'I'm a bean-lover, baby!' Camila Alves McConaughey says to up the protein on this exclusive 5-day sugar detox challenge

Kristine Solomon
·9 min read

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 five of the 5-day sugar detox.

Got a sweet tooth? You’re not alone. The average American eats 152 pounds of sugar a year, much of it from processed, packaged foods. While sweets may provide that quick fix you’re craving, they wreck your health in the long run. A diet that’s heavy in added sugars has been linked to diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and more. Quitting sugar requires intention and will power, but it’s so rewarding — and it can even slow the aging process. It’s time to get serious about your health.

Today is Day 5 (yes, the final day!) 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, for the Yahoo Life x Women of Today 5-Day Sugar Detox Challenge. This is a guided program that just about anyone can do at home. McConaughey has teamed up with nutritionist Maya Feller to provide the encouragement and know-how you need to clean up your eating habits and end your dependency on this highly addictive ingredient.

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.

“So we've committed. We ditched artificial and sneaky sugars. We added more fruits,” says McConaughey as she sums up the first four days of the detox. Your final, day-five challenge is to amp up your protein.

Now that you’ve cut sugar from your diet, it’s time to focus on what you’ve added back in. “We want to look at how to rebalance our plates,” says Feller, and protein is a key component in a balanced meal. Proteins give you fuel and help you feel full, so you won’t turn to junk food to fill the gap.

The role of protein during a sugar detox

When you’re getting the majority of your energy from added sugars which are metabolized quickly, your system gets used to a rollercoaster of spikes and crashes. “Added sugars cause a big spike in your blood sugar. They kind of increase that inflammatory cascade and then wreak havoc within your body,” says Feller of refined, artificial sugars (not the naturally occurring sugars in fruit.)

Nutritionist Maya Feller says adding protein to your diet during a sugar detox is essential to a balanced plate.
Nutritionist Maya Feller says adding protein to your diet during a sugar detox is essential to a balanced plate.

Once you cut added sugar, the idea is to re-train your mind and body to rely on new, more sustainable and nutritious sources of energy. “But they need an anchor. Usually that anchor is protein. Proteins are the building blocks for every system within your body,” says Feller.

A diet that’s high in protein also helps you maintain a healthy weight, according to the Journal of Nutrients, associated with the National Institutes of Health. High-protein meals are great for your metabolism, which is more important when body isn’t relying on empty calories from sugar anymore. A balanced plate will help you stick to your sugar detox.

What kinds of proteins should you be focusing on incorporating into your diet?

There’s no one way to get protein into your diet. “This is really going to depend on where you are in terms of your access” to protein sources, says Feller. “What is affordable? What you can consistently consume on a regular basis without making it too much of a stress for yourself? What's most important is that [protein is] in its whole and minimally processed form with limited additives.”

Protein can be animal-based or plant-based, and Feller emphasizes that you don’t have to be a meat-eater in order to get a healthy amount of protein into your diet. “When we're thinking about your overall health, animal proteins show up there, but they're not the main source,” says Feller.

In fact, one of McConaughey’s favorite protein sources — ever since childhood in her native Brazil — is beans. “I'm a bean-lover, baby!” says McConaughey. “I grew up eating beans every day. Beans are like a superfood, and I mean [they’re] so cheap!”

Feller, whose roots are in Trinidad and Tobago, agrees whole-heartedly. “Beans are fantastic. In fact, people should be having a serving of beans per day,” says Feller. She says the brilliance of beans is that they provide not only protein but fiber, iron and a host of other vitamins. They’re great for your gut’s microbiome, too.

Feller praises beans and seeds, like quinoa, as a delicious way to manage your blood sugar now that you’ve ditched added sugar.

If you are a carnivore, Feller generally recommends sticking with leaner proteins, like salmon, tuna and other kinds of fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. She loves them for their anti-inflammatory capabilities, and because they’re “good for your skin, good for your bones.”

