How to Reduce Your Sugar Intake and Still Enjoy Sweet Treats: 7 Science-Backed Tips

If you feel like you just can’t get enough of sugar, you’re not alone.  

Sugar has been shown to have “drug-like effects,” including binging, craving, and withdrawals.  

The average adult in North America is consuming 17 tsp (68 grams) of added sugar every day, which is the equivalent of 3 Hershey’s Cookie n’ Creme chocolate bars

As Registered Dietician Andrea D’Ambrosio says: 

“Yikes!  Our current sugar intake is the equivalent to a person consuming 20 bags of sugar a year.  Something has certainly got to give.”

This is way too much sugar, as consuming that amount long-term can lead to negative health outcomes.

This is why I’ve put together a list of the 7 best science-backed ways to reduce your sugar intake.

Key Takeaways

  • High sugar intake isn’t just bad for your waistline; it can increase your blood pressure and your risk of diabetes and heart disease.
  • Your sugar intake should be no more than 6 tsp (for women) to 9 tsp (for men), providing a maximum of 5-10% of total daily calories.
  • Non-caloric sweeteners like stevia or monkfruit and minimally processed natural sweeteners like maple syrup, honey and fruit are great alternatives to refined sugar when you need to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Understand The Impact Of Sugar On Your Health

High sugar intake can lead to a host of unwanted health impacts including high blood pressure, fatty liver disease, diabetes, weight gain and higher incidence of cardiovascular disease.

Molecular biologist Cynthia Kenyon puts it bluntly when it comes to sugar’s health risks: 

“Sugar is the new tobacco.”

These adverse impacts are why the American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to no more than 6 tsp (25 grams) for women and 9 tsp (36 grams) for men.

Similarly, the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that no more than 5-10% of total daily calories should come from added sugars.

For someone eating 2,000 calories per day, this is 100-200 calories, or 25-50 grams of added sugar.

Unfortunately, many of us in North America are eating way more than the recommended guidelines.  

If you fall into this category, keep reading for seven simple yet effective ways to reduce your sugar intake.

7 Ways To Reduce Your Sugar Intake

Try each action for at least 1-2 weeks until it becomes a natural habit, and then add another tip.  

Pick the ones that seem easiest for you, so that you can achieve success and build from there.

1. Identify Hidden Sources of Sugar in Your Diet 

identify hidden sources of sugar in your diet 

In order to reduce your sugar intake, first you need to know where sugar in your diet is coming from. 

It’s very obvious when you add a spoonful of sugar to your coffee, tea or cereal, but less obvious when added sugars are included in products you wouldn’t necessarily expect, such as breads, soups, salad dressings, salsa and more.  

So, get in the habit of reading labels for ALL products, not just ones that are overtly sweet. The sooner sugar shows up in a listing of ingredients, the more sugar there is.  Where possible, switch to brands with less sugar, or no sugar at all.

Next, sugar isn’t always going to show up with the name “sugar” in the ingredients list.  Words ending with “ose” like glucose, fructose and sucrose are all forms of sugar, and words ending with “ol” can be sugar alcohols like erythritol, mannitol, and sorbitol.

Finally, be on the lookout for other sneaky forms of sugar, like nectars, syrups, saps, and concentrated fruit juices.

2. Go Half Sweet

go half sweet

You don’t have to go “cold turkey” and completely cut sugar out of your diet to see positive benefits for reducing your sugar intake.  

For example, if you normally take two sugars in your coffee, try going to one instead of zero.  

As your taste buds get used to less sweetness, you may eventually be able to forgo the sugar entirely, but even if not, you’re still reducing your sugar intake.  

Each tsp you cut out saves 4 grams of sugar.

3. Choose Natural Sweeteners

Keep in mind that many sweeteners touted as “natural” have just as many calories per gram as refined sugar, and some are so processed that they do not provide any additional nutrients compared to refined sugar.

