20 Tips About Cutting Sugar From Medical Experts
Added sugars are ubiquitous in many of our pantry staples because manufacturers stir in the sweet stuff to make their products taste better and increase their shelf life. However, consuming too much sugar has been linked to a higher risk of developing multiple ailments, including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and fatty liver disease, according to Harvard Health. While you probably know that the best way to prevent these diseases is nixing the sweet stuff from your diet, do you know how to cut sugar effectively?
The sugary culprit is found in many obvious eats and drinks like sodas, candy, and baked goods, but it's also present in less clear-cut items. Below, we've got the top tips from medical experts to help you finally cut sugar from your diet—and adopting these habits is easier than you think!
Swap Sweetened Beverages
"Sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda, sports drinks, and fruit drinks contribute over 40 percent of added sugars in the standard American diet. A can of Coke contains 39 grams of sugar (close to 10 teaspoons). Swap your sugar-sweetened beverage for water, flavored sparkling water, or herbal tea. You can add some fruit, basil, or lemon and lime to jazz up your water."
— Brett Klein, MSc, RDN, CDN
Flavor Your Own Yogurt
"Yogurts often are thought of as a healthy option, but some of them can pack in up to 30 grams of sugar in one 6-ounce serving. You can get the same beneficial probiotics and nutrients with a fraction of the sugar by buying plain yogurt and adding your own fruit instead. Even a little bit of added sweetener such as maple syrup or honey on top will likely still have less sugar than the pre-sweetened options."
— Emily Cooper, RDN
Be Picky With Your Pasta Sauces
"A lot of jarred pasta sauces contain added sugars—and [sauce] is not usually a product you would think to look for sweeteners. Be sure to read the ingredients label on the back of the package to see if the sauce contains added sugar. Look for an option that is free of sweeteners such as sugar or corn syrups."
Opt for Spices Instead of Sugar
"Instead of using sugar in recipes when cooking, try some added flavor from spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, or ginger."
Swap Your Desserts
"Cut sugar from your diet by changing your desert habits. While it's hard to do, it can be extremely effective. Instead of ice cream and cookies, opt for healthy fruits with a low glycemic index, like blueberries and blackberries. Maybe have some dark chocolate with that. While at first it may be tough to do, you can get that sweet [fix] without all the sugar."
— Dr. Alex Tauberg DC, CSCS, CCSP, EMR
Cook at Home
"Restaurants often use a lot of sugar in their meals to make them taste better. If you eat in more, you can control the amount of sugar in your food. You can make healthy, tasty meals at home without all the extra sugar."
Look Out for And Cut Added Sugars First
"You will see some things listed as sugars that you can't avoid and don't need to. This is because there are sugars like glucose in plant and other complex carbohydrates that actually make the food what it is, and so are normal and necessary. First, just buy things with very little to no added sugars because those are the ones your body doesn't know what to do with, including fructose, sucrose, and maltodextrin."
— Dr. Heather Hammerstedt, Board-certified Emergency Physician
Look Out For Condiments
"I often see sugar cause or worsen acne, dermatitis, rosacea, and basically any inflammatory condition. Besides avoiding the obvious like soda and any juice (even 100% juice), I tell people to check condiments like ketchup, salad dressing, tomato sauce, teriyaki sauce, and many other sauces, as these are typically loaded with sugar. Instead, use fresh spices, most of which are anti-inflammatory, like oregano and parsley, to liven up and flavor food. I don't worry about fresh, organic fruit, as the fiber in fruit slows down the sugar rush into the bloodstream and the phytonutrients found in most fresh fruit is far more important to obtain in the diet. You really can't go wrong with a diet of real food."
—Jennifer T. Haley, MD, FAAD, Board Certified Dermatologist
Try Sweetening With Stevia
"Use high-quality stevia instead of sugar. If the quality is excellent, it will not have a bitter aftertaste (unless [you add too much]). I like the Nunaturals brand. Stevia is natural and has been safely used for thousands of years."
