So You Want to Stop… Eating Added Sugar

by Elle Penner, MPH, RD
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So You Want to Stop… Eating Added Sugar

The Institute of Medicine recommends that added sugars make up less than 25% of your total calories. To put that in perspective, just one 12-ounce can of sugar-sweetened soda per day would put almost everyone over that number, if not close to it.

Soda’s an obvious source, but the truth is added sugars can be found in almost everything these days, and they can be real saboteurs of healthy eating. Added sugar is little more than a source of empty calories that can lead to extra pounds and even obesity, which increases the risk for chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Over the years I’ve been able to seriously cut down on the amount of added sugar in my diet simply by paying attention and making smarter choices. Here are some tips for those of you who want to do the same.

1. Begin with beverages You’re not exactly “eating” a soda, but the calories and added sugar still counts. Today, Americans consume 200 to 300 more calories per day than they did 30 years ago, and nearly half of those calories come from sugary drinks. (Sadly, the trend is spreading globally.) Soda is the most recognized culprit as far as sugar-sweetened beverages are concerned, but other soft drinks like fruit punch, lemonades, and energy drinks typically have as much added sugar as full-calorie soda. Cutting down from two per day to one can add up to 16 pounds of weight loss in a year. Here are 8 tips to help you kick your can (or bottle) habit.

2. Know your nicknames Food manufacturers have come up with some pretty creative names for added sugar over the past few years, making it nearly impossible to pick them out if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Here are 44 most common nicknames for sugar to become familiar with.

3. Navigate ingredient lists Now that you can spot added sugars in a list of ingredients, it’s time to start reading them! Going completely added-sugar free is not necessarily practical, or possible for that matter, but this simple trick can help you find healthier options in the supermarket.

Hello Healthy Tip: When comparing foods with added sugars such as cereals, breads and salad dressings, go for the ones that contain less than 3g of sugar per serving, or ones that list sugar as the 5th ingredient or later. Since ingredients are listed by weight, the later sugar appears on the list the less you’ll be eating.

4. Spot the sneaky sources Foods don’t necessarily have to taste sweet to contain added sugar. In fact, sugar is present in most packaged foods, even the savory ones you’d never suspect. Some common sneaky sources of added sugar: salad dressing, Asian sauces, frozen dinners, cereals, and fruit spreads. Here are 10 more surprisingly “sweet” items.

5. Swap in fruit Instead of pouring a sugar-sweetened vinaigrette dressing all over your salad, add a natural pop of sweetness with fresh or unsweetened dried fruit. Same goes for yogurt: skip the fruit-at-the-bottom goop, and add fresh strawberries or banana to plain yogurt instead. Fruit is a wonderful, natural source of sugar that also provides your body with fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

6. Make dessert special I’m not saying never have them, but save the cookies, ice cream, cheesecake, and soda for special occasions, like a nice dinner out with friends or a weekend barbeque. If your meal needs a sweet finish, prep a big bowl of fruit salad on Sunday to help you curb any after-dinner cookie cravings during the week.

7. Realize it’s not all or nothing Just because you want to “stop eating added sugar” doesn’t mean you need to cut out every last gram. Yes, you can still enjoy ketchup on your cheeseburger and your afternoon square of dark chocolate. To put a serious dent in decreasing your intake, start with the biggest sources, like soda, and foods you eat frequently, such as sandwich bread. Picking up no-sugar-added packaged foods, like pasta sauce and dressings, is another great place to start. Your tastebuds most likely won’t notice the difference—but over time your body will.

Have you recently given up added sugar? Share your tips in the comments below!


  • wheird

    Why is it that these blogs always fail to give the complete picture? Instead it seems that they cherry pick information in the worst possibly ways and present them as “healthy lifestyle”. I’m sorry, but added sugar is not the devil and will not negatively impact the health of a person who eats a healthy, balanced diet.

    • Jillard95

      Really? See above. The American Heart Association would disagree with you. I think it’s just something most people don’t know about yet.

  • ryry62685

    No…No i don’t want to stop.

  • You Bore Me

    Sugar is not the devil.

  • You Bore Me

    MFP Staaaahp. Just staaaaahp with the nonsense already. Is that so hard? Why can’t there be a blog with Trog’s advice, or I dunno a simple it really is as easy as calories in and calories out.

    • Sabine Stroehm

      The assumption being the ONLY thing people care about is the number on the scale? Why can’t folks focus on more than one goal, or a goal that differs from yours?

    • althtnmore

      It’s not as easy as calories in vs calories out. It’s the type of calories. Carbs / fats / proteins are processed differently by the body.

  • Dave Gee

    As others have suggested – if you are particularly unhealthy, there may be good reasons to avoid lots of added sugar.
    But even better reasons to get yourself healthy so it’s not an issue anyway!

