How to Kick the Sugar Habit…for Good

Maylin Rodriguez-Paez, RN

The food industry really wants you to believe that sugar is not bad for you, but by now we’re pretty sure that you know better.

If you’ve read our previous blog posts and magazine articles, you’re probably well-aware of the fact that excess sugar is not exactly good for you. 

In fact, it's linked to a variety of health problems such as dyslipidemia and diabetes,1 heart disease,2 dementia,3 and even cancer.4

But rather than just rehash this information, we’re going to focus on how to kick your sugar habit for good today.

Why? Because if you want to be healthy, you need to kick sugar out of your diet.

Step One: Acknowledge “The Addiction”

If you think you have a “sugar addiction,” you’re probably onto something. There’s evidence showing that this can be a real problem for certain people.

In lab studies, rats that binge on sugar show two key elements of addiction: craving and relapse. And when they’re denied sugar, they actually display withdrawal symptoms like anxiety.5

Why? Because sugar produces profound changes in their brains, similar to what happens when they’re given drugs like cocaine and morphine.5 And it’s not much different for humans either.

Research shows that people who abuse drugs and alcohol are more likely to have a “sweet tooth.” In fact, eating sugar may cause the release of endorphins and dopamine,6 which may also happen during drug abuse.

Overall, the biological pathways of “sugar addiction” involve similar receptors and brain regions as for drug addiction. So it’s no wonder that slice of cake makes you feel good and keeps you coming back for more.

Step 2: Get Rid of Obvious and Hidden Sources of Sugar

If you’re going to remove sugar from your diet, you need to do it wholeheartedly. Take a good look at all of your food labels at home and look for hidden sources of sugar. Even your so called “health foods” may contain plenty of it.

Here is a list of some common "hidden sugar" offenders to avoid:

Whole grain bread Whole grain cereals
Salad dressings Ketchup
Soups Condiments
Whole wheat breads Mixed drinks
Marinades Store bought sauces (Asian, tomato, BBQ, etc.)
Plain yogurt Trail mix
Dried fruits Granola bars
Protein bars Protein drinks
Frozen dinners Health drinks
Bottled teas Smoothies

And don’t forget the “white offenders” too (white bread, white pasta, potatoes, white rice, etc.). They may not have added sugars, but they’re just as addictive. Avoid these as well!

Step 3: Know sugar by its different names

In a semi-clever attempt to disguise sugar, food manufacturers use fancy names on their food labels to mask it. Surprised?

For this reason, you should be familiar with (and avoid) these as well:

Sucrose Maltose
Galactose Dextrose
Lactose Barley malt
Sorghum syrup Carob syrup
Refiner’s syrup Corn syrup solids
Brown rice syrup Maltodextrin

By the way, if you want to make it easier for yourself, avoid all prepackaged foods and simply don’t eat out at restaurants. This way you’ll be able to fully control what goes into your food and ultimately your body.

Step 4: Get Nutritional Support

Kicking the sugar habit is tough. When starting out, you may very well feel moody, tired, and just plain miserable.

This is because you’re lacking the neurotransmitter boosts you’re used to getting from sugary foods. The solution is to balance your brain chemistry to help even out your moods and cravings.

Saffron extracts and L-tryptophan, for example, help to balance neurotransmitters. Saffron appears to boost, and L-tryptophan supports the production of serotonin,7, 8 a feel-good chemical that increases when you eat sugary foods.

Saffron also boosts dopamine7 and has even been shown to decrease carb cravings.9

And lastly, you don’t have to do this cold turkey. Cut back on your guilty pleasures, slowly. For example, rather than have one can of soda a day, drink half. And with time, you’ll feel repulsed by the sweetness of soda.

It may sound odd now, but give it a shot — you may just be surprised by how your body responds!

The Bottom Line

If you want to be healthy, you must kick sugar out of your diet as best as you can. And to do that you need to seriously familiarize yourself with the foods you eat.

Have you kicked sugar out of your diet entirely? If so, has your overall health improved? Please share in the comments!


  1. JAMA. 2010;303(15):1490-1497.
  2. Am J Clin Nutr. 1997 Apr;65(4):1027-33.
  3. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2010 Aug;65(8):809-14.
  4. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2012 Nov 21;104(22):1702-11.
  5. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2008;32(1):20-39.
  6. J Psychoactive Drugs. 2010 Jun;42(2):147-51.
  7. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2004 Sep 2;4:12.
  8. J Nutr. 2012 Dec;142(12):2236S-2244S.
  9. Nutraveris; 2006. Unpublished study.


compugirl said...

I appreciate the try regarding kicking the sugar habit. However, there is simply nothing simple about it. You simply have to be willing to do it. I think for me, what would really help is to have a personal account of someone quitting sugar, and the bodily effects she/he goes through. So that I know what to expect. Since I have bad anxiety as well.

Anonymous said...

Here's the one problem with your otherwise helpful plan but it's a big one.

When most try to kick sugar they end up starving and it doesn't last.

