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How Camila Alves McConaughey went from eating chocolate every morning to ditching sugar entirely: ' If I did it, you can do it'

Kristine Solomon
·7 min read
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Take the Yahoo Life x Women of Today 5-Day Sugar Detox Challenge to cut back on your daily sugar. Follow along with us as Camila Alves McConaughey and top experts show us how to cut back on sugar and form new habits every day this week. This is day two of the 5-day sugar detox.

The average American consumes a colossal 60 pounds of added sugar a year, according to the American Heart Association — and that’s in a typical year. This past year has truly put us to the test, so if you’ve been reaching for sweets a little more than usual lately to relieve stress and boredom, you might also have the bloat, fatigue and dull complexion to prove it. It’s time for a change.

Camila Alves McConaughey customizes a 5-day sugar detox challenge exclusively for Yahoo Life readers.
Camila Alves McConaughey customizes a 5-day sugar detox challenge exclusively for Yahoo Life readers.

Today is day two of a 5-day challenge in partnership with lifestyle guru Camila Alves McConaughey — wife of iconic actor Matthew McConaughey — and her website, Women of Today, to create the Yahoo Life x Women of Today 5-Day Sugar Detox Challenge, a guided program that just about anyone can do at home. If you’ve been following along, you know that day one was all about committing to a sugar detox. We discussed how to set your mind to it, what to expect from the process, and the unbelievable benefits of eliminating this one harmful ingredient from your diet.

Now that you’re committed, it’s time for your day-two sugar-detox challenge: ditching artificial sweeteners.

What are artificial sweeteners — and how can you identify them?

When McConaughey refers to artificial sweeteners, she means everything from the high-fructose corn syrup in a candy bar to the saccharin you might put in your coffee instead of a heaping spoonful of refined white sugar. “They're still ‘made-up’ sweeteners, but they’re better for you, if you must use them,” she tells Yahoo Life.

As McConaughey and licensed nutritionist Maya Feller discussed during day one, there are two ways to do your sugar detox: either cold-turkey or a gradual weaning. “If you go cold turkey, just don't have any packaged food for the next few days. Just do fresh. This is the best way,” says McConaughey.

For the rest of us, though, she recommends: “Pay attention to simple changes that you can do in your day.” But before you can start removing added sugar from your diet, you need to know where it’s hiding — and sometimes, artificial sweeteners can be elusive.

I know it’s hard. If I did it, you can do it. Camila Alves McConaughey

You might be asking yourself, “added sugar?” Unlike naturally occurring sugars from fruits and vegetables, added sugar refers to what you’d find dumped into processed foods, packaged foods, desserts and sugar-filled beverages, to name a few. This kind of sugar tastes good going down, but it’s responsible for a host of long-term health issues, from obesity to heart disease.

Unless the food you’re eating is a whole food, read the nutrition facts label, where all kinds of added sugars are lurking. “Some of the biggest hidden sugar culprits are corn syrup, honey, sugar syrup, dextrose, or fructose. Brown sugar as well. We are almost tricked to think brown sugar is healthy, but it’s still sugar,” says nutritionist Erin James to Yahoo Life. “And I bet you didn’t know your store-bought tomato sauce is packed with sugar, many close to the same amount you find in chocolate chip cookies.”

And if the package broadcasts ‘sugar-free,’ don’t be fooled! Something is making it sweet — it’s just a matter of finding out what. Even if you see a fruit or vegetable puree added as a sweetener, don’t think you’re safe. This just means fresh fruit has been cooked to very high temperatures, so little remains except sugar.

“By the time you get that, you're getting dead food. So you're getting no real nutrients,” says McConaughey. “You're getting a high sugar content that your body's going to process very differently than natural sugars.”

“The research says that when you consume excess amounts of added sugar, it actually increases your risk for all non-communicable diseases, [like] diabetes, cardiovascular disease [and] hypertension." Maya Feller, Nutritionist

Why are artificial sweeteners so bad for your health?

“Artificial sweeteners are still processed, not natural,” says James. Processed (added, refined or artificial) sugar isn’t good for anyone, and the sooner you rid your body of it, the healthier you’ll be and the more natural energy you’ll have.”

Energy, weight management and even clear skin are all valid reasons to kick artificial sweeteners out of your diet, but your long-term health is on the line, too. “The research says that when you consume excess amounts of added sugar, it actually increases your risk for all non-communicable diseases, [like] diabetes, cardiovascular disease [and] hypertension,” says Feller.

Camila Alves McConaughey suggests sticking wtih  “better-for-you” artificial sweeteners like  monk fruit sweetener or honey. (Photo: Ashley Burns)
Camila Alves McConaughey suggests sticking wtih “better-for-you” artificial sweeteners like monk fruit sweetener or honey. (Photo: Ashley Burns)

Feller adds that added sugar is a major cause of inflammation in the body, too (she calls sugar and artificial sweeteners “pro-inflammatories” as opposed to whole foods, which are anti-inflammatories). She also refers to a 2019 report in the Journal of Nutrients, published by the National Institutes of Health, that linked a high intake of added sugar with high blood pressure in older women.

“So really, added sugar impacts all areas within the body, all systems, and can have totally disruptive outcomes,” says Feller.

“I recommend everyone eliminate non-natural sugar from their diet, but if you have health conditions, make sure to check with your doctor before making drastic lifestyle changes to ensure you are doing it correctly for your body,” adds James.

Tips for maintaining your sugar detox — plus healthy ways to introduce sweeteners back into your diet

A sugar detox isn’t easy, as your body is starting to let go of toxins all at once. Some experts compare it to drug withdrawal, which isn’t a stretch considering the addictive nature of sugar. In fact, your energy levels may dip and the quality of your skin may get even worse before it gets better.

“But once your body gets rid of the bad things and gets used to only being fueled with food that is clean, you will have more energy and your skin will look and feel cleaner and brighter,” says James.

She emphasizes that being able to create a sustainable sugar detox is key, and it takes a lot of willpower. But you also have to decide what your end goal is.

If you choose to reintroduce sweeteners into your diet when the detox is over, it’s best to go with what McConaughey calls the “better-for-you” artificial sweeteners. For instance, she uses monk fruit sweetener or honey in her tea (fun fact: she also loves to imbue her tea with cinnamon and star anise for “just a little sweet flavor). Coconut sugar is another fruit-derived “better-for-you” artificial sweetener. Anything but that dreaded refined white sugar, which McConaughey doesn’t even allow in her home. “Just get rid of it — out of your house!” she says.

“Lemons and limes can also be substituted a lot for these types of sweeteners, such as in your tea,” adds James. She suggests using date sugar if you really want to add sweetener back into your diet after your detox. Of course, an overall balanced diet rich in whole foods will keep you satiated and less likely to reach for sweets in the first place.

McConaughey knows first-hand how tempting it can be. Like many of us, she was hooked on sugar for years — in fact, chocolate used to be the first thing she ate in the morning. “I've gone from waking up and eating chocolate to not having chocolate at all,” she says. “So, I know it’s hard. If I did it, you can do it.”

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