Smart and Easy Ways to Cut Back Sugar From Your Diet

Eating too much sugar won't only sabotage your fitness goals, it'll sabotage your health. These 10 small changes will help you cut back on sugar and on top of your health!

Smart and Easy Ways to Cut Back Sugar From Your Diet
Evelyn Valdez Evelyn Valdez
7 min read

There's nothing wrong with indulging in cravings from time to time. In fact, indulging in cravings now and again is what helps keep those same cravings at bay. That way you are able to eat a healthy well-balanced diet that supports your fitness goals, not sabotage it. But overindulging in cravings can lead to negative health effects and be detrimental to weight loss or any other fitness goals. Unfortunately, a lot of cravings involve sugar, and as everyone should know - Too much sugar can wreak havoc in the body. A high sugar diet has been shown to contribute to obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even tooth decay. [1]

To be clear, the sugar naturally found in foods is okay and has little effect on blood sugar, but added sugar that is found in processed food is where the issues lie. It's so bad that the USDA has issued an added sugar limit to its dietary guideline. They recommend that we cut sugar consumption to no more than 10% of overall calories, meaning those who follow a 2,000 calorie diet can only consume up to 50 grams of added sugar. That means it's even less for those who are restricting calories for diet purposes. And in case you're not sure about the amount of sugar you're eating... the average American eats between 68-73 grams of added sugar a day! [2]

You might not be constantly eating cookies and other sweet stuff, but there is added sugar in foods you wouldn't even expect! Breads, pastas, granola bars, dried fruits, salad dressings, and more, all contain added sugars! So you might've thought your sugar intake was low, but all those added sugars found in seemingly 'healthy foods' add up!

Luckily, it's not difficult to cut back on sugar, it just takes a few small changes. These small changes will help you cut back on your sugar intake, while still allowing you to enjoy the foods you love, but in moderation. And at the same time it will help you find new foods to love! So here are 10 easy ways to help you get started with cutting back on sugar:

Read food labels carefully

Unfortunately, sugar has a lot of different names! And if you want to cut back on sugar, you're going to need to do a little studying. Cutting back on sugar will mean you'll need to read nutrition food labels every time you grocery shop to ensure the foods you are consuming have little added sugar and more nutritional value. Some sneaky names sugar goes by including high fructose corn syrup, cane syrup, maltodextrin, dextrose, fructose, beet sugar, etc. These sweeteners are used in a lot of foods, including your favorite supplements! So it might be impossible to avoid them altogether, but you will want to be more mindful of the products you buy. A good tip is to make sure sugar ingredients aren't at the top of the ingredients list. These lists are in descending order by weight, meaning if any of those sugar ingredients are at the top then that means that sweetener is heavily used in the food. So try to avoid products that heavily use any of those added sugars, and if you need to study up the names, here are 44 nicknames for added sugar to remember. Another easy way to find out exactly how much added sugar is in a product is by looking at its unflavored counterpart. For example, plain yogurt contains around 4-5 grams of sugar per serving, compared to vanilla-flavored yogurt which can contain up to 22 grams! You'll essentially be eating around 17 grams of added sugar! Be especially careful with foods that are listed as low fat or high fiber, like granola, those foods tend to have more sugar in order to maintain the flavor.

Buy unsweetened foods

Some of everyone's favorite foods come in an unsweetened version. Milk, nut butters, instant oatmeal, canned fruits, jello, applesauce, and other foods, come in an unsweetened variety. Just look for labels that say "no added sugar" or "unsweetened", doing this will help you not only cut sugars, but also calories. Plus, these foods are still delicious without the added sugar, and you can spice them up with other natural sweeteners! Oh and be careful with the label "sugar-free", those foods often include artificial sweeteners that may not sit well with your digestive system!

Use natural sweeteners

That brings us to our next point... Use natural sweeteners in your foods! Instead of grabbing a flavored oatmeal, have plain oatmeal with a banana, unsweetened peanut butter, and some cinnamon. Another example is having plain yogurt topped with fresh fruits and nuts. You can even cut back on sugar when eating pancakes by using fruit, unsweetened nut butters or jams instead of maple syrup. These small, simple swaps will help you eat less added sugars, and more natural sugars.

Need more healthy sugar alternatives? Here are the best healthy sugar alternatives to use and which to avoid!

