20 min read
5 Tips to Reduce Your Intake of Added Sugar
The average American adult consumes over 77 grams of sugar every single day.1 That means in one year, you could be eating over 60 pounds of sugar — that’s the size of a full-grown husky! Yikes!
Consuming this amount of sugar can have some pretty serious consequences for your health ….and your waistline. Sugar contributes to a number of health concerns including obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney diseases, non-alcoholic liver disease, as well as other conditions.2
But do you know where all that added sugar is coming from? It’s not just that bite of cake you had at grandma’s birthday or just your cup of ice cream you have at night that’s contributing to your intake of added sugar.
Added sugar is sneaky and happens to show up in everyday foods, often ones you don’t expect. Even foods we consider healthy like trail mixes, granola bars, salad dressings, oatmeal, breakfast bars, and yogurt can be packed with added sugar, making them no better than your standard junk food items!
So how can you avoid all this added sugar and eat healthier? Here are your added sugar break-up tips, featuring five of our favorite strategies for reducing your intake of this sneaky ingredient.
Added Sugar vs. Naturally Occurring Sugar
As the name suggests, added sugars do not naturally occur in foods. Instead, they are sugars added in the preparation or processing of a food item, such as the sugar you add to your coffee or the sugar added to your cereal to enhance the flavor. Manufacturers also add sugar to certain foods to help extend their shelf life.3
Naturally occurring sugars, on the other hand, are naturally occurring in foods. Examples include the fructose in your apple or other fruits and the lactose in your milk.4
Why Is Added Sugar Bad?
Both naturally occurring and added sugars are sugar, and technically, one is not necessarily better than the other. However, the problem with added sugar is that we are eating too much of it.
Although an apple naturally contains fructose or fruit sugar it’s present in small amounts. Additionally, apples also have fiber and other nutrients that help slow down the digestion process and support your overall health.1
In comparison, added sugar offers no nutritional value to your meal. Instead, it only adds calories and an increasing preference for sugar-filled foods.5 That’s why you can still feel hungry 10 Oreos and 500 calories later but feel full after eating an apple which only has 95 calories.
The more added sugar you eat, the less your body knows what to do with all that extra sugar. This results in higher levels of insulin, elevated blood pressure, more fat storage, and mindless calorie consumption5. All of which cause major problems for your body.
Reducing Added Sugar Intake
So how much sugar should you be eating? According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, you should keep your intake of added sugars to less than 10% of your total daily calories. For a 2,000 calorie diet, that would be no more than 200 calories of added sugars (or about 12 teaspoons of sugar).6
If you’re thinking to yourself that’s not a lot of sugar, you are absolutely right: that is not a lot of sugar! Here are some ways you can help reduce your sugar intake to stay below that recommended amount:
1. Swap out your sugar-loaded foods with healthier alternatives
Step one in the battle against added sugar is knowing where your added sugars are coming from and swapping in a healthier alternative. But how do you know what foods have added sugar? The answer is simple: read your nutritional labels and look at the “added sugar” section on every single food item you put in your cart.
On the nutrition label below, you’ll notice how this food item has 25g of sugar, 23 of which come from added sugars. That’s almost half of your sugar allotment for the day in just one item! You’d want to put this food item back on the shelf and find a healthier alternative.
Image Source: U.S Food & Drug Administration
This is going to be an exhaustive exercise at first, but once you get familiar with which items to avoid, it will get easier. Here are some healthy swap suggestions to get you started:
Instead of browsing the bakery aisle, swap your cookies and cakes for fruit-based desserts. Fruit is a great choice because it has a sweet and delicious taste which meets your sugar cravings but also offers amazing nutritional benefits.
Plus, there are a lot of ways to get creative with fruit in the kitchen by making your own low-sugar dessert options like a parfait, strawberry shortcake, fruit salad, frozen fruit pops, or low-sugar crisps and tarts.
Dark chocolate is a great low-sugar sweet alternative because it has less added sugar than other types of chocolate, and contains some health-boosting ingredients like minerals and antioxidants.7 The more concentrated the dark chocolate, the better!
You can calculate the added sugar content in a dark chocolate bar just by knowing the percentage of cacao and the serving size. For example, let’s say you have a 1oz or 28g bar of 75% dark chocolate8. The cacao percentage is 75%, which means the other 25% is added sugar. Multiply 25% by 1oz and you get .25oz or about 7g of added sugar in that dark chocolate bar.8
Other healthy swaps
- Yogurt: Swap your sugar-filled yogurt with plain Greek yogurt and top with berries for a sweeter taste.
