How to cut back on sugar in your diet

How to cut back on sugar in your diet

Gradually cut back on foods that contain added sugar

Many foods and beverages contain added sugar (sugar added during processing). Use the tips below to gradually reduce:

  • the amount of added sugar you consume
  • the frequency of consumption.

Over time, aim to reach the recommended limit on added sugar.

Eat whole fruit instead of fruit juice

Start eating whole fruit instead of fruit juice. For example:

  • Eat an orange instead of orange juice
  • Eat an apple instead of apple juice
  • Eat a banana or any other whole fruit instead of fruit juice
  • Squeeze juice from a lemon into water instead of drinking lemonade
Save 9-16 grams of sugar per substitution

Apple juice vs. apple

  • Apple juice (8 oz.) = 27 g sugar (average)
  • Medium apple = 18 g sugar

Orange juice vs. orange

  • Orange juice (8 oz.) = 21 g sugar
  • Medium orange = 12 g sugar

Lemonade vs. fresh squeezed lemon juice

  • Lemonade (8 oz.) = 24 grams sugar (average)
  • 5 fresh squeezed lemons = 8 grams of sugar

Fruit juice contains added sugar. Whole fruit contains only naturally occurring sugar; no sugar is added. Whole fruit also contains fiber and nutrients from the skin and pulp which is generally lacking in fruit juice.

How to start weaning off juice

Here are a few ideas to start weening off juice:

  • Limit your juice to a 4 ounce glass
  • Dilute your juice with water
  • Dilute your juice with sparkling water if you prefer a carbonated beverage
  • Buy ‘light’ or ‘lite’ juice which is already diluted (the first ingredient is usually water).

Limit regular soda and energy drinks

Stop drinking soda and energy drinks. Most of the added sugar Americans consume comes from soda and other sugary beverages including energy drinks and fruit juice.

  • A 20-ounce bottle of regular soda contains 65-75 grams (16-18 teaspoons) of sugar! (Sugar in regular soda)
  • A 16-ounce energy drink can contain 62 grams (16 teaspoons) of sugar!

Just one of either drink is double (more than double for women) the recommended daily limit (6-9 teaspoons) of added sugar

Eat plain cereal and add fresh fruit

Choose plain cereal instead of sugary cereal, and add fruit if you’re missing something sweet. For example:

  • Buy plain oatmeal instead of flavored oatmeal. Then add fresh berries (raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, or blackberries).
  • Buy regular Cheerios instead of Honey Nut Cheerios and add strawberries and/or banana slices.

You can save 8 grams of sugar per serving by eating plain Cheerios vs. Honey Nut Cheerios.

  • 3/4 cup of plain Cheerios has 1 gram of sugar
  • 3/4 cup of Honey Nut Cheerios has 9 grams of sugar.
Sugar in cereal adds up fast!
  • 1-1/2 cups of Honey Nut Cheerios = 18 grams (72 calories) of sugar!
  • 3 cups = 36 grams (144 calories) of sugar!
  • 4-1/2 cups = 54 grams (216 calories) of sugar!
How to start weaning off sugary cereal

Start combining your sugary cereal with plain cereal. For example, combine 1/2 cup of Honey Nut Cheerios with 1/2 cup plain cheerios to limit your sugar intake and get used to the less sweet taste. (Healthy breakfast ideas)

Follow a Top 3 Ingredient Rule

Read the ingredient list on food or beverage package. If sugar is among the top 3 ingredients, don’t purchase the item…or start limiting the frequency of these purchases.

Ingredients on a food label are listed in order of greatest amount to least amount. If sugar is listed as the first ingredient, the product is made up primarily of sugar; it contains more sugar than any other ingredient.

Sugar might be among the top 3 ingredients, even if you don’t see the word ‘sugar’. Watch out for code names for sugar:

Modify your coffee drinks

Skip or limit the sugar in your coffee or espresso drink. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Add cinnamon and/or nutmeg to your coffee instead of sugar
  • Order coffee without sweetener or with ½ the sweetener
  • Order an espresso drink with ½ the syrup.
  • Order an espresso drink without whip cream on top
  • Downsize your espresso drink; order a 12 oz. mocha instead of a 16 oz. mocha
  • Order a mocha with ½ the chocolate

Be picky about your cocktails and mixed drinks

Skip or limit drinks with soda or juice mixers

Use club soda as a mixer, muddle fresh ingredients, or drink alcohol on the rocks.

  • Use sparking seltzer water or club soda as a mixer in drinks (0 calories, 0 grams sugar).
  • Muddle fresh ingredients for flavor instead of adding sugary mixers. For example, muddle cucumber, basil, mint, or fresh fruit and add it to your drink.
  • Limit your drinks to distilled spirits on the rocks. Distilled spirits such as gin, vodka, tequila, whiskey, and rum have 0 grams of sugar.
  • Order tequila on the rocks with fresh lime juice instead of a margarita.

At least start reducing the amount of high calorie, sugary mixers you pour into your drink. Reduce the amount first by 1/4, then 1/2, then maybe 3/4 to gradually get used to a less sweet taste. Pretty soon, the ‘old’ sugary drink will taste too sweet.

Skip or limit liqueurs

Limit your intake of drinks mixed with sugary/sweet liqueurs. Examples:

  • Cream liqueurs (Bailey’s Irish Cream)
  • Crème liqueurs (Crème de menthe)
  • Coffee flavored liqueurs (Kahlua)
  • Fruit flavored liqueurs (Grand Marnier, Triple sec)
  • Nut-flavored liqueurs (Amaretto)

Liqueurs are part of many popular mixed drinks: margaritas, daiquiris, pina coladas, long island ice teas, dessert cocktails, etc.

Limit candy and desserts

Grain-based desserts (cakes, cookies, pies), dairy based desserts (ice cream) and candy account for 25% of the added sugar Americans consume.

Tips to limit candy and desserts:
  • Eat half the dessert you’d normally eat
  • Share dessert at a restaurant instead of ordering your own
  • Eat dessert less frequently. (If you typically have dessert 5 day a week, start cutting back to 4 days a week, then 3 days, etc.)
  • How to conquer cravings
  • Tips to eat less candy (Halloween)

Find healthier dessert options. For example:

  • Mash up frozen bananas instead of eating ice cream
  • Eat frozen grapes to satisfy your sweet tooth
  • Eat a piece of dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate

Other ways to cut back on sugar

Watch out for fat-free products

There are generally two ingredients that make food taste good: fat and sugar. If fat is removed, chances are sugar is added.

Skip the jelly and jam

Add slices of banana to your peanut butter sandwich instead of jelly

Reduce sugar in recipes

If you bake, reduce the amount of sugar the recipe calls for by 1/4 to 1/2. For example, if the recipe calls for 2 cups of sugar, use 1 to 1-1/2 cups of sugar instead.

Hydrate with water instead of sports drinks

Drink water during the day to hydrate. Use sports drinks as they were intended; to rehydrate the body and improve athletic performance during extended periods of exercise.

The purpose of a sports drink is to provide exercisers with energy to help improve their endurance and athletic performance.

Sugar in sports drinks is easily digestible and provides a quick source of energy (fuel) to someone exercising one hour or more. The water and salt in sports drinks help rehydrate the body and replace sodium lost through sweating.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010.
ACSM (2011). Selecting and Effectively Using Sports Drinks, Carbohydrate Gels and Energy Bars (Brochure)
University of Washington Center for Public Health Nutrition (2012) Replacing Juice with Fruit: Nutrition and Economic Effects

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Stephanie Averkamp

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