The Dr. Is In: Quitting Sugar

Some researchers have maintained that it’s as addictive as cocaine, so how can you finally quit sugar? Purist’s columnist Dr. Frank Lipman weighs in with 20 actionable ways to get sugar out of your life.


Photo by Brooke Lark

As the saying goes, everyone is talking about sugar, but what are they doing about it? It’s my fervent wish that they—and you—are working on quitting the stuff. Why? The short answer is that sugar is an extraordinarily destructive substance that most people eat far too much of. The longer answer is that virtually every day, more studies are proving what we in the optimal health community have always believed: that sugar plays a pivotal role in the development of many of the devastating illnesses we fear most, namely heart disease, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s, to name a few.

Granted, the body does need trace amounts of sugar to function, but the average American is eating sugar by the pound, not the molecule. Some estimates put the average adult intake at close to 130 pounds of sugar a year—an astonishing amount of any substance, much less one with such disastrous health implications. So what do we do now? In a nutshell: Kick sugar to the curb—your life absolutely depends on it.

Here are a few thoughts on how to break free and get sugar out of your life now, so you can live the sweet life for years to come:

1. Eat regularly (initially). Eat three meals and two snacks, or five small meals, a day. For many people, if they don’t eat regularly, their blood sugar levels drop, they feel hungry and are more likely to crave sugary snacks. With time, as you break free from sugar and start eating more fat and protein and fewer carbs, you won’t need to eat the sweet stuff as often.

2. Choose whole foods. The closer a food is to its original form, the less processed sugar it will contain. Food in its natural form, including fruits and vegetables, usually presents no metabolic problems for a normal body, especially when consumed in variety.

3. Do a cleanse. My experience has been that when people do a proper cleanse, not only does it reset their appetites but it often decreases their sugar cravings. After the initial sugar cravings, which can be overwhelming, our bodies adjust and we won’t even want the sugar anymore; the desire will disappear.

4. Have a breakfast of protein, fat and phytonutrients to start your day off right. Breakfast smoothies are ideal for this. The typical breakfast full of carbs and sugary or starchy foods is the worst option, since you’ll have cravings all day. Eating a good breakfast is essential to prevent sugar cravings.

5. Try to incorporate protein and/or fat with each meal. This helps control blood sugar levels. Make sure to select healthy sources of each.

6. Add spices. Coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom will naturally sweeten your foods and help reduce cravings.

7. Take a good-quality multivitamin and mineral supplement and omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D3 supplements. Nutrient deficiencies can make cravings worse—and the fewer nutrient deficiencies, the fewer cravings. Certain nutrients seem to improve blood sugar control, including chromium, vitamin B3 and magnesium.

8. Move your body: Exercise, dance or do some yoga. Whatever movement you enjoy will help reduce tension, boost your energy and decrease your need for a sugar lift.

9. Get enough sleep. When we are tired, we often use sugar for energy to counteract the exhaustion.

10. STOP EMOTIONAL EATING. Be open to explore the emotional issues around your sugar addiction. Many times our craving for sugar is due to an emotional need that isn’t being met.

11. Keep sugary snacks out of your house and office. It’s difficult to snack on things that aren’t there!

12. Don’t substitute artificial sweeteners for sugar. This will do little to alter your desire for sweets.

13. Learn to read labels. Although I would encourage you to eat as few foods as possible that have labels, educate yourself about what you’re putting into your body. The longer the list of ingredients, the more likely sugar is going to be included on that list. So check the grams of sugar, and choose products with the least sugar per serving (I teaspoon of sugar is roughly equivalent to about 4 grams). Become familiar with sugar terminology and recognize that all of these are sweeteners: agave, corn syrup, corn sugar, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, dextrose, honey, cane sugar, cane crystals, fruit juice concentrates, molasses, turbinado sugar and brown sugar.

14. LEARN TO RECOGNIZE sugars in disguise. Remember that most of the “complex” carbohydrates we consume like bread (including whole wheat), bagels and pasta aren’t really complex at all. They are usually highly refined or act just like sugars in the body and are to be avoided.

15. Scare yourself straight. While I won’t say our national love affair with sugar is all in the mind—there is a strong physical component to sugar addiction—one way to kick off your sugar-free journey is to reframe the way you think about sugar. Treat it like an illicit drug, a kind of legal form of heroin, a dark force to be avoided and a substance whose use leads to physical ruin. Next, take a look at CBS’s 60 Minutes’ story, “Is Sugar Toxic?” story—it’s a potentially life-changing report for anyone who needs just a bit more inspiration to help them kick sugar.


16. Take 1000-2000 mg of L-glutamine every couple of hours as necessary. It often relieves sugar cravings, as the brain uses it for fuel.

17. Take a “breathing break.” Find a quiet spot, get comfortable, close your eyes and sit quietly for a few minutes and focus on your breath. After a few minutes of this, the craving will pass.

18. Distract yourself. Go for a walk, if possible, in nature. Cravings usually last for 10 to 20 minutes maximum. If you can distract yourself with something else, they often pass. The more you do this, the easier it will get, and the easier the cravings will be to deal with.

19. Drink lots of water. Sometimes drinking water or seltzer can help with the sugar cravings. Also, sometimes what we perceive as a food craving is really thirst.

20. Have a piece of fruit. If you have to give in to your cravings, have a piece of fruit; it should satisfy your craving for something sweet and is somewhat healthier. Stick to low-sugar fruits, like berries, and remember, always eat your fruit, don’t drink it.