- Oatmeal: Instead of purchasing the pre-made packs, make your own oatmeal and add in healthy toppings like nuts or berries.
- Trail mix: Reduce your added sugar by making your own homemade trail mix and adding in your favorites. Instead of candy try dried cranberries instead!
- Juices: Instead of buying high-sugar juice concentrates, eat your fruit whole or opt to make your own juice at home! It will taste fresh and contain less sugar.
- Soda: A can of soda has over 39 grams of added sugar. Instead, swap your sugar for an equally delicious and far more nutritious option such as OLIPOP.
2. Avoid Sauces With Added Sugar
Watch out because those condiments might be adding more than flavor into your diet! Ketchup, salad dressings, mustard, and a lot of sauces have added sugar in them. And while it might not seem like a lot, those numbers easily add up.
|Sauce||Serving Size||Added Sugars|
|Kikkoman Hoisin Sauce||One tablespoon||8g added sugar|
|Sweet Baby Ray's Original Barbecue Sauce||One tablespoon||8g added sugar|
|KA-ME Duck Sauce||One tablespoon||8g added sugar|
|Bull's Eye Original BBQ Sauce||One tablespoon||6g added sugar|
|Pizza Hut's Marinara Sauce||3-ounce dipping cup||6g added sugar|
|Domino's Marinara Sauce||2-ounce dipping cup||4g added sugar|
|Heinz Ketchup||One tablespoon||4g added sugar|
|Heinz Sweet Relish||One tablespoon||3g added sugar|
|Kikkoman Teriyaki Sauce||One tablespoon||2g added sugar|
|A.1. Sauce||One tablespoon||2g added sugar|
|Sriracha Sauce||One teaspoon||1g added sugar|
|Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce||One teaspoon||1g added sugar|
|Tostitos Medium Chunky Salsa||One tablespoon||1g added sugar|
|French's Honey Mustard||One teaspoon||1g added sugar|
*Food data from Insider
To help limit your added sugar from sauces, ask for your dressings, condiments, and sauces on the side so you can pour in moderation instead of drenching your foods in them. Here are some other suggestions to help reduce your sauce sugar intake:
Fresh or dried herbs and spices
Instead of a dressing, try flavoring your foods with fresh or dried herbs and spices like rosemary or parsley instead. You get maximum flavor with none of the added sugar!
Yellow mustard is a good sugar-free alternative to honey mustard or other condiment options. It has 0 grams of added sugar but still super delicious!
3. Cut out sugar-sweetened beverages
24% of all added sugar comes from sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda, fruit juices, and sport and energy drinks.6 It’s so easy to drink your calories that most people don’t even realize how much sugar these drinks are adding to their diet.
Eliminate that added sugar source by replacing your soda with water or a healthier alternative like OLIPOP. Other sodas have 39g of sugar and zero nutritional value. OLIPOP has 2-5g of sugar and a combination of plant fiber, prebiotics, and botanicals for both a sweet and healthy taste.
Here is the sugar content of some popular beverages. Keep in mind that the daily recommended amount of sugar is only about 12 teaspoons of sugar, making some of these beverages 100% or more of your daily allotment of sugar.
|Drink (12-ounce serving)||Teaspoons of Sugar||Calories>|
|Tap or Bottled Water||0 teaspoons||0|
|Unsweetened Tea||0 teaspoons||0|
|Sports Drinks||2 teaspoons||75|
|Sweet Tea||81/2 teaspoons||120|
|Root Beer||111/2 teaspoons||170|
|Fruit Punch||111/2 teaspoons||195|
|Orange Soda||13 teaspoons||210|
*Data Source: National Institute of Health
4. Get your healthy fats (and skip low-fat or fat-free!)
You may think you’re eating healthy by opting for low-fat or fat-free foods but this isn’t always the case! When you choose low-fat or fat-free foods, what you’re really choosing is a more processed product that is likely to have more added sugar to make up for the loss of flavor from the removed fat.9
Naturally occurring good fats are your friend! Here are some great high-fat healthy options to reach for instead of high-sugar low-fat snacks:
- Plain full-fat yogurt
- Fish (like salmon or tuna!)
