Ask the Dietitian: How Can You Beat a Sugar Addiction?

Sidney Fry, MS, RD
by Sidney Fry, MS, RD
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Ask the Dietitian: How Can You Beat a Sugar Addiction?

Sugar has been villainized because it can be habit-forming, meaning the more we eat the more we crave. However, excess sugar in our diets can cause health problems, so it’s important to distinguish between added and natural sugar. For example, there are more than 44 nicknames on food labels that denote added sugars, meaning it can be hard to avoid if you don’t know what to look for. Part of the challenge with reducing your sugar intake involves recognizing the hidden sources and avoiding them. Here, we offer tips on how to cut back on added sugar.


Sugar alters our brain chemistry by disrupting our dopamine levels, aka the feel-good hormones. Thus, to maintain that level of “high,” the brain asks for more sugar.

Too much sugar can increase your chances of heart disease, diabetes, tooth decay, high blood pressure and even upset your sleeping patterns. It can also cause added weight gain and be harmful to the gut microbiome, which affects everything from digestion to depression.


On average, the FDA estimates Americans get about 13% of their total calories from added sugar — primarily from sugary beverages (sodas, energy drinks, protein shakes, juice and fruity cocktails), snacks and sweets. Added sugars are those added during processing in the form of syrup (think high-fructose corn syrup), cane sugar, honey, fruit concentrate and even maple syrup. Natural sugars, however, are those found in whole foods as part of their natural profile — things like lactose in milk and yogurt, and fructose in fruits and vegetables. Understanding the difference between the two is important. Added sugars are empty calories and provide zero nutritional value, whereas natural sugars come packaged with good-for-you vitamins, nutrients, fiber, protein and even fat.


It’s way easier to overdo it on added sugar (like slurping down that 20-ounce Vitamin Water post-workout) than it is to overdo it on apples, carrots and plain Greek yogurt — all of which have protein or fiber to fill you up more quickly. Here are 8 indications you may be eating too much sugar.

The World Health Organization and USDA Dietary Guidelines advise us to limit added sugars to less than 10% of our daily calories. For adults, that’s about 50 grams of added sugar based on a 2,000 calorie diet. It adds up quickly: A single 20-ounce vitamin-enhanced water has 32 grams of sugar (or 8 teaspoons) — 2/3 of the recommended limit.


Start with the bookends of your day: Breakfast and post-dinner desserts or snacks are often the times we consume the most added sugar. Opt for savory breakfasts such as smashed avocado on whole grain, almond butter toast, an egg-topped skillet full of sautéed veggies or plain Greek yogurt with fresh blueberries. After dinner, give your body 30 minutes to digest and maybe even brush your teeth to prevent you from snacking later. If your brain is still hung up on having something sweet, try sipping on one of these antioxidant rich, belly-warming drinks. For more ways to cut back on sugar, check out these 15 simple hacks.

About the Author

Sidney Fry, MS, RD
Sidney Fry, MS, RD

Sidney is a two-time James Beard Award-winning food and nutrition writer, editor and mom based out of Birmingham, Alabama. A registered dietitian with a passion for research and being proactive about health, she loves to eat, write, run and create simple, tasty meals with whole-food-based approach. Find out more from her website, Instagram or Twitter.


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