You’d be surprised by how many grams of sugar can be lurking around in your favorite foods and snacks. For example, bread, juice, smoothies, and fruit all contain sugar, and while natural sugar is good for you in moderation, it’s easy to overdo it without even realizing it.
And unfortunately, eating too much sugar can affect your health long-term—plus, you’ll get a nasty sugar crash shortly after that sugary donut or soda, too! You might not know how to lower added sugar intake if you aren’t sure where it’s hiding, so always read labels before purchasing at the store.
What makes high amounts of sugar so dangerous? “Excess added sugar intake is associated with lower overall diet quality and therefore an increased risk for chronic diseases,” says Kelly Jones MS, RD, CSSD, LDN. The list of low sugar intake benefits is vast, since sugar affects so many areas in the body.
“In the short term, it can also impact satiety, mood, and energy levels,” she adds. For instance, research shows that high sugar is linked to increased risk for type 2 diabetes, as it spikes blood sugar levels. So, keeping track of what you’re taking in each day can help you lower the total grams per day.
As for how much added sugar to have during the day, the recent dietary guidelines for Americans advisory committee recommendation is to limit added sugar to no more than 6 percent of total calories eaten per day. “This would be about 30 grams for someone who eats on average 2000 calories per day,” says Jones. For children aged 2-18, intake should be less than 25 grams total, and for infants and toddlers under age two, it is recommended that no added sugar be offered.
Here are a few easy tips for a lower sugar intake while still satisfying your taste buds.
Ditch the Added Sugars
The first step to lowering sugar intake is by focusing on choosing natural sources of sugar, like fruit, over added sugars, which are often found in processed foods and drinks. You can even take it a step further and go with low sugar fruits, like berries.
“A high added sugar diet is also typically lower in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats, too, and often times when high sugar foods and beverages are chosen, they aren’t paired with adequate fat, fiber and protein, especially at snack times,” she adds.
Look for Other Nutrients to Pair With the Sugar
When you are eating something sweet, make sure you’re eating it with something nutritious to better impact digestion and balance blood sugar. “Fat, fiber and protein are all important for slowing digestion, blood sugar responses, and therefore lessening the chance of a blood sugar spike and crash and the hormone fluctuations that accompany them,” she says. Fiber in particular has been shown to decrease risk for type 2 diabetes, so work on incorporating it into each meal of the day in general for optimal health.
Include healthy foods such as nuts and seeds, avocado, Greek yogurt or cottage cheese, high fiber popcorn, beans and legumes, as well as fatty fish and lean meat if you are not vegan or vegetarian, to stabilize the sugar and fill up faster.
Try Naturally Flavored Sparkling Water
Go for sparkling water or seltzer and add your own natural sweetener at home. Or find brands at the store that have a zero calorie and sugar label and don’t use artificial sweeteners, which can be bad for your blood sugar and body long-term. “This can help many people eventually transition their daily beverages to flavored seltzer or sparkling water rather than soda,” says Jones.
The carbonation is totally fine—as long as it doesn’t make you bloated or gassy, of course—and a zero free bubbly beverage is just as healthy as flat water. Plus, a bit of flavoring might encourage you to drink more water in general to stay better hydrated.
Drink Enough Water Throughout the Day
Does water lower your blood sugar? It can if you’re drinking it instead of sugary beverages. Reminding yourself to grab fluids every two hours or so during the day can help you fight the munchies and cravings for sweet foods. Plus it’s one of the best tips for reducing sugar intake for weight loss as it increases appetite suppression.
By filling up on water, you’re able to fill up faster, keep blood sugar more stable, and make healthier choices due to greater mental awareness and clarity. Keep a reusable water bottle on hand to refill during the day.
Go with Sweet but Healthy Toppings Instead of Syrup
Syrup, such as maple or caramel, and other forms of “drizzles” you might put in coffee drinks or on a stack of pancakes can cost you a ton of calories and sugar, since you’re just squeezing freely. About 1/3 of a cup of maple syrup has 60 grams of sugar—yikes!
“If you often reach for sweet additions to pancakes and waffles in the morning, slowly transition by reducing maple syrup and adding other textures and flavors for satisfaction,” she says. “Topping pancakes with nut butter, apple butter and a lightly sweetened granola may become a staple for you rather than dousing your breakfast in a serving or syrup,” she explains. Nut butter, like peanut or almond, would be the best, since it’s high in both protein and fiber to boost satiety levels.
Swap Flavored Yogurt for Plain
“Swap your sweetened yogurt for unsweetened vanilla or plain. Or, add a splash of vanilla extract to plain, along with fruit for flavor,” says Jones. Vanilla adds a taste of sweetness without added sugar. You can also sweeten the plain Greek yogurt—Greek offers gut healthy probiotics!—with fresh fruit for a bit of natural sweetness, along with nuts and seeds for that protein, heart healthy fats and fiber.
Add a Bit of Honey
“When you do use added sugar, swap in honey. Since it tastes sweeter than granulated sugar, you can often use less and be just as satisfied,” she says. Another option could be looking to sweeteners that are calorie-free but don’t impact blood sugar levels, such as stevia. Stevia is a good option for many low-carb and keto dieters, since it has zero affect on increasing blood sugar levels.
Customize Your Smoothies or Coffee Drinks When Ordering Out
If you purchase a lot of smoothies and cafe drinks, be aware of what goes into them. “Often chains like Smoothie King add sugar on top of the sweetness from fruit and asking for your order without it likely won’t change the taste,” says Jones. For coffee drinks, ask for half the sweetener, and if you’re choosing non-dairy milk alternatives, ask the barista that they use whichever option they offer without any added sugar.
Eat Fruit First
If you have a craving for cookies, eat something that’s naturally high in sugar like fruit first and see if that urge goes away and you feel more full. Eating something with fiber will feel you up, so go with high fiber fruit, like apples, kiwi, pears, or berries. And keep the skin on—there’s pectin in the skin, so you’ll miss out on the nutrition if you cut it off. Your craving will likely go away and you’ll get more nutrition with that sugar intake than you would have gotten with the baked good.