Tips for Reducing Sugar

It’s hardly breaking news that sugar isn’t healthy. You don’t need to eat zero sugar to be healthy. However, the reality is that most people eat too much sugar. I’m all about being practical. And, enjoying what you eat. So today, I’m sharing with you my favourite tips for reducing sugar intake.   

Before I jump in to the tips, I want to clarify a few things. First, today I’m talking about added sugar. I’m not talking about the natural sugar in foods like fruit and dairy. Second, I’m talking about all added sugars – white sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, maple syrup, honey, agave, coconut sugar, high fructose corn syrup, etc.

While there are some differences amongst these regarding their healthfulness, they all contribute calories without adequate nutrients. They also all create a spike in blood sugar that isn’t healthy for our bodies. I’m not using this post to debate which one is the best added sugar.

This post is about practical ways to reduce your overall intake of added sugars.

Another thing that I want to bring up before I share my tips for reducing sugar, is our bodies’ amazing ability to adapt. Including our taste buds. Taste buds are influenced by what we eat. If you eat a lot of sugar, then a highly sweet taste will become your ‘normal’. This gets in the way of enjoying foods that have a less-sweet flavour profile, such as vegetables, whole grains, beans/lentils and plain water.

The key strategy behind most of my tips is to take control over how much sugar you’re eating. Then, gradually decrease the amount of sugar that you add. As you do so, your taste buds will adjust. Eventually, unsweetened foods will taste good to you and you’ll enjoy eating them.

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You will notice that none of my lower-sugar tips involves switching to artificial sweeteners. I don’t take stock in the fear tactics that many people spread about them. However, I’m still not a fan for two reasons:

  1. They allow the continuance of having a highly sweet taste being your norm. Thus, they interfere with enjoying healthy foods that don’t naturally have a sweet flavour profile, such as plain water and vegetables.
  2. History has taught us that foods closest to the way Nature made them are our healthiest choices. Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, pulses, and real whole grains; these foods, eaten close to their natural state, are the foundation of a healthy diet. Moving from added sugar to artificial sugar is moving further away from Mother Nature. What I recommend is to take steps to move towards foods in their natural state.  

Reducing Sugar Tip #1:

Switch from pop to flavoured sparkling water. Did you know that a can of pop has approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar in it?  Sports drinks and energy drinks have about the same.

If you’re a pop drinker, this is where I recommend starting because it’ll be the biggest bang for your buck. Many people I’ve met who are regular pop drinkers tell me that they find water disgusting. Water isn’t disgusting. It’s neutral. These folks are experiencing a super sweet taste bud calibration. Adding a splash of citrus or fruits or herbs to plain or sparkling water is a great way to get flavour without all that sugar.

Companies are seeing that there is customer demand for flavourful, no added sugar drink options and there are now many flavoured (sugar- and artificial sweetener-free) sparkling waters. The big soda companies make them. As do many smaller companies. It’s a trend that I’m loving.

Reducing Sugar Tip #2:

Fruit flavoured yoghurt may have a touch of fruit, but it’s mostly sugar in there. If you find plain yoghurt too sour, buy plain yoghurt and add your own jam, honey, or maple syrup. Slowly decrease the amount of jam/honey/maple syrup that you add until you’ve gotten accustomed to plain yoghurt. Also, it’s worth trying different brands of plain yoghurt. Some are sourer than others.

Reducing Sugar Tip #3:

Many healthy-seeming cereals contain quite a lot of sugar. Read the labels of your favourite brands and chose the one that has the least amount of sugar. Mix your favourite cereal with one that has zero (or almost zero) added sugar. Slowly alter the ratio until you’re eating a full bowl of the zero sugar cereal.

The same technique works with instant oatmeal. Buy one box of plain and one box of flavoured. Mix one packet of plain with your packet of flavoured oatmeal. Even better, make your own hot oatmeal or overnight oats. Add as much honey/ maple syrup brown sugar as you need. Then slowly cut back on it until you enjoy your oats with just fruit.

Reducing Sugar Tip #4:

I recently learned that Canadians have the highest consumption rate of food bars. Read closely the labels on granola and energy bars. All of them have some sugar. But the amount of sugar can really skyrocket. The sugar content can be highly variable amongst the different flavours by the same brand. So reading labels is the only way to spot lower and higher sugar choices.

Again, be practical. If you don’t like the lowest sugar bars, switch to a bar that you do like that has less sugar than your usual choice. Once your taste buds become accustomed to your new bar, stitch to a bar with even lower sugar. Homemade power spheres can be a great choice because you can control how much added sweetener you use in the recipe.

I hope these tips help you to start reducing your sugar intake today!

Kristen Yarker, MSc, RD brings the JOY of healthy eating to adults and picky kids. And, powers us to LOVE our bodies. A registered dietitian, Kristen has 20+ years of experience in nutrition helping find the sweet spot where eating is healthy for your body without giving up enjoying food’s pleasure. Because food is love.

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