It’s undeniable that cutting down on sugar plays an important role in improving your diet, building a healthy lifestyle, heal your skin, and preventing chronic diseases like diabetes.
But like many things in life that are worth doing, reducing sugar is easier said than done!
When I first started paying attention to what I ate, I realized that sugar was added to almost every packaged food item. I was even surprised to see it in foods sold at the “health” stores…
I quickly understood that avoiding sugar was going to be trickier than I thought, and that it was up to me to educate myself and come up with a plan to reduce my intake, which I’ll share below.
So if you’re looking for ways to cut down on sugar, here are the 5 strategies that have worked for me and my clients.
Read food labels and watch out for hidden sugar
When I first started paying attention to what I ate, I was reading the food labels and searching for the word “sugar” in the ingredients. When I didn’t find it, I would feel so proud that I was purchasing something that was “sugar-free”.
Little did I know that sugar has many nicknames!
Just because you don’t see the word “sugar” in the ingredient label doesn’t mean there’s none added. Sugar is available under several different forms, and it’s unfortunately up to us the consumer to know this. Below is a list of natural and artificial sugars.
- Coconut or palm sugar/sweetener
- Pure maple syrup
- Barley malt syrup
- Brown rice syrup
- Fruit puree/concentrate
- Evaporated cane juice
- Organic cane sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, turbinado sugar
- White sugar
- Corn syrup
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Fructose, glucose, sucrose, dextrose
- Maltodextrin, mannitol
- Sorbitol, sorghum, xylitol
My suggestion is to first cut out all artificial sweeteners from the products you buy. Unlike the natural sugars, they offer zero nutrients and the long-term effects on your health are often unknown.
While natural sugar is a better choice than man-man sweeteners, it still raises your blood sugar and can lead to long-term insulin resistance. If you do purchase an item with natural sugars in the ingredient list, make sure it doesn’t belong in the first 3 ingredients listed on the label.
Since ingredients are listed in order of the most predominant to the least, you don’t want sugar to be a main ingredient you’re eating!
Now that you know the different names of sugar, in what foods is it added to?
If you think it’s exclusively added to “sweet” foods, think again! Added sugar can be hidden in many savory foods. Examples of this are tomato sauces, ketchup, pesto and soups.
The first time I paid attention to the ingredient labels, I was shocked to see sugar added to my spaghetti sauce. Sure, I was expecting sugar in my Nutella, but not in my “dinner” items!
Also, don’t fall in the same trap as I did by thinking that foods purchased in a health store should have no added sugar. Pick up granola bar, and there’s a 1 chance on 2 that it contains brown rice syrup, evaporated cane juice or palm sugar. Gluten-free items are also often full of added sugar.
Ditch the sugar-filled drinks
The following tip comes from my husband: swap your sodas for flavored sparkling water.
He was a big Coca-cola drinker, and reducing his intake was tough for him. But the thought of drinking 35g of sugar (that’s 7 teaspoons!) per can didn’t sit well with him anymore. –
Since he loved the fizziness of sodas, he decided one day to try flavored sparkling water. While the taste obviously wasn’t the same, the fizziness of the sparkling water gave him a similar “kick” that the soda provided him with. While it took him some time, he got used to drinking sparkling water and now barely touches soda pops.
Unfortunately, sodas aren’t the only sugar-filled drinks on the market. You should also be careful about energy drinks, sport drinks and fruit juices.
So what CAN you drink?
Here’s a ground-breaking answer: water.
Okay, you may be rolling your eyes at me, but seriously. Water is the best way to hydrate yourself.
And if you don’t like the taste of water, here are some ways to jazz it up without adding sugar to the mix. Just add to your water:
- Slices of lemon & ginger
- Slices of strawberries & orange
- Slices of apple & a cinnamon stick
- Chopped pineapple & mango
- Blueberries & raspberries
Tip: You can buy a bag (or several bags) of frozen chopped fruit and throw those into your cup, thermos, or uber-cool mason jar in the morning. You’ll save time because they’re already washed and cut. Plus, it will help keep your water colder longer.
Add only half the sugar you normally use
Back in university, I remember a friend offering to buy me a cup of coffee. He asked me what I wanted in it, and I told him 2 packs of sugar.
He joked that I wanted the “diabetic combo”.
While I knew he was kidding, it made me realize that maybe adding 2 packs was a bit of an over kill.
If you have the same habit as I did, consider adding only 1 pack of sugar the next time you have a coffee. You can do this for a week or two, and then decrease that amount by half again until you cut it out completely.
Here are other ways of cutting down on added sugar:
- If you usually pour maple syrup on your pancakes, drizzle melted nut butter (that contain no added sugar) on top. Peanut and almond butter have a natural sweetness to them and provide that rich texture that will leave you feeling super satisfied. Plus, it contains healthy fats and proteins that will keep you full and prevent sugar cravings.
- When baking, cut the sugar in the recipe by 1/3 or half. Often, you won’t even notice the difference. You can also experiment with adding cinnamon, nutmeg, or other flavorful spices. Vanilla and almond extract is also a great choice to enhance the flavor of your recipe.
Flavor it yourself
Referring to my husband again, flavored yogurt was one of the first thing I swapped for him when he asked me to clean up his diet.
Why, you ask?
Depending on the brand you buy, some flavored yogurts can contain up to 36 grams of sugar per portion! Considering that the American Heart Association recommends a daily limit of 25 g from women and 36 g for men, that little cup of yogurt is not contributing to your plans of healthy eating.
Instead, chose natural yogurt, which usually contain no added sugar, and add fresh, frozen or dried fruit.
Other food items that you can flavor yourself are oatmeal and cereal. Just buy the plain variety and jazz it up yourself!
Do it gradually
Going cold turkey on sugar isn’t realistic for most people.
From what I see, when people suddenly cut out ALL sources of added sugar, they hate how food tastes, have major cravings and end up with headaches, which is a common withdrawal symptom.
No wonder they only last 2-3 days!
Feeling defeated, they say they can’t do it, and just go back to their usual way of eating.
How about we just skip this drama, and decide to GRADUALLY cut down on sugar.
You can do this by committing to ONE of the above strategies for a week or two. Once you get a hang of that strategy, add a new one to your list.
- Week 1: Add 1 pack of sugar to your coffee instead of 2
- Week 2: Add ½ pack of sugar to your coffee
- Week 3: Add 0 pack of sugar to your coffee
- Week 4: Replace the strawberry flavored energy drink by strawberry-infused water.
- Week 5: Mix half of your flavored yogurt with half of plain yogurt.
- Week 6: Just eat plain yogurt and add fruit
- Week 7: Check your pantry for all the items that contain added sugar
See how it doesn’t have to be done all at one time?
Doesn’t it feel much more manageable?
Now it’s your turn to come up with a plan! How are you going to cut down on sugar over the next 4 weeks? To increase your chances of success over the long-term, chose to change one thing per week.
There you have it! My 5 tips to cut down on sugar when you’re just starting out.
- Read your food labels and become familiar with sugar’s various names
- Replace sugar-filled drinks with flavored water
- Add half the sugar you normally use
- Buy the plain version and flavor it yourself
- Cut down on sugar gradually
If you want more tips on how to reduce your sugar intake, come join my Naturally Sweet Challenge! It’s a free challenge designed to help women with prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes reduce their sugar cravings and daily intake, without giving up on delicious food. Click here for more information.