18 Smart Ways to Cut Sugar From Your Diet

Christine Byrne
by Christine Byrne
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18 Smart Ways to Cut Sugar From Your Diet

While there’s nothing wrong with indulging in a craving for a scoop of ice cream or margarita every so often, too much sugar has negative health effects and can be detrimental to weight loss. The FDA recommends getting no more than 10% of your daily calories from added sugars, and defines them as sugars added during processing or packaging. This includes syrups, honey and concentrated fruit or vegetable juices with more sugar than would be expected from the same volume of 100% fruit or vegetable juice of the same type.

Naturally occurring sugars in things like fruits, vegetables and dairy are much more nutritious than added sugars because they come with important vitamins and nutrients, as well as fiber and protein that slow their digestion and make them a more steady source of energy.

Finding ways to swap added sugar for naturally occurring sugar (or to cut down on sugar altogether) is a good idea for your energy levels and your overall health.

Here are 18 simple ways to get started:



Step one: Head for your pantry and check out the nutrition labels on your favorite foods and drinks. “Sugar can be listed by many names including high fructose corn syrup, cane syrup, caramel, beet sugar, dextrose, fructose, honey, maltodextrin, turbinado and many more,” says Shaw. And sometimes, foods that sound good for you like granola and yogurt with descriptions like “high fiber” or “low fat” use more sugar in order to maintain flavor. Here’s your quick guide to 44 different nicknames for added sugar.



To figure out just how much sugar you’re consuming, keep a food diary with an app like MyFitnessPal to track your intake, says Dr. Caroline Cederquist, an obesity medicine specialist. After one week, take stock of how much you’ll need to cut down on high-sugar foods in order to stay under your daily limit and support your weight-loss goals.



Packaged cereal, granola and yogurt often contain sneaky amounts of added sugar — and adding honey, maple syrup or another sweetener yourself on top adds up if you’re not careful. Instead, opt for plain yogurt topped with fresh fruit and some nuts. Or make overnight oats with a hefty pinch of cinnamon (which can make things taste sweeter, even though it’s sugar-free) and later stir in chopped fruit and some unsweetened nut butter.



Another way to cut back on sugar at breakfast is to opt for savory foods instead of sweet ones. If you’re used to sitting down to waffles or pancakes, try swapping them for veggie omelets or sweet potato hash a few times a week. If you love the convenience of cereal or grab-and-go breakfast bars, try making baked egg cups at the beginning of the week, then reheating a few for breakfast each day.



Search for a store-bought granola with no more than 5 grams of added sugar per serving. KIND Peanut Butter Granola Clusters fit the bill, as does Bear Naked Granola V’nilla Almond. Both are lightly sweet, packed with whole grains and contain healthy fats from nuts.



Drinking a daily coffee with a spoonful of sugar is a habit that could easily sabotage your weight-loss goals. Instead, try a high-quality cold brew, or the increasingly popular nitro brews, which have a deeper but less-biting flavor than traditional drip or steeped coffees, making them easier to drink plain or with a splash of milk.



Pre-mixed drinks like margaritas, daiquiris and fruity sangrias are loaded with added sugar since bartenders often rely on pre-made sour mixes or flavored syrups. If you want to indulge in an alcoholic beverage, try making these lower-sugar versions at home.



A little added sugar in pies is helpful for bringing out the sweetness of the fruit filling and creating an ideal texture. However, in most cases, you can cut the amount of sugar in your favorite recipes by 1/3, or even by 1/2 — smaller amounts still work well for turning already-sweet fruit into a more indulgent, but healthier, dessert.



Ripe, dark brown bananas are packed with naturally occurring sugar, but also deliver important nutrients like potassium, which can help lower blood pressure and reduce your risk of stroke. Many recipes call for mashed banana to be used in place of most of the sugar and some of the added fat, which makes a baked good more nutritious without compromising on texture.



If you’ve ever eaten a blueberry in January, you know offseason produce isn’t nearly as flavorful as in-season picks — it’s less sweet, more tart and often less colorful. What fruits are in season and for how long depends on where you live, so your best bet is to ask vendors at your local farmers market.




Flavored bubbly water is a great option in lieu of sugar-laden soda, provided you look for ones that don’t have added syrups or sugar. Try a can of La Croix or make your own fancier version by combining plain seltzer with some mashed and sliced fruit.



For a very occasional treat, pour juice, sweet tea, or soda into small, narrow glasses, which make it look as if you’re drinking more than you really are, says Cederquist. Then, reserve big and tall glasses for when you want to encourage yourself to drink healthier choices like water, tea and seltzer.



Canned fruit like peaches and orange segments get a bad rap because they’re often packed in sugar syrup. But, there’s nothing inherently wrong with canned fruit, and it can actually be a convenient and budget-friendly way to add more variety to your diet. Just choose fruit canned in water with no-added sugar.



Ketchup and barbecue sauce are certainly tasty, but they’re often packed with added sugar. While some brands now sell condiments sweetened with things like date paste or fruit extract, even these “healthier” versions pack a lot of sugar without fiber and other nutrients. Instead, try limiting high-sugar condiments by using flavorings such as mustard, oil-and-vinegar dressing, pesto or even mayonnaise made with olive oil or another unsaturated fat. Some are relatively high in fat, so you don’t want to go overboard — but, healthy fats help you stay full for longer, and can actually increase the number of vitamins your body absorbs with a meal.



