We are a nation addicted to sugar, whether we realize it or not. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day for women and 9 teaspoons for men — that’s less than the amount of sugar in a 12-ounce can of soda! It’s not surprising, therefore, that on average we’re getting at least 2-3 times more sugar per day than we should be. And the consequences aren’t that sweet: consuming too much sugar puts us at a higher risk for chronic diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.
The good news is that cutting down on sugar doesn’t have to be stressful. Follow these simple, practical tips for reducing sugar without having to obsess or overthink your every move.
1. Drink More Water
Staying hydrated with water is important for overall health, and it may even help reduce sugar cravings. If you mistake thirst for hunger, you may be grabbing a sugary snack when all you really need is a glass of water. Make sure you are getting 91-125 ounces of fluid from foods and beverages daily (note: this recommendation may shift depending on your gender, weight and activity level.
Tip: To give yourself more of an incentive to drink water, you can infuse it with fruit slices, herbs and lemon juice.
2. Limit Sweetened Beverages to Special Occasions
We already know that soda is a sugar bomb, packing in over a day’s worth of our added sugar allowance per can, but there are so many other beverage culprits that you may not have suspected. For example, though they are marketed as energy boosting, energy drinks and sports drinks can have the same amount of sugar as soda, leaving you in a sugar rut just hours after you drink them. Even beverages that look like healthier choices, such as smoothies and green juices, can be hidden sources of added sugars. Consider avoiding bottled beverages altogether. Always look at the nutrition facts to confirm how many grams of sugar there are per serving, and check the ingredients list for added sweeteners prior to drinking.
Tip: Beverages may not list “sugar” as one of the ingredients, but it doesn’t mean it’s not in there. Look for the following synonyms when trying to spot a sugar bomb: high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, agave, honey, maple syrup, molasses, and sucrose.
3. Be Picky About Breakfast
Convenience breakfast foods are some of the most heavily processed products out there, and sugar is one ingredient that helps keep convenience foods tasting good for a very long time. In addition to being loaded with added sugars, breakfast foods are typically lacking in the nutrients you need to feel full and keep your blood sugar balanced, setting you up for more sugar cravings throughout the day. Limit or avoid the obvious sugar bombs, such as breakfast muffins, pastries, donuts, pancakes and the like. Next, get really picky about anything that comes in a package, including breakfast cereal, oatmeal, granola, breakfast bars, frozen waffles, and even yogurt. Read nutrition labels and ingredient lists, and make sure added sugars are not in the top ingredients.
Tip: Instead of flavored, sweetened varieties, choose unsweetened oatmeal and plain yogurt, then add fresh or frozen fruit to sweeten. Though fruits have naturally occurring sugars, they also come with fiber, vitamins, minerals and have a high water content, which helps keep sugar cravings down throughout the day.
4. Snack Smart
Similar to convenience breakfast foods, packaged snack products are just as liable to contain lots of added sugars. Be mindful when purchasing snacks on the go, such as candy bars, baked goods, granola bars and trail mixes, and look for sugar-bomb buzzwords on ingredient lists, including raw cane sugar, brown rice syrup, molasses, confectioner’s sugar, corn syrup and evaporated cane juice. Opt for snacks with little to no added sugars like fresh fruits and vegetables, roasted unsweetened nuts, plant-based dips like hummus and guacamole and baked, unsalted corn chips.
Tip: Ditch the vending machine and make your own DIY healthy snacks. Choose from a world of tasty, better-for-you recipes.
5. Cook More From Scratch
It may seem like common sense, but it’s challenging to confirm how much added sugar is living in meals you simply don’t make yourself. This includes restaurant meals, frozen meals, packaged foods and condiments like sauces and dressings. For example, you may dine out and order a simple salad and slice of pizza. Though this doesn’t sound like a sweet dish, there may be loads of added sugars lurking in the salad dressing, tomato sauce and pizza dough, not to mention the drinks and dessert. On the contrary, when you cook from scratch with fresh, flavorful ingredients, you will be a lot less likely to overdo it on sugar. Challenge yourself to cook one meal from scratch for every meal you purchase outside the home.
Tip: Need some recipe inspiration? Try these tasty dishes, curated to contain minimal added sugars.