  • Evgeni

    Nope. Sorry, there is no need to “stop”. While reducing added sugar might be a good idea for some it isn’t necessary to “stop”.

  • Jschwend

    WOW! You guys need to read the whole post, she isn’t saying to give it all up, she’s saying be smart about what you are eating since there is hidden sugar in a lot of things. I am new to this whole thing (one month in), and I appreciate articles like this since cutting back (not cutting out) sugar is definitely something that will help me with not only my weight loss goals, but with my knowledge of the foods I am eating. Lighten up and realize not everyone is as knowledgeable as all of you seem to be!

    • Little_Monster

      Er… if someone is publishing information in a blog on a health and fitness site, they better be knowledgeable and honest with information. But, we live in a world where clicks and hits are more important than the integrity of the piece, so… whatever, I guess!

  • Becka

    The IOM’s recommendation is nuts. 25%? That’s huge. That’s several cups of ice cream every single day. That’s NOT one 12-oz soda, unless you think the average American is consuming 600 calories daily. I much prefer the AHA’s recs of 100-150 calories’ worth per day.

    Anyway, I’m 100% with you on the basic thrust of this article – we need to be more conscious of the huge variety of ways sugar sneaks into our diets, not only for weight management, but for keeping those darn lipid panels under control. I did added-sugar-free for a month, and it was a serious challenge. Not the way I want to live my life all the time, but very eye-opening.

    • Morning Reader

      I agree. 25% of your daily calories from ADDED sugar!? The average suggested intake of 2,000 calories a day means that 500 calories would come from ADDED sugar? That is ludicrous: that is approximately 10-teaspoons of ADDED sugar AT EVERY MEAL. Clearly that does not make sense for most people… and definitely does not make sense for me.

    • HenHen

      You need to re-read that. It’s not 25%, it’s 25 mcg.

  • I have a brain

    Finally an article that isn’t slapping someone’s hand for having a soda. Too much of anything will make you gain weight. I usually drink water but on occasion I have a diet soda. Yes, I said diet soda. I may have one a week. I drink diet soda because full sugar sodas seem to sweet. I keep it in moderation so I don’t feel like I’m going to drop dead of cancer because I drink “fake” sugar. I’m so tired of these so called “experts” trying to lead us and our bodies. If you notice these studies they do always come back years later being incorrect. Milk and dairy made you fat…now it doesn’t. Just the other day they were on saying how they were wrong about butter and other heavy fats…now we should eat them. Just use your head and you will be fine.

  • Kelly

    I love the comments people make without reading the actual article. They suggest reducing the sugar and give you tips on how to catch manufacturer’s attempts to trick you. You don’t have to stop, you don’t even have to follow the suggestions. If you don’t care, then don’t do it. HOWEVER, one way to slow your ADDED sugar consumption is to remove processed foods/drinks from your shopping cart. When you can’t avoid it, like at social functions, then eat what you have in front of you in moderation. 🙂

    • Alyssa

      I always my water bottle with me. I do not like drinking my calories. It makes it harder to stay within my range of calories to lose weight. I’d rather get this battle done with than slow it down. Don’t get me wrong, I do add 1TBS brown sugar to my morning oatmeal with 1/4 cup raisens (non instant) and eat snacks here and there). I don’t drink pop any more and if I drink my calories, I prefer to make it nutritious, such as milk.

    • Great idea, Kelly.

  • Stephanie Louise Smith

    My issue is that I need to cut down on sugar and carbs even more because of my PCOS. I don’t want tips on removing processed sugar from my diet, because there is practically none to start with. Why can’t you tell me how to cut down on the carbs which are throwing my blood sugar out of kilter, and not have the cravings? 40% of my diet is carbohydrate including all natural and processed sugars. I don’t buy processed food and I make everything from scratch – yet the weight goes no where. Screw you hormones!

    • Zia209

      A trick to slowing down blood sugar spike is to eat protein and carbs at the same time. This will slow the absorption. Also adding fiber helps as well 🙂


    • Erika Penzer Kerekes

      Stephanie, I changed my diet radically last summer after a doctor’s appointment that didn’t go the way I wanted it to. I stopped (cold turkey) eating pretty much everything with carbohydrates: no grains, starchy vegetables, legumes, fruit, sugar. The first few days were HELL as the white starchy foods were absolutely my favorites. I found that eating more fat helped, drinking a lot of liquids helped (I go for decaf with unsweetened almond milk, or decaf unsweetened iced tea), and protein helped. Avocados and almonds were my saviors. I am by no means a health nut, but I wanted to take control of my health and this way of eating is agreeing with me – weight loss, I feel better, and my numbers are all good. Hope that helps.

    • Violet Argo

      Have you checked your hormones and vit D levels? At Life extension. Com you can order a female lab panel, their doctors will go over the results with you. You may be as shocked as I was.