If you’ve got high-sugar kryptonite foods like ice cream, cookies and chocolate that you just can’t stop eating once you start, begin to set specific limits for how often and when you enjoy them, says Colleen Tewksbury, PhD, MPH, a registered dietitian and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For instance, reserve a square of chocolate for a treat after dinner each night or save major indulgences for special occasions.



“Mindful enjoyment of sweet foods and drinks can fit into a healthy weight management plan, but the key is portion control,” says Cederquist. Instead of buying a big box of cookies or pint of ice cream, opt for single-serving desserts or portion out your own servings into individual bags or containers. This way, you have to consciously decide to open two if you’re craving more — whereas it’s much easier to chow down on a larger portion when you buy in bulk.



“It’s easier to say ‘no’ one time in the grocery aisle than 100 times in your kitchen,” says Cederquist. If there are certain foods or drinks portion control doesn’t work with (because you just keep going back for more), consider simply not buying them or keeping them on a higher shelf in your pantry.



Make sure you’re getting adequate sleep each night and not just relying on caffeine to keep you going. There’s mounting evidence that people who get less than the recommended 7–9 hours of sleep per night consume more sugary treats and sugar-sweetened beverages, on average, than those who get adequate sleep. The next time you’re wondering whether to cue up another episode on Netflix or head to bed, opt for the latter.

Originally published August 2018, updated with additional reporting by Lauren Krouse

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About the Author

Christine Byrne
Christine Byrne

Christine is a trained chef and recipe developer who recently relocated from New York City to Durham, North Carolina. She started her career as a restaurant line cook, then became a food editor at BuzzFeed, and later the features editor at SELF. Follow her on Twitter @christinejbyrne and on Instagram @xtinebyrne for lots of breakfast photos, outdoorsy things, and really cute videos of her dog, Boss.


14 responses to “18 Smart Ways to Cut Sugar From Your Diet”

  1. What a superb tips to cut sugar from our daily diet. We should know that too much sugar craving make a negative impact on health and can be detrimental to weight loss. So thanks for sharing this blog that deals seven tips to reduce sugar craving from our diets.

  2. Avatar Mary Spiropoulos Eisen says:

    Sugar is the new heroin. I see it in my own family and we are glad to be doing a Keto Diet!!!

  3. Avatar Sparkles says:

    I stopped adding sugar to my coffee. Every little bit helps.

  4. Avatar Flattery says:

    If you can’t stand the unsweetened bubbly water, try something with an all natural sweetener like Zievia.

  5. Avatar Karen Arkin says:

    Actually acid and salt bring out the sweetness in fruit. Try adding some kosher or sea salt and fresh squeezed lemon or lime juice, and using in season, ripe fruit, which should be plenty sweet. Also can scrape a vanilla bean into the mix for “sweet” spice and depth.

  6. Avatar kitty says:

    I recently dropped 15 pounds, with 10 to go. One problem…I love coke. Is there a bubbley water…not salty seltzer…that has reasonable flavor. At 73…bubble are sometime necessary. Thanks

    • Avatar Irony101 says:

      I just read that carbonated waters (seltzers, club sodas, etc) have carbolic acids, which still are not good for the enamel on our teeth.

      I like fruit flavored carbonated waters, but do not have alternatives other than home made diffused citrus fruit waters.

    • Avatar Diane Olson Engle says:

      I am addicted to Diet Coke, but trying to cut back. I have found that I really like the Sparkling Ice carbonated flavored waters. I’m 75 and I have to have to have my bubbles also


  7. Avatar Mango says:

    The phrasing of the 2nd paragraph is bizarre. Naturally occurring sugars are definitely not “more nutritious.” Sugars, natural and otherwise, are totally devoid of nutrition. It’s the vitamins and minerals in fresh fruit and vegetables that make them nutritious. The fiber contained in them allows their sugar to be absorbed slowly by the body during digestion, which is less impactful on your insulin levels than if you were to guzzle fruit juice, soda, or candy. But let’s not give the impression that naturally occurring sugar itself is in any way necessary or nutritious just because it’s in fruit, it’s just not and you still have to limit your intake. I’m guessing this is what the author is getting, but could really have communicated that much more accurately than she did.

  8. Avatar Justice League says:

    get away from bread. it’s sugar city. pay attention to your spaghetti sauce. buy one made with whole tomatoes with no added sugar. buy peanut butter w/ no sugar. i like Crazy Richards brand. Chunky rules! steer clear of yogurt with fruit already added. use plain and add your own fresh fruit. same with oatmeal. try plain w/ some cinnamon and some walnuts. tasty!

  9. Avatar Lorna Simmons says:

    There is no such thing as flavored seltzer water I’ve come to find out. Even if it does say, fruit flavored or berry flavored, it smells lightly like the flavor, but taste every bit like ur drinking alka seltzer. Idk how ppl drink it. U have to psych urself out and tell urself it’s good even though it’s not.

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