- Nuts and seeds
5. Make more meals at home to avoid processed foods and sugar
Added sugars are often added to processed or prepared foods and beverages to help extend the shelf life of that product or enhance the flavor.10 This is why frozen food items and other packaged products will often have crazy added sugar levels. You can avoid this by making your frozen favorites at home.
With a homemade meal, you’re not adding in extra sugar because you’re not worried about extending the shelf life of your dinner. You’re eating it now thank you very much!
To give you an example, one serving of the frozen P.F. Chang’s Orange Chicken has 31g of added sugar!11 By making your own Orange Chicken recipe at home you can avoid all that unnecessary and unhealthy sugar.
Natural and Artificial Sweeteners
Some products that claim zero sugar still taste like they have sugar in them thanks to both natural and artificial sugar substitutes or sweeteners.12 Both are great for helping you cut out added sugar while giving you some of that sweetness that your body craves.
The difference between the two is that artificial sweeteners are man-made or chemically modified in a lab while natural sweeteners come from a plant, such as monk fruit or Stevia leaf.
Some examples of sugar substitutes include:13
- Aspartame (Equal and NutraSweet)
- Sucralose (Splenda)
- Saccharin (Sweet 'N Low, Sweet Twin, NectaSweet)
- Stevia (Truvia, Pure Via, Sun Crystals)
- Acesulfame K (Sunett and Sweet One)
- Neotame (Newtame)
- Monk Fruit (Luo Han Guo)
Reducing Added Sugar Takeaway
Most people are eating too much added sugar thanks to the inclusion of added sugar in so many of the foods that we eat today. You can help reduce your added sugar intake by keeping an eye on the nutrition label, swapping in healthier alternatives, and making more food at home.
And don’t worry if you splurge and have a sweet treat! A little bit of sugar is not going to hurt you. But this is definitely a food item to have in moderation and not as a regular part of every meal.
- “How Much Sugar Is Too Much?” www.heart.org, American Heart Association, www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/how-much-sugar-is-too-much.
- Stanhope, Kimber L. “Sugar Consumption, Metabolic Disease and Obesity: The State of the Controversy.” Critical Reviews in Clinical Laboratory Sciences, vol. 53, no. 1, 17 Sept. 2015, pp. 52–67., doi:10.3109/10408363.2015.1084990.
- “The Sweet Danger of Sugar.” Harvard Health, Harvard Health Publishing, 5 Nov. 2019, www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/the-sweet-danger-of-sugar.
- “Added Sugars.” www.heart.org, American Heart Association, 17 Apr. 2018, www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/added-sugars.
- “How Much Is Too Much?” SugarScience.UCSF.edu, SugarScience, 8 Dec. 2018, sugarscience.ucsf.edu/the-growing-concern-of-overconsumption.html#.YO7gHejYqbi.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at DietaryGuidelines.gov.
- Eske, Jamie. “Dark Chocolate: Health Benefits, Nutrition, and How Much to Eat.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 19 Mar. 2019, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/dark-chocolate.
- “How to Find the Sugar Content of Dark Chocolate, Without Nutrition Facts.” Wm. Chocolate, 9 Nov. 2017, wmchocolate.com/chocolate-makers-blog/how-to-find-the-sugar-content-of-dark-chocolate-without-nutrition-facts/.
- Evans, Cameron. “Here's How Much Sugar Is Really in Your Favorite Condiments.” Insider, Insider, Inc., 16 May 2018, www.insider.com/how-much-sugar-in-ketchup-bbq-sauce-condiments-2018-5.
- “Know Your Limit for Added Sugars.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 Jan. 2021, www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/healthy_eating/sugar.html.
- “P.F. Chang's Home Menu Orange Chicken.” H-E-B, H‑E‑B, LP, www.heb.com/product-detail/p-f-chang-s-home-menu-orange-chicken/1386458.
- “What's the Difference Between Sugar Free and No Added Sugar?” American Heart Association, American Heart Association, 3 Feb. 2020, www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/difference-between-sugar-free-and-no-added-sugar.
- “Sweeteners - Sugar Substitutes: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2 July 2021, medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007492.htm.
- Added sugars do not naturally occur in foods but rather, they are sugars added in the preparation or processing of a food item
- Typically naturally occurring sugars come with other healthy nutrients, in comparison, added sugar offers no nutritional value to your meal and only adds calories and an increasing preference for sugar-filled foods.
- According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, you should keep your intake of added sugars to less than 10% of your total daily calories