It can be hard to reduce sugar in your diet as it is present in many foods, and cravings can be difficult to manage. Consuming too much sugar can increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, fatty liver disease, and heart disease. To lower the risk of developing these chronic conditions, the World Health Organization recommends consuming less than 25 grams of added sugar per day for maximum health benefits.
Follow these ten practical steps to limit sugar in your diet.
- Read labels carefully on all processed foods. Look through the ingredients list for words that signify sugar. The problem is sugar has over 60 different names! The most common words to look for are sugar, syrup, and those ending in -ose. Avoid processed foods that have a lot of hidden sugars in them, such as breakfast cereal, candy, soda, yogurt, condiments, bread, soup, cured meat, and snacks.
- Eat more whole foods. If your diet is primarily whole foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, etc.), you automatically reduce the added sugar in your diet. Some whole foods contain natural sugars, but they also have fiber, vitamins, and minerals that slow down the digestion of sugar and support a healthy diet.
- Stop drinking your calories. Sugary drinks do not fill you up and do not always taste excessively sweet, making it easy to over-indulge. Be mindful of the amount of sugar in your drinks and opt for unsweetened versions or water instead.
- Do not get carried away replacing white sugar with natural sweeteners. Coconut sugar, honey, brown rice syrup, and maple syrup are still sugar. Your body does not know the difference between the two and experiences the same side effects when you consume these natural sweeteners.
- Eat more protein. Sugar cravings hit when blood sugar levels are unstable and dip between meals. Protein helps slow the digestion of sugar in foods, which results in a steady blood sugar level throughout the day. To prevent sugar cravings, get at least 15-20 grams of protein per meal.
- Eat more healthy fat. You are less likely to experience sugar cravings between meals when eating enough fat because it helps keep you satisfied and stabilizes your blood sugar.
- Remove temptations. If you have sugary snacks in your pantry, you will eat them! Out of sight, out of mind works wonders.
- Keep low sugar whole food treats around. Try freshly cut fruit, frozen bananas with dark chocolate and almonds, frozen grapes, or Greek yogurt with berries when you need a special treat.
- Avoid using sugar for stress relief. Eating sugar for stress relief is a short-term solution. The best way to manage your stress is through other avenues that feel good for you, like physical activity, spending time with loved ones, or journaling.
- Never say never. Life is about finding balance. Have sugar occasionally as a treat when the situation is special. Allowing yourself these moments will keep you motivated to continue reducing excess sugar regularly.
For more information on reducing sugar intake, see HGIC 4053, Limit Sugar.
- Publishing, H. The Sweet Danger of Sugar. (2017, May). Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/the-sweet-danger-of-sugar
- University of California San Francisco. Hidden in Plain Sight. (2018, December 07). Retrieved from http://sugarscience.ucsf.edu/hidden-in-plain-sight/
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label. (2004, November). Retrieved from http://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/labelingnutrition/ucm274593.htm
- World Health Organization. WHO Calls on Countries to Reduce Sugars Intake Among Adults and Children. (2016, May 17). Retrieved from https://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2015/sugar-guideline/en/