7 Smart Ways to Cut Sugar From Your Diet

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Sugar is ubiquitous, making it difficult to dodge. There are obvious sources like cake, cookies and candy. The less obvious sources of sugar include yogurt, ketchup and supplements. All these foods have what is considered added sugar.

As the name implies, added sugar is a type of carbohydrate that gets added to a food or beverage to make it taste sweeter. Adding extra sugar is common practice in food manufacturing facilities, restaurants, home kitchens and even at the dinner table. Added sugar can come from man-made or natural sources, the most common of which are sucrose, dextrose, syrups, honey, table sugar and sugar from fruit or vegetable juices.

The problem is these sources of sugar offer little to no nutritional value. They have no protein, no omega-3 fatty acids, no fiber and certainly no vitamins and minerals. Added sugar does, however, supply four calories per gram.

In fact, the average American consumes 270 calories from added sugar each day. By simply eliminating added sugar from your diet, you could lose one pound of fat in two weeks. Not to mention, you could reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Sounds pretty easy, right? Truthfully, it is. But if you need help navigating the path to sweet success, use the following tips as a guide. These are the simplest ways to subtract added sugar from your diet. To give you a target, the American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar to less than 6% of your total daily calories.

1. Check labels for added sugars

Man looking at food label in the grocery store.
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Your first step should be to assess which foods and beverages in your diet are contributing the most added sugar. Never assume a food is entirely wholesome simply because the label is green or the product name implies “healthy.”

Look at the most popular breakfast cereals as an example. Some of them tout heart-health benefits but have more added sugar than a plain doughnut.

Carefully reading the Nutrition Facts label is the only surefire way to know how much sugar is in one serving, so you can either serve yourself a smaller portion or find a better option altogether. You may be surprised how many foods feature added sugar.

Common sources include:

  • Condiments
  • Yogurt
  • Soda
  • Candy and chocolate
  • Baked goods
  • Fruit juice or fruit punch
  • Sweetened coffee
  • Sports drinks

2. Eat smaller portions

Woman with cookie
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One serving of Oreos is three cookies, but how many people only eat three cookies at a time? It’s tough to reduce portions, but it works. Remember, checking labels tells you how much sugar is in one serving size of a particular food. By eating less than the recommended serving, you automatically reduce your sugar intake.

This works for unpackaged foods as well. Even if there’s no label to read, start cutting your normal portions of sweet foods in half. You may not know exactly how many grams of sugar you’re eating, but one less bite could make a big difference.

3. Dilute your drinks

Woman drinking fruit juice
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If you can’t cut back on the number of sugar-sweetened beverages you have each day, try cutting the concentration. The easiest solution is to fill half of an 8-ounce glass with regular juice, lemonade, sweet tea or sports drink and then fill the remainder of the glass with pure water.

Unfortunately, diluting with water does not work well with soda. To quench that carbonated craving, choose a cola-flavored seltzer water. Some seltzer brands still add sugar, but the concentration is significantly less per serving.

A 12-ounce can of Poppi Classic Cola, for instance, has about 88% less sugar than the same amount of Coca-Cola.

4. Incorporate more natural sugars

Healthy active senior woman eating an apple
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Whether sugar comes from a whole, fresh apple or Grandma’s famous apple pie, it breaks down into the same thing in your body: glucose. That being said, incorporating more natural sources of sugar – such as a piece of fruit – is beneficial in the long run.

For one, many natural sugar sources also offer essential vitamins, minerals, fiber and sometimes protein. Fiber and protein both help slow digestion, which means you feel fuller for longer. Slower digestion also means a steadier release of glucose.

These two things alone help prevent a raging appetite, so you aren’t tempted to eat more calories or more sugar than your body needs.

Note: There are exceptions to this rule, such as fruit juice, honey, agave, maple syrup and coconut sugar to name a few. While these may be natural sources of sugar, they lack the dietary fiber that slows down digestion. As a result, these foods and beverages are digested quickly, which leads to a drastic spike in blood glucose levels. When choosing natural sugar sources, stick to whole fruit, low-fat or fat-free dairy products and starchy vegetables (potatoes, winter squash and peas).

5. Try sweet spices and extracts

Spices at Costco
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Spices and extracts are sugar-free and calorie-free. But what they lack in nutrients, they more than make up for in flavor. Best of all, you likely already have several sweet spices and extracts in your pantry cabinet.

Grab one and pour a spoonful into your coffee, tea, yogurt, oatmeal or favorite baking recipe. A study published in the Journal of Food Science found that adding spices to a reduced-sugar apple crisp recipe made it just as appealing as the original, full-sugar recipe.

  • Spices to try: cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, allspice, nutmeg, pumpkin spice or ginger.
  • Extracts to try: almond, vanilla, maple or lemon.

6. Tweak recipes

Man chopping vegetables in the kitchen
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Unfortunately, using sweet spices and extracts only goes so far. Certain recipes – particularly baked goods – require large amounts of sugar or dairy to achieve the best volume and texture. However, there are ways to pare down on sugar without compromising the taste or texture.

  • Reduce the suggested amount of sugar in a recipe by one-third.
  • Swap sugar for an equal amount of unsweetened applesauce in baked goods.
  • Use mashed bananas or pumpkin purée to add moisture and sweetness to breads, muffins, cakes and pies.
  • Glaze or fill your sweet treats with unsweetened jams or jellies.
  • Bake a batch of cookies with unsweetened dried fruit instead of chocolate chips.

7. Use sugar substitutes

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You’ve probably heard of Splenda, Sweet’N Low and Equal, or at least recognize these colorful packets from your favorite coffee shop. These are non-nutritive sugar substitutes. ‘Non-nutritive sugar substitutes’ is an umbrella term for man-made sweeteners, plant-based sweeteners and sugar alcohols.

Some sugar substitutes are up to 20,000 times sweeter than regular sugar, so you don’t need to use nearly as much. Plus, these products offer little to no calories and will not raise blood sugar levels.

Try not to rely solely on sugar substitutes, though. Some research suggests that these sweeteners can alter the gut microbiome, leading to impaired blood sugar control. Most of these studies have been conducted on animals, which means the results may not directly translate to humans. Better safe than sorry.

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