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There’s a lot of debate regarding the tenets of a healthy diet. Vegans believe forgoing animal products is best, while keto enthusiasts just want to eat all the fat. But there’s one food people of nearly every dietary preference aim to avoid: sugar.
Giving up the sweet stuff is challenging since it's found in unsuspecting places, like veggie burgers, tomato sauce, and crackers. But if you do nix added sugars from your diet, your body will benefit almost immediately, according to Dr. Eric Pham, M.D. at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Orange, California.
Within a week you can expect lower blood pressure as well as healthier levels of fat and insulin levels in the bloodstream, he says.
Of course, how your body reacts to the absence of sugar depends on how much of the white stuff you eat in the first place–and whether you’re eating carbs. Your body breaks down complex carbohydrates, like oatmeal and fruit, into simple sugars to use as energy.
But what if you cut out all high glycemic foods, as keto enthusiasts and no-carb, no sugar dieters attempt?
Dessert aficionados, beware: "You’re going to have a tough three days," says Dr. Brian Quebbemann, M.D., a bariatric surgeon based in California.
First, you’ll probably day dream about donuts, if you’re the type of person who regularly grabs a muffin in the morning and ends dinner with dessert. He explains this occurs because you don’t have sugar to help stimulate your brain.
You may feel, well, rough, but there’s a lot of good stuff going on inside your body.
Insulin, a hormone that regulates glucose, drops to become more stable. You won’t go through the cycle of sugar highs and crashes, Quebbemann explains. Initially, you'll feel tired and lethargic, but that will pass within a few days. Adrenaline will increase and help break down glycogen, or sugar, stored in your body. This will be released into your bloodstream pretty quickly, says Quebbemann.
“You’ll go through that in less than 24 hours,” he says.
Within three to five days, your liver will make ketones from fat since there’s no more glucose, your body’s main source of energy. That’s when your body enters ketosis, aka fat burning mode.
As a result, you could experience muscle cramps since you’re losing a lot of water when you’re in ketosis after cutting out sugar. Some people experience keto flu, associated with headaches, fatigue and cramps, which lasts about a week.
But once that passes, you’ll feel more energetic, focused, and calm, says Quebbemann.
It’s common for people to cut out sugar and high-glycemic foods to lose weight for short periods of time. However, doctors still aren’t sure whether this is healthy long-term, explains Quebbemann.
That’s why many doctors recommend eating healthy complex carbohydrates. Although they are broken down into sugar, this is an entirely normal and healthy process, says Quebbemann.
In fact, omitting added sugars while eating complex carbs keeps your insulin levels healthy.
“You don’t get the headaches. You don’t get the crashes. You get a consistent level of energy,” he says.