Avoid high sugar condiments and sauces

Condiments like ketchup and barbecue are tasty, but can you guess why that is? Because they're packed with added sugars! In fact, just two tablespoons of ketchup contain up to 7 grams of sugar! Even salad dressings can contain a ton of artificial sweeteners Look for your favorite condiments or sauces with a "no added sugar" label (although always read the label to ensure it's still low sugar), or use other no-sugar options like:

  • Hot sauce
  • Fresh herbs and spices
  • Fresh chili
  • Yellow mustard
  • Pesto
  • Vinegar
  • Olive oil

Have a savory breakfast

Most breakfast foods like muffins, pancakes, waffles, yogurts (sweetened), and breakfast cereals are packed with added sugars! These types of breakfasts are loaded with empty calories that often leave a person hungry by lunchtime. One way to decrease the amount of sugars consumed while at the same time helping you stay full and energized throughout the day is by having a savory breakfast! Swap out your usual breakfast for a veggie-filled omelet, or whole-grain toast topped w/ a fried egg and avocados, or a sweet potato hash. These foods are not only delicious, but they are also packed with nutrients your body needs. If you're the type of person who prefers convenience and grabs a granola or protein bar for breakfast then try meal prepping egg cups instead! Doing this a few times a week will allow you to fill up on more nutrient-dense foods that keep you full, and less sugar and empty calories that leave you hungry by lunch!

Whenever you want a sweet breakfast switch it up by having plain oatmeal or yogurt topped with the natural sweeteners we've mentioned! You can even whip up some protein pancakes or waffles to have on weekends if you have time to spare 😉

Stock up on fresh fruit

Instead of grabbing granola bars or dried fruits at the grocery store, stock up on fresh fruit! Fruit does contain sugar, but they are naturally occurring sugars that shouldn't be concerned about. Fruits contain a lot of fiber which is known to slow down digestion, this makes it so your body doesn't process the sugar as quickly as it would if it were a cookie. So the sugar found in fruit won't contribute to weight gain and other negative health effects like a sugar-loaded dessert would. Plus, you'll be needing some fruit to sweeten up other foods!

Swap sugar-loaded desserts for low sugar ones

No matter how health-conscious you are, it's hard to avoid desserts forever, and sadly fruit can't satisfy every craving! If you want to indulge, but have certain fitness goals you want to reach, consider choosing low sugar desserts. Let's use ice cream as an example since it's a lot of people's go-to dessert/comfort food. Ice cream often has a lot of sugar, but there are great low calorie and low sugar options. Instead of grabbing a double scoop from your favorite ice cream shop, consider buying a pint of Halo Top, So Delicious, or even Dryers, these brands have no sugar or low sugar varieties. You can portion out the pint at home into small servings so whenever your cravings hit you can enjoy your scoop of ice cream!

Reduce portion sizes on high sugar foods

Another way to indulge, but cut back on sugar is by reducing your portion sizes on high sugar foods! Cutting sugar cold turkey is difficult and nearly impossible for some, so if your afternoon or evening snack after a stressful day includes chocolate or any other sweet treat start by cutting your serving sizes in half. Although there are other healthier options, sometimes emotions can get the best of you, and when that happens, instead of resisting your cravings, indulge but cut your portion sizes in half. This will help satisfy that urge and keep your sugar intake lower. And if you still have a craving for something sweet then reach for some nuts, fruits, or a protein-rich snack to help you get by!

Swap your regular coffee for cold brew

This one might be strange but hear us out... Coffee is often bitter which is why most people add a spoonful of table sugar or use other types of artificial sweeteners to help lighten up the bitterness. Well, doing this daily would sabotage your goals. This simple swap can help! Cold-brew has a deeper and less bitter flavor than regular coffee, making it easier to drink. You can experiment with it by adding a splash of milk and some cinnamon or other natural or no sugar sweeteners you like. (Need a cold brew recipe? Here's Iulia's cold brew recipe)

Become friends with fats

Healthy fats, that is! People tend to avoid fats because they're "unhealthy", but then turn around and fill up on carbs and sugars. Carbs and sugars aren't the roots of all evil, and neither are fats. But eating more healthy fats can not only help break a bad sugar habit, they also help keep you full (so you snack less), are packed with essential nutrients like omega-3's, and drive down pesky sugar cravings!

This is actually one reason the ketogenic diet has recently increased in popularity! Many people use it as a tool for weight loss, but also to help them reduce the amount of sugar they eat. Luckily, you don't have to take part in a ketogenic diet to eat more healthy fats! You can do that naturally by using the above tips to help you cut down on sugar and filling up on fatty foods like salmon, flax seeds, avocados, nuts, nut butters. All of which will help satisfy you while you're reducing your sugar intake.

Having a sweet tooth does not mean you have to live an unhealthy lifestyle. It's clear that it is possible to cut down on sugar while still being able to enjoy an occasional dessert. Healthy eating is made easy with small changes like these. The small daily choices we make, make up a bigger part of our life. Making the choice to eat dark chocolate instead of regular chocolate, or eating plain yogurt with fruit instead of flavored yogurt, those small choices are what's going to help you improve your health, wellness, and help you reach any fitness goals you have!