One key part of a successful sugar detox: up your protein. McConaughey recommends a daily serving of beans. (Photo: from Camila Alves McConaughey)
One key part of a successful sugar detox: up your protein. McConaughey recommends a daily serving of beans. (Photo: from Camila Alves McConaughey)

If you prefer red meat, make sure it’s “grass-fed and grass-finished, if money is no object” says Feller. “And for your poultry, [make sure it’s] pasture-raised, meaning that it's been out there and it's eating the grass and it's eating the grubs that have a better nutrient profile than the factory-farmed, ultra-processed foods.”

Rounding out your protein-rich diet, especially during a sugar detox

Remember, a sugar detox isn’t easy. “During a detox, your body goes into a state of letting go of toxins. That’s why some people don’t feel as amazing as they thought they would when they first go through [it],” nutritionist Erin James, an outside expert not affiliated with Women of Today, tells Yahoo Life.

Good nutrition will help you brace yourself for the hardest parts of your detox — and that means balancing your plate with more than just protein.

The reality is that these five days, it's just really a kickstart for [a lifetime] of good, healthy habits that will make a world of difference. Camila Alves McConaughey

“If you're looking at your plate from the top down, what you want to aim for is half to three quarters of your plate as a non-starchy vegetable,” says Feller. She recommends asparagus, eggplant and leafy greens as just a few non-starchy veggies to reach for.

“Then you want a quarter of your plate as starch. And that could be a starchy vegetable like potato or pumpkin, cassava, plantain [or] Yuca...as well as a grain there,” adds Feller. “Then the other quarter could be a protein, and it could be animal protein or plant-based protein. So when you look from the top down, then you split it into quadrants, half is your non-starchy vegetables, a quarter starch, and then a quarter protein.”

“It’s important to say that if you’re vegetarian, you can have more protein in your plate and make sure to add your good fats to your plate as well,” says McConaughey, who points to avocados as an ideal source of good fats.

“One to two tablespoons of healthy fats per meal is ideal,” adds James. “Protein and healthy, fat-rich meals help you feel full. I always recommend carbohydrates, too. I think carbs have a bad rep when they shouldn’t. If you’re eating clean, complex carbs, they provide you with energy,” she says.

Also, remember to hydrate! “As we take out sugar, we should be really focusing on getting in a lot of water to kind of make up for any imbalances that might shift and so that you don't feel dehydrated and depleted,” says James.

Make your sugar detox go the distance

After you’ve cleansed your system of sugar, you may not even crave it anymore. But if you do, the idea is to have more conscious control over your sugar intake. That can mean replacing refined sugars with better-for-you sweeteners. Feller recommends date syrup or pomegranate syrup, as neither cause “a quick spike” in blood sugar. McConaughey prefers monk fruit sweetener, which she puts in her tea and uses when she bakes.

At the end of the day, it’s about adopting healthy habits to keep you on track in your day-to-day, when your sugar detox is over.

“The reality is that these five days, it's just really a kickstart for [a lifetime] of good, healthy habits that will make a world of difference,” says McConaughey. “So you might be feeling great right now, and you want to continue with this. So go for it, continue, make this change for good in your life. And when you want to have a treat, have a real one. Have a real dessert and enjoy it, but know that you have a strong foundation.”

On the other hand, you could be feeling cranky by day five. “So you [may be] wondering, ‘What am I doing this for? Maybe I should stop,’” says McConaughey. “Don't! Continue for longer, so you can see the effects and the benefits of actually going through this journey.”

Feller agrees that a sugar detox is a lifelong investment in yourself. Before, during and after, she recommends asking yourself, “How are you feeling? What are the health outcomes that you have? What are the goals that you want for yourself? It’s fantastic to look cute on the outside, but your insides are what really matters,” she adds. “So if your metabolic health is in a place where you want it to be, you can think about longevity. That is really the direction you want to be headed in.”

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