2/3 of caloric intake for the typical diet in the U.S. is mostly grains. If you include other carb-based foods you're probably up to more than 3/4 of energy intake as carbs. So if you restrict or remove carb/sugar energy sources, the hunger pangs become more severe and the addiction more intensified.

If you're going to kick the sugar habit, you have to substitute all calories you subtract with calories from proteins and healthy fats - from fish, pastured animal products like chicken, eggs, turkey and also wild caught seafood. Nuts, olive oil, cooking in beef tallow from grass-fed cows etc.

What we unlearn about sugars is paralleled by a mountain of information we need to learn about diets based on healthy-fats.

You can't just drain fuel from a body and expect the person to sustain health. Healthy fatty acids are the solar energy of the human diet. Cheaper, safer, better for sustainability of human health.

Karen said...

Kicking sugar is no big deal...just decide and do apples, carrots, grapes, cantaloupe, watermelon, clementines, pop corn...make raw brownie bits with nuts and flax, carob, cocoa and high grade agave, almond and cashew buyer and coconut oil...what you can expect is much more energy and not being a slave to the ups and downs and cravings sugar and empty carbs cause...unless you are diabetic most people can tolerate some carbs...but only after getting the gut healed...sugar is a terrible substance that wrecks havoc in so many ways in the body and mind....try stevia also for natural sweetener...and for your anxiety try amino acids taursine and tyrosine..500 mgs. 1 or 2 times a day...will help a lot....

Lisa Leger said...

The only way I can see to eliminate sugar from your diet would be to cook your own foods, and make everything from scratch yourself. Almost everything sold in the a can or a box...frozen or refrigerated....has sugar hidden in it somewhere. Almost everything in store can be made from scratch at ketchup, salsa, etc....all can be home made without the sugar. Many diabetic foods have sugar substitutes, which also are no good for you. All this can be done, providing you are willing to spend all your free time devoted to making everything yourself. Even better, grow your own fruits and/or vegetables to insure no pesticides, and eliminate sugar & salt when you cook.

Anonymous said...

Its fine and dandy showing the list of hidden sugar in step 2 but how about showing what to replace it with. What should you replace Whole Wheat Bread with, replace a proteing shake with?

Anonymous said...

It's not easy, especially when it's everywhere. Compugirl, do you have strategies for dealing with anxiety, such as a meditation practice?

LifeExtension said...

Karen - Great suggestions! Thanks for sharing. :)

LifeExtension said...

Anonymous - Eat complex carbs such as quinoa and pearled barley. Replace whole grain breads with sprouted breads. Eat vegetables such as squash, asparagus, and zuchinni with your meals rather than starchy carbs. Avoid juices and eat fruit instead. Aim for high fiber, minimally processed carbs.

Overall, your goal should be to eat low glycemic carbs. Here's a little more info:

We hope this helps!

LifeExtension said...

compugirl - You're in luck! Here's an account of a person who kicked the sugar habit, courtesy of FABResearch:

LifeExtension said...

compugirl - One more thing! As you probably know, eating carbs is a way to calm anxious nerves. Here's some info on how to ease anxiety naturally without compromising your diet:

LifeExtension said...

Lisa Leger - Our thoughts exactly! Thanks for chiming in. :)

Helen said...

Hi. I'm Helen who wrote the letter to FAB Research! I love your article, thanks so much! I admit that it isn't easy finding products to replace those with sugar in, but it's not impossible. And the more people who want these products, the more chance that the industry will change.

LifeExtension said...

Helen - Thanks for your positive feedback. It's definitely possible to kick the sugar habit!

Anne Cohen said...

I have personally given up sugar and felt that it was indeed an "addiction". I went through withdrawal symptoms for a few weeks, most notably in the first few days. I found that it was so important to increase my consumption of healthy fats during the process. I also used Saffron extract to curb cravings. Without the added extra help I think that it would have been insurmountably challenging. I've seen people attempt to give up sugar before and then follow a lowfat diet. They end up going nuts and going right back to where they started. I also think it may be a good idea during the sugar withdrawal phase that people reduce the intensity of cardiovascular exercise and weight training as this may only intensify hunger cravings, unless of course they are one of the lucky ones who seem to find exercise as anorectic. Also having a support system to rely on to discuss challenges during the rehabilitation phase would prove beneficial.

LifeExtension said...

Anne Cohen - We're glad you were able to kick your "sugar habit" and shared your experience with us. Hopefully others can do the same. Thanks!

Jake Kearns said...

Timely article, this is exactly what I'm trying to control lately.

LifeExtension said...

Jake Kearns - Glad it hit the spot!

Anonymous said...

I quit high sugar foods and sodas 40 years ago. Love spicy, if something eats me they'll feel it the next morning.

Anonymous said...

My friend just lost 70 pounds! Her secret - "no sugar!"

Life Extension said...

Anonymous - Good for you! Spicy foods boost metabolism. They're a good option for people trying to lose weight.

Life Extension said...

Anonymous - A diet with no-added sugars can be really helpful for weight loss.

Anonymous said...

If you want accounts of people going sugar free try Marks Daily Apple.

vlc said...

If cooked, might as well consider 'starch' to be another covert sugar.

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