly and old," said Brooke Alpert, a registered dietitian and co-author of "The Sugar Detox: Lose the Sugar, Lose the Weight -- Look and Feel Great." "What we've discovered in the last couple of years is that sugar is keeping us overweight. It's also a leading cause of heart disease; it negatively affects skin, and it leads to premature aging."

Sugar addiction

Here's more bad news: We can't stop consuming sugar. "People have a real dependency -- a real addiction to sugar," Alpert said. "We have sugar, we feel good from it, we get (the feeling of) an upper, and then we crash and need to reach for more."

About 10% of the US population are true sugar addicts, according to Robert Lustig, professor of pediatrics and member of the Institute for Health Policy Studies at the University of California, San Francisco. What's more, research suggests that sugar induces rewards and cravings that are similar in magnitude to those induced by addictive drugs.

One of the biggest concerns is the amount of added sugars in our diets, which are often hidden in foods. Although ice cream cake is an obvious source of sugar, other foods that may not even taste sweet -- such as salad dressings, tomato sauces and breads -- can be loaded with the white stuff.

"People don't realize that seemingly healthy foods are loaded with sugar -- and so we're basically eating sugar all day long, from morning till night," Alpert said.

How to sugar detox: Going cold turkey for three days

The good news is that even if you're not a true sugar "addict," by eliminating sugar from your diet, you can quickly lose unwanted pounds, feel better and have a more radiant appearance.

"There is no one person who wouldn't benefit by eliminating added sugars from their diets," Lustig said.

Children can benefit, too. Lustig's research revealed that when obese children eliminated added sugars from their diets for just nine days, every aspect of their metabolic health improved -- despite no changes in body weight or total calories consumed.

But going cold turkey is what works best, at least in the beginning.

"Early on in my practice, when I would notice that people had real addiction to sugar, we'd start trying to wean them of sugar or limit their intake or eat in moderation ... but the word 'moderation' is so clichéd and not effective," Alpert said. "It was just ineffective to ask people to eat less of something when they're struggling with this bad habit. You wouldn't ask an alcoholic to just drink two beers.