Need some simple and practical tips on how to cut down on sugar? Read on to find out how.
It’s no secret that sugar is not the sweet, innocent, make-you-feel-good friend that it may come across as. Beneath the sugarcoated exterior, there lies more of a backstabbing, deceptive, kick-you-while-you’re-down kinda friend.
Despite the endless contradictory information provided by nutritional experts when it comes to diet, there is one piece of dietary advice that most experts can agree on:
Stop eating sugar.
If your sweet tooth is anything the size of mine, you know how upsetting this is to hear and how difficult it is to do. Sugar is delicious. And addictive. So very addictive.
But cutting down on sugar doesn’t just mean you have to stop eating dessert.
Even if you’re not a sweet tooth, excess sugar can be hidden in all sorts of unexpected foods.
Things like drinks, cereals, and condiments are some of the worst offenders.
Unless you’re being very careful, you are likely consuming a whole lot more sugar than you think.
The truth is, we are not meant to consume the amounts of sugar that a Western diet typically contains.
The daily recommendation is no more than 100-150 calories of sugar a day (6-9 tsps, or 24-36 g) according to the American Heart Association. And considering how the average American consumes around 350 calories (22 tsps or 88 g) of sugar a day…well, we’re in trouble.
Excessive sugar intake is linked to increased risk of various health issues including obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and tooth decay (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
Not all sugars are created equal
Before we get into how to cut down on sugar, let’s get specific about what exactly we mean by sugar.
Sugars are carbohydrates, which are the body’s main energy source.
Certain carbs, such as the fibrous carbs found in fruits and vegetables, are generally considered “healthy” carbs because they provide health benefits to your body such as aiding in digestion, slowing down food absorption, and slowing the release of blood sugar.
On the other hand, simple carbs such as those found in processed and refined sugars, provide no health benefits. These simple sugars are merely empty calories that provide no nutritional value and contribute to the slew of health issues listed earlier.
These “bad” carbs are the ones found in sweets and desserts, as well as in a lot of processed foods, often in large quantities.
These added sugars are the sugars you want to cut down on.
Let’s take a look at how to easily reduce your sugar intake in 5 simple steps…
5 Easy Ways to Cut Down on Sugar
1. Stop drinking sugar
Perhaps the easiest way to drastically cut down on your daily sugar intake is to replace pop and juice (and any other sugar-sweetened beverage) with water.
Yes, juice can provide some fibre and vitamins, but considering the insanely high (added) sugar content, the lows far outweigh the benefits. Stick with fresh fruit or fresh fruit juice, where the benefits are greater.
And pop isn’t even a question. Just stop drinking it.
Drinking water instead will also help you increase your daily water intake and stay hydrated.
- Add ice and lemon to your water for extra refreshment and flavour (oh, and extra health benefits from the lemon)
- Use sparkling water if you like soda
- Swap energy drinks for caffeinated coffee/tea (which leads me to my next point…)
You can also try cutting sugar out of your tea and coffee.
This one can be difficult at first, but with time you can easily adapt to bitter tastes.
I am a tea fanatic and I used to only drink it with sugar. But after a while of cutting it out, I did a complete 180 and now I don’t like sugar or any sweetener in my tea.
And if you’re a can’t-function-without-at-least-one-cup-a-day coffee drinker, think of how much less sugar you will be intaking just by changing this one habit. It all adds up.
Pro tip: Try weening off with a natural sugar alternative (see #2 below)
2. Try sugar alternatives
Here are a few natural, sugar-free sweeteners that you can try as a sugar replacement:
- Stevia: plant-based, zero calorie, up to 350x sweeter than sugar, may be especially beneficial for diabetes (6).
- Xylitol: low calorie, low effect on blood sugar, helps prevent dental cavities (7).
- Erythritol: very low calorie, no effect on blood sugar or insulin levels (7, 8).
3. Be careful what you buy
Read nutrition labels to avoid buying highly processed and sugary foods at the grocery store.
If you look at the ingredient list and sugar is one of the first ingredients listed, you probably shouldn’t buy it.
Also keep an eye out for things like high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, sucrose, glucose, maltose, fruit juice concentrates, molasses, cane sugar, evaporated cane juice, etc. as these are all just different names for sugar.
Be especially wary of things like cereals, condiments, bread, granola bars and other packaged snacks, dairy products (especially fat-free ones), and drinks, as these tend to have a lot of added sugar.
We all know that sweets have sugar (how else would they taste so good?), but it is important to also pay attention to these other grocery store items that have way more added sugar than you would expect.
In my eyes, unless it’s a delicious dessert, there’s no excuse for it to be jacking up my daily sugar intake!
Generally, it’s a good idea to go for products with only a handful of simple ingredients.
Or just buy those ingredients yourself! Replace energy bars with a handful of nuts. Get some plain oats and fresh fruit toppings instead of flavoured instant oatmeal packets.
Pro tip: Keep sugary foods and sweets out of the house – if you don’t have sugar around, you won’t be tempted to snack on it!
4. Cook at home
If you notice that a lot of your go-to grocery store purchases have too much sugar in them, try your hand at making them yourself!
The best place to start might be making your own condiments and sauces, such as:
- Salad dressing
- Barbeque sauce
- Pasta sauce
All of these are fairly easy to make at home as they can be made with few and simple ingredients. And the home-made vs. store-bought comparison is shockingly stark – both health and taste wise!
This is also especially true of drinks and desserts.
There are few things better than a glass of home squeezed orange juice – much more delicious than store-bought, and minus the fruit juice concentrate!
If you want a fruit drink or fancy latte, try making it from scratch at home – you’ll put in a lot less sugar than the store-bought equivalent would.
Same for desserts. Usually, for home-baked desserts, you can cut back the sugar and not even notice a difference. You can also make healthy baking substitutions such as using dates or apple sauce as sweeteners.
5. Eat protein in your meals
Protein-rich foods keep you feeling full for longer and keep your blood sugar in check. Unlike high-sugar foods which are metabolized fast and cause a spike in blood sugar, followed by an inevitable crash.
High protein diets have been shown to increase satiety, and reduce appetite, caloric intake, body weight, and fat mass (9).
Including protein in your meals will keep you satiated longer and keep the sugar cravings at bay (pick-me-up snacks tend to be high in sugar for the desired energy spike).
- Drink water instead of sugary beverages.
- Replace refined sugar with a natural sweetener.
- Read your grocery labels to keep processed, sugary foods to a minimum.
- Cook at home using whole foods so you know exactly how much sugar you are consuming.
- Fill up on protein-rich meals so you don’t resort to sugary snacks.
If you liked this post on how to cut down on sugar, or have tried any of these tips, let me know in the comments below!