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Artificial sugar is prolific in the American diet, so it can be hard to decrease your sugar intake. Yet, reducing your sugar intake has numerous health benefits. As many of us know, sugar is linked to health problems like diabetes and obesity, but it can also exacerbate symptoms related to autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto's disease. Ahead, why you may want to do a sugar detox and how to safely do it with Hashimoto's.
A sugar detox is when you abstain from eating sugar—specifically added or refined sugar—for some time to reduce sugar intake, curb sugar cravings, and improve your thyroid and overall health.
There is no set amount of time to do a sugar detox, and the focus should be on cutting out added and refined sugars from your diet to reduce the symptoms that sugar may be causing.
You should pay attention to food labels during your sugar detox and avoid sugary sodas, processed foods, and most desserts.
Your sugar detox may be a short-term effort, but the overall goal is to help you re-assess your relationship with food and sugar in the long term. At the end of your detox, you may find that permanently cutting added sugar from your diet is best. Or, you may find that re-introducing it in small amounts post-detox is comfortable for your needs.
Of course, over time, managing your added sugar intake can lead to multiple health benefits.
What experts mean when they say to eat less sugar is that we should eat less added sugar, meaning the additional sugar in foods to make them taste sweet.
Not all sugar is created equal, and some forms of sugar affect your blood glucose differently than others. This difference is called the glycemic index, a system that ranks foods on a scale from 1 to 100 based on their effect on blood sugar levels. Low-glycemic index foods (less than 55) gradually increase blood sugar levels, and foods between 55 and 70 are intermediate-glycemic index foods. Foods with high-glycemic index numbers (more than 70) make blood sugar levels, and insulin levels spike fast.
Added sugar is different from the sugar naturally in some foods like fruit or milk. Natural sugar has the benefit of also delivering vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. For instance, fruit can be higher in fiber than many processed foods, which can help us absorb sugar at a slower rate and feel fuller longer.
For those with Hashimoto's disease and/or hypothyroidism, it's helpful to know the sources of sugar in your diet. Too much can lead to increased inflammation, blood sugar imbalances, leaky gut, and disruption of thyroid hormone function. But don't stress too much about whole fruit or plain dairy foods. You need to keep an eye on sources of added sugar, like desserts, sugary drinks, or packaged foods.
Hashimoto's disease is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid gland located at the base of the neck. The thyroid gland makes thyroid hormones that help the body use energy and work as it should.
This attack causes inflammation and, as it progresses, affects the thyroid gland's ability to produce enough of the hormones that control these bodily functions, leading to hypothyroidism or an underactive thyroid. Hypothyroidism is a thyroid condition in which the thyroid does not produce enough thyroid hormone to support the body's metabolic needs.
Hashimoto's develops over time, so symptoms are often subtle at first but become more pronounced as the disease progresses, leading to hypothyroidism.
Common signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Weight gain
- Cold intolerance
- Difficulty concentrating or brain fog
- Dry skin and hair
- Heavy or irregular menstrual periods
- Pain or swelling in the joints
- Muscle weakness
Many thyroid patients are not aware of this, but Hashimoto's can increase your risk for blood sugar problems. People with this autoimmune disease are more prone to experiencing blood sugar spikes followed by reactive hypoglycemia when eating a meal rich in carbohydrates.
Thyroid hormones not only control energy storage and metabolism but also act as insulin agonists and antagonists. This means thyroid hormones help make insulin either active or inactive in certain organs.
When blood sugar levels fluctuate too much, and thyroid hormones are too low, it can place the body under considerable stress. The adrenal glands combat stress by releasing stress hormones like cortisol, which boosts the immune system and makes the immune system more prone to attacking thyroid cells.
Aside from keeping your Hashimoto's condition in check, there are numerous other reasons why a sugar detox may be beneficial for your health.
Sugar may increase your risk for:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart Disease
- Fatty liver disease
- Skin problems and early signs of aging
- Certain types of cancer
- Dental problems
Giving up sugar can be very difficult. Not only is it everywhere, but it also is quite addictive. Sugar activates the reward system in our brain and makes us want to keep doing it. When we eat sugar, our brains release dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, which happens to be the same part of the brain where we form our addictive response to drugs. And, like its response to many drugs, our brain also becomes tolerant to sugars, making us more likely to want more to achieve the same feeling.
Aside from our physiological response to sugar, it is hard not to want sugar with all of the feel-good feelings promoted by sugar intake through marketing and within our cultures. A sugar detox is challenging both physically and mentally.
There are several ways to do a sugar detox. But, if you have Hashimoto's disease, you will want to be cautious and go slow.
Removing sugar all at once can have pretty significant consequences on your overall health and your thyroid. Here are some ways to get started on a safe sugar detox if you have Hashimoto's.
Start with one meal per day
Focus on removing sugar additives from one meal each day. Breakfast is an excellent place to start, as many everyday breakfast items are packed with sugars, including cereals, sweetened granolas, breakfast bars, pastries, and brunch favorites like pancakes.
Instead of pouring yourself a bowl of packaged cereal, consider switching to a bowl of oatmeal with unsweetened plant-based milk like almond milk, topped with nuts, and seeds (chia seeds are fantastic), cinnamon, and fresh fruit.
Choose water to drink
Sugary beverages often take the place of a glass of water. As a result, many of us gravitate to a sugary coffee drink and reach for flavored drinks in the afternoon. Start by replacing these drinks with plain water, and if that is hard, start slow and do one at a time. Often, people prefer other drinks over water for flavor, so adding lemon or crushed fruit to water can make it more satisfying.
Boost your fiber and protein intake
We tend to gravitate toward sugars when we do not get enough of the proper nutrients from our meals. Frontloading your daily food intake with fiber-rich foods and protein, and complex carbohydrates can prevent you from experiencing a sugar crash later in the day. And while you are focusing on your macronutrients, make sure to get plenty of micronutrients, including vitamins and minerals.
Replace dessert with a bowl of fruit
Capping off a meal with something sweet is habitual for many people. Rather than dipping into the ice cream tub or reaching for a cookie, opt for a small fruit bowl. You get to cap off your meal with something sweet, but you can also boost your intake of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and possibly fiber.
While this may not seem related to a sugar detox, reducing stress is a crucial component of succeeding at taking a break from sugar. When we are stressed, we crave the comfort of sugar, and our bodies beg for quick bursts of energy to get us through.
Decrease stress by making your workload more manageable, getting plenty of sleep, and exercising daily. (Not to mention, stress reduction also wards off Hashimoto's flare-ups.)
Cutting sugar from your diet may lead to physical and mental symptoms, and their severity will vary from person to person, lasting from a few days to a couple of weeks.
Side effects of a sugar detox:
- Lack of energy or feeling run down
- Irritability and anxiety
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Difficulty concentrating
- Stomach cramps
- Nausea and bloating
- Muscle aches
People who have type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome may be at an increased risk for hypoglycemia if they are not careful while doing a sugar detox. If you have either of these conditions, as some people with Hashimoto's do, it is essential to work closely with your healthcare provider to be sure you are preventing hypoglycemia.
Ready to reduce your sugar intake to better control your thyroid and overall health? Work with a thyroid nutritionist at Paloma Health to keep your Hashimoto's symptoms at bay and improve your overall health and wellbeing.