What Sugar Does To Your Body

From former model, classically trained chef, wellness journalist and best-selling author of Clean Green Eats and Clean Green Drinks, Candice Kumai

I am a sugar addict. A child of the ’80s (gotta love Jem and Ghostbusters), sugar was in absolutely everything we consumed. Sugary cereal was a dream, packaged fruit snacks were a must; squeeze-it bottles in every lunch, happy meals for the weekend—you know, because we all ate the same way. 

At twenty-three, fresh out of culinary school, I retired from my modeling career and moved on to television, hosting shows on Lifetime, E! and TLC. I judged on shows like Iron Chef America and Beat Bobby Flay and traveled across the country for shoots. The way I was eating—sweetened yogurt, sugary creamer in my coffee, sneaking cookies and processed cereal bars between takes, drinking sweetened lattes and fraps from Starbucks, not to mention eating out a lot—began to add up, and the subsequent inflammation was causing my skin to break-out. Worse still, we were shooting in HD, which made it really, really hard for me to hide my breakouts from the camera and my colleagues.

More and more, research is showing us that inflammation is the root cause of many of our health problems. The bummer for each of us is that added sugar is lurking in almost everything we like to eat: pasta sauce, dressings, bread, and yes, all those bottled juices fronting as “healthy”—they’re simply the opposite.

As a professionally trained chef, I thought people who cut sugar from their diets were totally insane! Plus, I wrote clean cookbooks for a living and judged TV cooking competitions. I couldn’t cut out sugar! Could I? Over the past year, I began to taper off sugar (you’ll see how below) in the hopes that I would gain more energy, boost my immunity, and reap all the rest of the rewards that we’re now being told come with a lower-sugar diet.

The World Health Organization recommends consuming less than 10% of your daily calories from added sugar—5% for “additional health benefits.” In practical terms, according to the American Heart Association, that’s 25 grams of sugar (6 teaspoons) for women and 37.5 grams (9 teaspoons) for men. My friend, registered dietician and nutritionist Keri Glassman, notes that most American’s get two- to three-times that amount. (Yikes!)

I remember the first few weeks of my sugar experiment being seriously tough. I love my dark chocolate! But I was committed to my cause. The one thing I knew I could control if I wanted to cut sugar was the way I nourished myself at home. I blended my own smoothies (seriously, those smoothies and juices in the fridge at your grocery store and gym are packed with sugar—just read the labels), I paid close attention to the nutrition information of the ingredients I was buying, and ate out much less. Simply cooking for yourself can improve your whole life.

I started to feel much better. My energy levels soared. Best of all? My skin started to clear up—it was also tighter, firmer, and less oily—and I began to see that elusive glow. Today, with the help of a few tips and tricks (and recipes!) I’ve shared below, I’m proud to say I’ve managed to keep added sugar to a minimum and detox my diet. If someone had told me years ago that it was my sugar-filled diet that was causing my breakouts and inflammation in my body all along, I would have saved myself from years of suffering. And that’s why I’m sharing my story with you—so you don’t have to go through the pain and the embarrassment, so you can reclaim your health on your own, by simply cutting down on the sug!  

Candice’s Sugar Detox Guide

When setting out to cut down on sugar, remember to take it one day at a time. Also, this isn’t about all or nothing: For example, don’t worry so much about cutting down on fruit (according to a recent report from the World Health Organization, natural sugars found in fruit haven’t been linked to adverse health effects). Instead, focus on cutting out all of that processed, added sugar—bottled juices and smoothies, packaged cookies, chips, and crackers, soda, candy, cereal, bread, granola, yogurt, any kind of processed bars (protein, granola, chocolate), sweetened latte crap, and stop using that gross bottled sugary French vanilla creamer in your coffee! The easiest way to track your sugar intake? Read food labels and start cooking more at home. Remember, cooking during your sugar detox is also empowering! To help you, I’ve come up with an easy guide, plus a few sugar-free recipes that will satisfy your cravings while you cut down on the bad stuff.

  • Purchase only whole foods at the grocery store and toss out the processed stuff. You may find yourself shopping more often, but you’ll end up saving money by cooking more at home
  • Pay attention to food labels!
  • Aim to consume 20g or less of added sugar each day
  • Drink 8-12 cups of water a day to stay hydrated
  • Cook for yourself, blend your own smoothies, and pack lunches!
  • Make a delish and low-sugar dinner, like tofu and broccoli rabe over quinoa or a full meal arugula salad with adzuki beans, roasted veggies and top off with hemp seeds.
  • Make your own dressings, marinades and sauces
  • Enlist a friend or family member to cut down on sugar with you; you’ll keep one another supported and encouraged

Best snacks whilst cutting down on sugar:

Need Sweetener?

  • I add a few drops of stevia to my smoothies, or my oatmeal etc. when needed
  • My favorite protein powders are naturally sweetened with monk fruit
  • I eat a handful of delish berries like raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and strawberries when I need to get my sweet fix on.

Here are some of my fave Sugar Detox Recipes to keep you full on nutrition, not sugar!  