For example, evaporated white grape juice or cane syrup is virtually the same, nutritionally speaking, as white sugar.

But, sweeteners like maple syrup, coconut sugar, and honey, while they do have the same calories per serving as sugar, do provide beneficial micronutrients.

Maple syrup is an excellent source of manganese and a good source of riboflavin, calcium, potassium and niacin.  Manganese helps with metabolism and blood sugar regulation, so it helps with managing your weight and reducing the risk of diabetes.

Honey is a good source of B vitamins, as well as minerals like calcium, copper, iron, magnesium and manganese.  B vitamins also promote a healthy metabolism so that you can maintain a healthy weight, and they support nervous system function, including a healthy brain.

Finally, the non-caloric natural sweeteners stevia and monkfruit provide a way to reduce sugar and calories at the same time.  

By switching from sugar to stevia, you save 45 calories for every 1 tbsp. of sugar.  

However, be careful when buying stevia.  Refer back to tip #1 of getting in the habit of checking nutrition labels and ingredient lists.  Sometimes, stevia is mixed with other types of sugar or sugar alcohols even though it’s not obvious at first glance.  

The only ingredient that should be listed in your stevia product is stevia.  

4. Turn To Fruit

Fruit is “Mother Nature’s candy” because it is deliciously sweet, and yet also contains water, fiber and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) in a single serving.  

The water and fiber make fruit more filling (and the water helps with hydration), and the micronutrients help to ensure you don’t have any deficiencies that can lead to cravings.

Try adding fresh or dried fruit to add sweetness to dishes instead of sugar.  

For example, I like adding a handful of raisins or dried cranberries to a salad, or including chopped orange segments in my stir fries.  Apple slices with cinnamon & yogurt make a great dessert option that is lower in sugar than apple pie with ice cream.

5. Use Flavorful Spices and Herbs

Rather than relying solely on sweet flavors to make a meal taste good, get in the habit of using fresh and/or dried herbs and spices to add flavor instead.

For example, I love using the Flavor God seasoning blends to add a bit of heat and a LOT of flavor to my meals, with little to no added sugar.

When you start exploring other flavors beyond sweetness, your palate will change and you’ll notice, appreciate and enjoy more subtle, natural sources of sweetness.

6. Include Protein, Fat & Fiber At Each Meal

include protein, fat & fiber at each meal

This may not seem like a tip that is directly related to sugar, but protein, fat and fiber each take longer to digest than simple carbohydrates, so they provide a steady stream of energy after a meal.  

This avoids the “sugar crash” that can lead to even more sugar cravings when energy levels surge and then fall quickly after a meal that is high in sugar.

For example, in a meal of beef tacos with guacamole, the protein in the beef and the fat and fiber in the avocado will digest slowly so that you feel full for hours, and not reaching for sugary snacks to give you energy.

7. Make Your Own Sweet Treats

make your own sweet treats

When you bake your own goodies like cakes, cookies and muffins, you can incorporate the tips above, as follows: 

  • Use less sugar than the original recipe calls for, and/or use natural sweeteners instead of refined sugar.  
  • Increase the fiber content by using whole grain flours instead of refined flours.

Pureed fruits like apple, banana, dates and even pumpkin add natural sweetness to baked goods and they can also add moisture and fiber to replace some of the oil in the recipe.  

Check out this sugar-free Banana Date Bread.  This Healthy Pumpkin Zucchini Bread uses maple syrup instead of sugar, and has Greek yogurt for added protein.

The end result is a baked good that is lower in sugar, fat AND overall calories than the traditional version, which has positive impacts for your health (and your waistline).

With these simple tips in mind, you can easily reduce your sugar intake and reap the benefits of improved health.

About The Author

Lauren Graham

Lauren Graham is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She focuses on helping busy professionals balance healthy eating and purposeful movement.  Lauren has a background in competitive swimming and is currently competing as a CrossFit athlete.  She has a passion for training, teaching, and writing. 

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