— Susan Schenck, LAc, MTOM
Avoid Low-Fat and Non-Fat Foods
"This is a must if you want to maintain a healthy diet, but it is particularly recommended when you want to cut sugar. Low-fat and non-fat foods very often contain sugar in some form, and they are best avoided."
— Anne Guillot, DN
"This doesn't mean you need to work out every day, but just taking a few walks, walking around your house, or doing any form of light physical activity on a daily basis can truly help. How? Because the endorphins that get released when you exercise can give you the same feeling of well-being as a piece of cake, without the sugar!"
Eat More Healthy Fats
"Replace sugary foods with healthy foods that contain good fats. When you feel that you crave sweet foods, stop the thought in your mind, and think about some healthy snacks, like an avocado, a hard-boiled egg, a piece of good cheese, some nuts, or any food you like that's not pure sugar or carbs."
"Often people think they are hungry and/or craving sweets, but they are really just thirsty. Water follows minerals inside the cells where it is necessary for optimum metabolism and cellular hydration. Drink half your body weight (in pounds) in ounces of water."
— Carolyn Dean, MD, ND
Beware of Your Local Smoothie Bar
"Beware of healthy juice bar juices and smoothies! Ask for the nutrition information (if it's available!). Most smoothies are made with lots of fruit, which can be great, but the portions are often so large that these drinks become excessive calorie- and sugar-wise!"
— Maryann Walsh, MFN, RD, LDN
"Consider retraining your taste buds for a period of time instead of trying to substitute with food swaps and alternative sweeteners. Try 2 to 4 weeks of no sugar, no fruit, and no added sweeteners, so that you can adjust to what sweet actually tastes like. Then, when you reintroduce sweetness, you will need less and you will have lost your cravings. You can also adjust the sweetness level of things like coffee by going incrementally lower for a period of days and tapering off. Try putting half the amount of sweetener in your coffee tomorrow morning, then the next day cut it in half again, and so on—until you either don't need any sugar at all or you get accustomed to much less."
— Ann Shippy, MD
Nix Artificial Sweeteners
"Artificial sweeteners have been shown to be damaging to your gut flora, and they keep your taste buds accustomed to the sweet flavor and craving more. Some studies also show that artificial sweeteners spike your insulin levels just the same as sugar, which almost defeats the purpose of using them. If you must use an alternative sweetener, Stevia is a better choice, in moderation."
Go For Low-Sugar Fruits
"Fruits have more sugar than people realize, especially tropical fruits like bananas, mangoes, and pineapples. Stick to berries and green apples for lower-sugar fruit choices."
Steer Clear of Processed Meats
"Processed meats, like deli meat, bacon, and sausage, often have added sugar. You can look for better brand alternatives like Simple Truth Organic, Applegate, or Plainville Farms. Some of these brands do still have products with added sugar, so you still have to be careful and read labels. The other option is to skip the processed meats altogether. Cook a chicken breast and slice it for sandwiches or wraps, or use your own seasonings to make breakfast sausage."
— Jennifer Smith, RD, CLT
Limit Starchy Foods
"Refined carbs such as bread and cereals can react very similarly to sugar in high quantities. Eating a diet full of starches will spike your blood sugar, creating a drop, wreaking havoc on your gut, and providing very little nutrients. Don't be fooled by 'fortified' labels: essentially, they are vitamins added back in once the food is stripped of all natural health benefits for aesthetic reasons."
— Erin Wathen, Certified Life and Weight Loss Coach
Make Your Own Smoothies
"Enjoy fruit and veggie smoothies. Fruit provides natural sugar, and let's get one thing straight: Natural sugar is in a completely different category than added sugar. Aside from being naturally sweet, fruits supply fiber and other protective compounds that lower inflammation (thought to raise the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes). Smoothies are an easy, healthy habit that can replace less healthful foods, like sugary cereals, granola bars, and other on-the-go meals and snacks. When using protein powder or Greek yogurt, they also provide protein to make them a more balanced option than alternatives. If you're too busy to blend one at home, I suggest Smoothie King because they custom blend their smoothies and you can find dozens of menu items with no added sugar."
— Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD