How To Eat Less Sugar

two hands holding sugar cubes

Are you concerned about the sugar in your diet? That’s not surprising, reducing sugar intake tops the list of New Year’s resolutions. Here’s how to eat less sugar without feeling deprived of the sweet stuff.

Are added sugars the same as natural sugars? 

I like sweets as much as the next person, but I’m happy that experts suggest a daily limit on added sugar in the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). That’s because excess intake is linked to several health problems.

Even with the link to chronic conditions, there’s no need for most people to go completely sugar-free.  

The DGA recommendation is for added sugar, not the natural type found in foods such as fruit, vegetables, and plain dairy foods (which is called lactose). People with type 1 and type 2 diabetes should monitor all types of carbohydrates as part of a balanced eating plan that’s right for them. (Eating sugar does not cause diabetes, by the way.) 

fresh fruits and vegetables

Sugar can be part of a healthy eating plan. But there’s more room for nutrient-rich choices when you limit added sugar. 

For example, sipping low-fat milk instead of regular soda helps to satisfy protein, calcium, and vitamin D needs. And, choosing fruit instead of cookies supplies more fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, which are protective plant compounds.

How much added sugar can babies and toddlers have? 

The 2020-2025 DGA suggest that children under the age of two have no added sugar. Here’s why: 

• The calories (energy) in added sugars is likely to displace energy from nutrient-rich foods. For example, milk and sugary soda both have sugar in them. The difference is that milk does not have added sugar and is a source of protein, calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients. Sugary soda offers nothing but calories.

• Consuming foods with added sugars, such as granola bars, beverages, and cookies, is linked to an increased risk of becoming overweight in children. 
• Children develop food preferences early in life. The more added sugars they eat as babies and toddlers, the more likely they will prefer sweet foods. 
What about 100% fruit juice for babies? The report recommends no juice for kids under 12 months. Between the ages of one and three years of age, kids should drink no more than four ounces a day of 100% fruit juice according to the American Academy of Pediatrics

Read: Getting more sleep may curb your sweet tooth

How to eat the right amount of added sugar for your body

Suggested sugar limits are related to calorie intake. That’s why young children with lower calorie needs should have less added sugar than active teen boys, for example. (See Figuring Your Daily Sugar Allowance, below.)

First, find out how many calories you need to lose, maintain, or gain weight here. Then, do the math to figure your daily added sugar limit in grams. Many adults need about 2,000 calories a day.Here’s an example using a 2,000 calorie/day eating plan:

• Figure the number of sugar calories allowed: 2,000 calories daily multiplied by .10 (10%) of calories as sugar daily = 200 calories of sugar daily

• Find your sugar allowance in grams: 200 divided by 4 (there are 4 calories in each gram of sugar) equals 50 grams of sugar daily

50 grams of sugar is the equivalent of 12.5 level teaspoons of table sugar. That’s about the amount in 16-ounces of regular soda.

How to read food labels to eat less added sugar 

Knowing your sugar allowance in teaspoons and in grams is helpful for curbing intake. The revised Nutrition Facts panel on food labels lists the amount of added sugar in grams and as a %Daily Value (%DV).

2016 food label example

The %DV is a guide to the nutrients in a serving of food. For example, if the label lists 10 percent of the DV for a nutrient, it means that a single serving provides 10 percent of the daily allowance.

The %DV for nutrients is based on a 2,000-calorie eating plan for healthy adults, so your sugar “allowance” may differ. For example, a person who requires 2,600 calories to maintain a healthy weight can eat up to 65 grams of added sugar daily as part of a balanced diet.

Once you know your sugar limit in grams, it’s possible to tally the amount you get from packaged foods as well what you add to foods, such as coffee, tea, and cereal. For reference, one level teaspoon of sugar contains four grams.

tips for eating less added sugar pinterest graphic

Simple tips to eat less sugar 

I can’t say that I’ve completely tamed my sweet tooth, and that’s OK. Here are some simple tips to help keep your added sugar in check. 

• Avoid sugary drinks. Drink water, milk, or calorie-free beverages instead of regular soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, and other sugary beverages. 

• Minimize sweet treats. Enjoy smaller portions of cookies, candy, and other sweet treats, such as a mini cupcake or a fun-size candy bar. The first few bites of any food are the most pleasurable. 

• Count ALL the added sugar. Honey, maple syrup, and molasses are sources of added sugar. 

• Cut down on sugar in favorite foods. Mix your favorite sugary cereal with an unsweetened kind, like nutrition expert, mom, and blogger Sally Kuzemchak does. (See her post about 5 Easy Ways to Cut Sugar from Your Child’s Diet.)  Fill a tall glass with cold seltzer water and add just a splash of 100% fruit juice.  Sweeten plain yogurt with a teaspoon of sugar, honey, jam, or molasses. 

Bake with less. When baking muffins and other quick breads, cut the granulated or brown sugar by at least one-third.

• Rely on fruit. Swap syrup on pancakes and waffles for applesauce or other pureed fruit. Whip up a smoothie with ripe fruit and milk or Greek yogurt.  This delicious muffins have no added sugar. 

• Compare packaged foods. Sugar is added to foods such as bread, granola, instant oatmeal, and pasta sauce. Compare brands and opt for the least amount of sugar per serving as seen on the Nutrient Facts panel.





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