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I'm a Dietitian and Here's What Happens to Your Body When You Give Up Sugar

Discover how it might affect you.
FACT CHECKED BY Christopher Roback

Several biological changes can happen when a person eliminates their added sugar intake. As a Registered Dietitian and Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) at Top Nutrition Coaching, I'd know. Short-term, one may experience stabilized blood sugar levels, leading to improved energy. Long term, they may experience improved insulin sensitivity and reduced risk for diabetes and other chronic diseases. Other potential impacts include improved dental health, gut health, and weight management. Read on to see how it might affect—and benefit!—you.


Initial Physical Reactions

Female office worker in glasses rubbing tired eyes, exhausted from overworking, sitting at workplace in office.

When first eliminating added sugar intake, it's possible for someone to experience cravings, irritability, and fatigue. However, these effects are likely temporary and it's not far long until improved energy levels, better sleep, and improved mental and emotional health may be experienced. It is possible that someone may see a reduction in bloating, inflammation, and bowel habits due to a change in gut microbiota over time, according to research

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Blood Sugar Levels


When consumed, sugar raises blood sugar levels. However, when consumed with sources of fiber, protein, or fat, the speed at which blood sugar levels rise is less rapid. When we cut back or give up sugary foods, our blood sugar levels have a less dramatic rise and fall effect. When blood sugar levels stay more steady, we tend to have more consistent energy levels. 


Energy Fluctuations


Sugar provides a quick energy boost, but if eaten in the simple carbohydrate form (one without dietary fiber), it can lead to an energy crash as quickly as the energy boost came. Without these spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels (and energy), it's likely someone will experience more stable and sustained energy throughout the day. To support sustained energy throughout the day, it's recommended to eat at regular intervals and incorporate a variety of nutrients at meal times (i.e. lean protein, complex carbohydrate, fruit or vegetable, hydrating fluid). 


Cravings and Withdrawal

Young hungry woman in front of refrigerator craving chocolate pastries.

Sugar can be an addictive substance, making cravings for sugar and the potential for withdrawal symptoms from eliminating it overtime possible. After limiting or eliminating added sugar, it's possible that a person's taste buds may become more sensitive to natural flavors and sugars. Fruit may taste sweeter and the desire for foods with added sugar in them may decrease. When first looking to reduce added sugar intake, it can be helpful to consume regularly timed meals consisting of lean protein, healthy fats, and fibrous foods, staying hydrated, managing stress appropriately, and getting sufficient sleep. 

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Weight Management


While there's no one nutrient or one food that "makes or breaks" weight or body composition changes, it is possible if someone limits or eliminates their sugar intake that they will lose or begin to maintain their weight. This is possible in the case that someone is over consuming sugar and thus over consuming total calories. In the case of an athlete, sugar can be beneficial for training and competition as carbohydrates (i.e. sugar) is the main substrate for energy but if sugar is over consumed for non-training purposes, it can lead to excess caloric intake, which can lead to unwanted weight gain. 


Mental and Emotional Health


Reducing or eliminating added sugar intake can have several impacts on mental and emotional health. Impacts may vary person to person but it's possible that with the reduction of added sugar intake, an individual may experience a more stable mood, less anxiety, and a reduced risk for depression. Another may see improved cognitive function, better memory and mental clarity, and better sleep. It's important to note that other factors can improve mental and emotional well-being too. Examples include a balanced and nutrient-dense diet, appropriate stress management, quality sleep, a supportive and loving community, and work-life balance. 


Long-Term Health Benefits


Eliminating or even reducing added sugar intake can have several long-term health benefits. Some of these include reduced risk for chronic diseases like heart disease, fatty liver, and diabetes. Other health benefits can include weight management, improved mental health, and stable energy levels. There are likely more benefits to reducing added sugar intake for those that over consume it already. Further, if a person decreases their added sugar intake, it's likely they may implement more nutritious foods that will support their overall health and wellness.


Nutritional Balance


To ensure one consumes a balanced diet, it's recommended to implement a variety of foods throughout the week. The food groups one should aim to hit (depending on allergies, intolerances, and food preferences) include lean protein, whole grains, healthy fats, low-fat dairy, and fruits and vegetables. The more variety in food intake, likely the more variety in the overall nutrient profile of a person's diet. I recommend people consume a variety of fruits and vegetables throughout the week, aiming for at least one fruit or vegetable from each color of the rainbow. (Ex: red apple, orange bell pepper, yellow tomato, green beans, blueberries, eggplant, white onion). If someone is looking to find healthy alternatives to sugary foods, I recommend eating foods that have natural sugars in them, like fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. A couple ideas include, Greek yogurt with berries, banana and peanut butter, and oatmeal with raisins and dried apricots.

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Impact on Chronic Diseases


Sugar is inflammatory and if eaten in excess over time, the inflammatory response can increase the risk for various chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes. On the other hand, anti-inflammatory foods like fish, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, olives, and avocados can work to reduce inflammation in the body, ultimately protecting us from an increased risk of chronic disease. The reduction of inflammatory sugar and the increase of these anti-inflammatory foods can work together to decrease our risk for chronic disease and enhance our overall health and wellness. 

Jordan Hill is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) at Top Nutrition Coaching with over seven years of counseling experience. 

Jordan Hill, MCD, RD, CSSD
Jordan Hill, MCD, RD, CSSD, is a Certified Registered Dietitian and Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) at Top Nutrition Coaching with over seven years of counseling experience. Read more
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