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What Really Happens to Your Body If You Stop Eating Sugar

From weight loss to better sleep, here's what you stand to gain, according to dietitians.

Let's face it: most of us eat too much sugar. In fact, according to the American Heart Association, the average American eats 17 teaspoons of added sugar daily. That's three times the recommended maximum for women, and two times the maximum for men—which begs the question: What happens when you stop eating sugar?

Lindsay Malone, MS, RDN, LD, a registered dietitian and adjunct professor of nutrition at Case Western Reserve University, says there are plenty of ways your body stands to benefit if you curb your sugar consumption. She says you can begin by assessing your intake and looking for clues that you're eating too much.

"If you are constantly drinking and eating foods sweeter than nature intended, your taste buds will become accustomed to that level of sweetness. One thing I always say to my patients is if an in-season piece of fruit doesn't taste sweet to you, there is work to be done with your tastebuds," she tells Best Life.

Rather than rushing to replace sugar with artificial sweeteners, which she says can disrupt gut bacteria and perpetuate sweet cravings, Malone recommends building a better appreciation for naturally sweet foods like strawberries, tomatoes, and balsamic vinegar. "You can either go cold turkey with sweeteners or switch to natural sweeteners as you start to cut back," she says.

Wondering what happens to your body if you stop eating sugar? These are the nine biggest benefits you're likely to notice, experts say.

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You'll lower your risk of heart disease.

Shot of a doctor checking a senior patient's blood pressure in her office

According to Lindsay Delk, RD, RDN, the food and mood dietician, diets that are high in added sugar can cause increased levels of inflammation in the body, and this can strain the cardiovascular system.

"By reducing or eliminating added sugars in your diet, you may see a decrease in overall inflammation levels," she tells Best Life. "Lowering chronic inflammation in your body can reduce your risk of heart disease and high blood pressure."

In fact, a 2014 study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that high-sugar diets—those in which subjects consumed 17 to 21 percent of their total calories from sugar—were linked to a 38 percent increase in deaths from cardiovascular disease, compared with lower-sugar diets where less than eight percent of the subjects' calories came from added sugar. The more sugar the subjects ate, the more their risk for heart disease increased.

You'll lower your risk of diabetes.

middle-aged woman talking to doctor
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Delk adds that those who cut sugar from their diets are also at lower risk of diabetes and other metabolic diseases.

A report from the Mayo Clinic, which reviewed data from animal experiments and human studies, confirms that added sugars such as sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup have been implicated as one of the greatest driving forces behind the development of diabetes mellitus and related metabolic problems.

"Added fructose in particular (eg. as a constituent of added sucrose or as the main component of high-fructose sweeteners) may pose the greatest problem for incident diabetes, diabetes-related metabolic abnormalities," the report states.

However, whole foods that contain fructose such as fruits and vegetables "pose no problem for health and are likely protective against diabetes."

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You'll improve your liver health.

closeup of a doctor holding a liver replica

Your liver will also thank you if you stop eating so much added sugar, experts say.

"Your liver metabolizes sugar the same way as alcohol, and converts dietary carbohydrates to fat," said Frank Hu, MD, a professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who worked on the 2014 heart health study. "Over time, this can lead to a greater accumulation of fat, which may turn into fatty liver disease."

It is currently estimated that 80 million to 100 million Americans are living with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition which can raise your risk of both Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

However, changing your diet can greatly reduce your risk: A 2019 study on children living with fatty liver disease found that after eight weeks of consuming a low-sugar diet, subjects saw a 31 percent average reduction in liver fat compared to the control group.

You'll most likely lose weight.

woman measuring herself for weight loss
mapo / iStock

One of the simplest dietary changes you can make to lose weight is reducing your added sugar intake. Experts say it's important to be mindful not only of sugary snacks and beverages but also of hidden sugars in prepared foods.

"Added sugars are just added calories! Sugar helps extend the shelf life of food items like bread and premade sauces, but it also sneaks in excess calories that contribute to weight gain," explains Daryl Gioffre, DC, a chiropractor, celebrity nutritionist for Alkamind, and author of the book Get Off Your Sugar: Burn the Fat, Crush Your Cravings, and Go From Stress Eating to Strength Eating.