  • Loretta Denise Clark

    That’s very good information about how to look for sugar. Thank you!

  • Bonnie Jo

    This is the problem. Everybody thinks they know more than the people who have a degree in nutrition. Calories in vs calories out might be fine for weight loss, but 10% of Americans have diabetes, and the number is only growing. What you eat is important. – a dietetic student

    • CR Perez

      Please don’t just say diabetes. There are 2 types and most people thinks it all comes from the same place and it doesn’t. My little girl has diabetes type1 and has nothing to do with eating habits, she doesn’t have it by choices made its an autoimmune disease. Yes a lot of people have type2 diabetes and changing eating habits would reverse most of that but for most of those people its cheaper to buy processed food because its cheaper than the healthier options. If food with healthier nutritional values were made more accessible to all then maybe it would be easier for a lot of those people to consume healthier meals. As for the article, great ideas and advice. Thanks

  • PamelaCap

    Before I joined MFP, I started by cutting out all refined sugar and junk food, and I lost 10 pounds in five weeks without adding any exercise. I allow myself the occasional homemade treat (raw vegan dark chocolate with coconut and raisins, mocha chia pudding), but I wanted to train my body to become accustomed to whole, nutrient-dense foods. As well, when we eat refined sugars and processed stuff, we may maintain a calorie deficit, but we rob our bodies of the essential vitamins and minerals from healthier choices. I set a goal to lose 125 pounds in a year and a half, and I’m well on my way, have lost 37 pounds by logging my intake faithfully.

  • Bec

    If you get a chance check out the book sweet poison by David Gillespe

  • jooce

    might I suggest you read THE SWEET POISON by David Gillespie – very interesting – I have managed an almost sugar free “diet” and feel wonderful – you don’t have to miss out on yummy stuff just because you have decided to cut out fructose etc.

  • sweet enough

    Warning, when you cut down sugars and keep them out of your diet, there comes a day when those sugars cause a bitter after taste. The good thing is that the longer you stay off sugars and artificial sweeteners, the less you crave then, then one day you don’t even like them. HONEST!

    • Very true! That totally happened to me.

      • Gina

        Me too:)

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  • Great post! It’s so important to cut way down on sugar since sugar causes havoc in our bodies. It’s even proven that cancer cells FEED on sugar, so if we have cancer, we need to avoid it at all cost.

  • fitgirl

    I have given up added sugars to the extent possible and find that fruit tastes EXTRA good now. At first it wasn’t easy but now I easily pass up cookies, candies, etc. and have learned which foods to buy that don’t add unnecessary sugars.

  • Jillard95

    I am working with and RD and we reduced my ADDED sugar intake from 84 g/day to 19. Keep in mind that the American Heart Association recommends 25 g or less of added sugar/day. Since sugar is added to almost all packaged foods, most Americans get far more than 25 g of added sugar/day. Sugar in fruit is not the same thing. Honey and maple syrup are added sugar. Basically anything that has been removed from the plant (sugar from sugar cane; maple syrup from maple trees, stevia from the stevia plant, etc.). Food labels are changing in 2015 to included added sugar per new FDA requirements. Added sugar is a significant problem in our food. I have lost 13 lbs since May 1. So yes, it does work.

  • jj

    since september weekdays i dont eat dessert exept yogourt 35 cal or fruit. weekend i do my own dessert, so instead of 1/2 cup of sugar it end up with 2 table spoon of it wothout removing the great taste of it! i lost 15 pounds without doing anything else thna this!

  • Mighty Smart

    I simply decided to cut out rice, potatoes, pasta and breads from my diet. This has helped me cut down on sugars and carbs. I eat plent of proteins, veggies and fruits.

  • KetchumResident

    You can’t make fruit salad for the week on Sunday because it will spoil by Monday.

  • Kris

    I think this article is spot on. I have known these tricks and tips for years. It isn’t easy to trim out the add sugars but it is doable. In our home we started slow by eliminating soda completely. Then we started to change the type of flour products we bought to healthier choices … Whole grain vs white. Eventually we even substituted some of those products. IE. Spaghetti pasta for spaghetti squash. We no longer keep processed snacks in the house with the exception of parties. If we really have a craving our choices are veggies and hummus, fresh fruit or stove popped popcorn. Sweets are a treat now when we go out and when we have some a little does us in pretty quick and it tastes oh so much more delightful 🙂

  • ccrow

    I have been trying, not always successfully, to cut out added sugars. I do notice now that if I have, for example, cake and ice cream at a grandkid’s birthday party, I feel unwell afterwards. Nothing big, just- ugh!!

  • Nannaw

    I stopped drinking diet cokes! I drink water and green tea! Some juices orange and apple!

  • Mia

    I stopped drinking pop/soda. Lost 20 lbs without doing anything really different. I do walk a lot though.