Breakfast: Greek Yogurt & Amaranth Berry Porridge 

A new trend, from ancient times is arising, grain porridge – aka hot cereal – in the am. Try everything from quinoa to sorghum to amaranth or even teff. Just cook your grains with a delicious, unsweetened coconut or almond milk, add a touch of berries and low sugar Greek yogurt, and you have the perfect morning starter to a fabulous day! Total bonus? Some of these grains like quinoa and amaranth are also gluten-free! Yippee!

Amaranth-Berry-Porridge-

Recipe from Candice Kumai’s Clean Green Eats

Serves 2

Ingredients: 

1 cup amaranth (Gluten-free grain, naturally!) you can also opt for oatmeal or quinoa

1 cup unsweetened coconut milk beverage or unsweetened almond milk

2 cups water

¼ teaspoon sea salt

To Top:

1 cup mixed berries (I love blueberries, strawberries and blackberries – did you know strawberries are low in natural sugar?)

2 tablespoons unsweetened almond butter, natural (optional) for protein!

2 tablespoons 2% Greek yogurt

Flax seed meal

Directions:

1. In a medium saucepan, boil the two cups water and 1 cup coconut milk beverage or almond milk. When water boils, pour in the amaranth and reduce heat to a light simmer and add ¼ teaspoon sea salt. Cook for approximately 20 minutes or until a porridge like consistency forms.

2. When the amaranth is all cooked through, pour into two bowls. Top with 1 tablespoon each of the almond butter, if using, yogurt or any additional toppings. Take your instagram photo, and then mix it all to eat! Top each bowl with your choice of mixed berries and almond/coconut milk if desired. Sprinkle with some flax seed meal! Enjoy for a delicious fiber and protein filled power breakfast this weekend! YUM! 

Lunch/Dinner: Macrobiotic Hijiki-Avocado Salad

Macrobiotic foods are naturally clean and detoxifying and low in sugar—they are plant-based and include sea vegetables, local produce, healthy grains, and fermented foods. Seaweed, naturally full of iodine, Vitamin C, manganese, and Vitamin B2, is clean eating’s best friend! I like to prepare my heritage-inspired macrobiotic meals after a period of food indulgence, such as the holidays or a vacation, as a way of resetting and balancing my body. Try this salad in your week of clean eating and you’ll love the way you look and feel!

Macrobiotic-Salad

Recipe from Candice Kumai’s Clean Green Eats

Serves 3

Ingredients:

1 cup soaked/reconstituted hijiki seaweed,*drained (measure: 1⁄4 cup + 1 tablespoon dried hijki with 3/4 cup water)

2 cups cooked quinoa

One 15-ounce can adzuki beans, rinsed and drained

1 ripe avocado, pitted and cut into cubes

For the Dressing:

2 tablespoons Bragg Liquid Aminos or reduced-sodium tamari soy sauce

1⁄4 cup rice vinegar

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

Directions:

In a medium bowl, soak and reconstitute 1⁄4 cup, plus one tablespoon dried hijiki in 3/4 cup water for about 15–20 minutes. Drain all excess liquid.

In a large bowl, whisk together the Bragg Liquid Aminos or reduced-sodium tamari soy sauce, rice vinegar, and toasted sesame oil. Add the reconstituted hijiki, quinoa, and adzuki beans to the dressing, and toss to coat. Top with avocado cubes and serve immediately.

CLEAN GREEN NO SUGAR TIP:

Adzuki beans (also referred to as azuki beans) are a delicious Japanese red bean that is packed with protein, potassium, and fiber. I love tossing these beans with rice, adding them to my full-meal grain salads. Cook with more no-sugar legumes and beans, this summer and fall!

Meal Replacement/Snack: Blueberry Almond Smoothie

Definitely an intermediate-level smoothie, this beautiful blueberry blend is full of real and clean low-sugar ingredients that will help you glow.

CK-blueberry-almond-smoothie

Recipe from Candice Kumai’s Clean Green Drinks

Ingredients:

2 cups unsweetened almond milk

1  cup kale or baby spinach

3  tablespoons unsweetened almond butter

2  cups frozen blueberries

2 tablespoons chia seeds (optional)

Directions:

Add ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.

Meal Replacement/Snack: Chocolate Morning Wake-Up Smoothie

Chocolate does a body good – but most chocolate bars and milkshakes add so much additional sugar! With all the benefits that cocoa powder and cacao nibs can bring into your life, I’ve created a recipe that still allows for some chocolate cravings but keep you sugar-free! Your taste buds can thank me later.

CK-morning-chocolate-wakeup-smoothie

Recipe from Candice Kumai’s Clean Green Drinks

Serves 2

Ingredients:

½ ripe avocado, pitted

1 cup unsweetened almond milk

1 cup baby spinach

2  tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1  tablespoon green superfood powder

2  tablespoons cacao nibs (optional)

Stevia drops to sweeten

1 cup ice

Directions:

Add ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.

For more health tips from Candice Kumai, see her guide to clean spices, or her 1-week cleanse.