"Sugar also damages the gut's lining, impacting its ability to absorb the nutrients we need properly. When we eat too much sugar, it's also converted to fat and stored for energy," he notes.

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You'll be more satiated between meals.

Woman standing at kitchen counter preparing healthy food smiling at camera
Anna Frank / iStock

There's another key way that cutting out sugar can lead to weight loss: It can help you feel more satiated between meals, Gioffre says.

"Sugar alters the hormone function of two hunger hormones, leptin and ghrelin," the nutrition expert explains. "When insulin levels spike from eating sugar, the effects of these two hormones are negated, so you continue to feel hungry and you never feel satisfied."

You'll have fewer cravings.

Closeup of woman eating small bowl of healthy food

Catherine Gervacio, RDN, a registered dietitian and nutritionist working with E-Health Project, says that when you quit added sugars, you may find your sweet tooth fading.

"Over time, your body adapts to your no-sugar habits and it will begin to be more sensitive to other flavors," she explains. "This reduces the chances of sweet cravings and provides more room for healthy foods. With this, there's a higher chance of getting into healthy eating habits which would benefit your health in general."

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You'll sleep better.

Top view of a young woman asleep in bed with white sheets

If you stop eating sugar, you may also notice improvements in your quality of sleep.

"If you are on the blood sugar roller coaster during the day, it will continue through the night," explains Malone. "When you dip too low, your body releases cortisol (a stress hormone) to help bring your blood sugar back up. This can lead to interrupted sleep."

Your mood may improve.

happy older woman with longer hair on swing
wundervisuals / iStock

Eating a high-sugar diet has also been linked with mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, studies show.

In fact, a 2017 report found that eating high levels of added sugars had an "adverse effect on long-term psychological health" due to unstable blood sugar regulation. That's why eating less added sugar in your food and beverages could benefit your mental health.

Though your doctor or mental health professional may additionally recommend medication, talk therapy, or other interventions, "cutting back on added sugars may help to ease stress, reduce irritability, and improve your mood," says Delks.

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Your skin will look healthier.

Young happy woman in towel applying face mask while looking in round mirror in bathroom.

Gervacio says another thing you have to look forward to when quitting sugar is glowing skin and better dermatologic health.

"You'll get to see your health radiating from the inside out," she tells Best Life. "Avoiding sugar may lead to clearer skin as the body experiences lesser inflammation. In particular, sugar causes inflammation and exacerbates skin conditions such as acne. Therefore, a no-sugar diet avoids the chances of skin problems."

You'll have improved magnesium absorption.

Foods High in Magnesium on wooden table. Healthy eating.
Tatjana Baibakova / Shutterstock

Getting adequate levels of Magnesium is important to the function of several body parts, including the heart, bones, muscles, and nerves. "It also gives you energy, helps you sleep better, and keeps digestion flowing," Gioffre says.

The gut health expert warns that sugar consumption causes massive depletions of magnesium, which he calls "one of the most important minerals for overall health." He notes that research shows that 80 percent of Americans are lacking in this vital mineral, and excess sugar consumption is commonly to blame.

"Magnesium helps regulate glucose and insulin, so it's no wonder there's a strong correlation between sugar consumption, magnesium deficiency, and diabetes," he says.

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Your teeth will be healthier.

Patient at the dentist holding a mirror smiling while dentist points to her teeth

Of course, your teeth also stand to benefit when you stop eating sugar. As Malone points out, "added sugar can fuel cavities and poor dental health particularly in the form of beverages, hard candies, and sticky sweets like gummy bears and donuts."

However, less obvious sources of added sugars, such as sauces, crackers, and juices, can also contribute to tooth decay.

You may also experience some unpleasant side effects.

Though curbing your sugar intake is likely to benefit your health in the long term, Delk notes that many people experience symptoms of sugar withdrawal in the short term.

"If you stop eating added sugar all at once, you may experience headaches, the inability to concentrate, a lack of motivation, fatigue, irritability, and mood changes," she tells Best Life.

However, she notes that these unpleasant symptoms tend to pass quickly, and the benefits of reducing your sugar intake are likely to far outweigh any immediate discomfort.

Speak with your doctor or a nutritionist to learn more about how eating less sugar may improve your health—and how to change your diet sustainably for long-lasting benefits.

Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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