Eating Less Sugar: Tips

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Eating Less Sugar: Tips

Sugar is an ingredient that many people love to hate, and maybe, hate to love. It’s found naturally in some foods, and it’s added to many foods, as well. People with diabetes are often advised to cut back on sugar or even cut it out altogether. Fortunately, you don’t have to completely stop eating sugar (even if you have diabetes). Plus, it’s nearly impossible to avoid sugar altogether. There’s room in most eating plans to fit in a sweet treat every now and then.

Added sugars

Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods and drinks during processing or preparation. Common types of added sugar include:

  • Sucrose
  • Brown sugar
  • Raw sugar
  • Cane juice
  • Corn syrup
  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • Glucose
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Lactose
  • Maltose
  • Malt syrup
  • Maple syrup
  • Honey
  • Molasses

In the United States, the main sources of added sugars are sugary drinks (soda, fruit drinks), flavored yogurts, cereal, cookies, cakes, ice cream, and candy. Sugar is also added to foods such as bread, soups, pasta sauce, peanut butter, granola bars, salad dressings, ketchup, and cured meats.

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The downsides of added sugars

Added sugars provide calories (4 calories per gram, 16 calories per teaspoon), but no other nutrients. This is why calories from sugars are often called “empty calories.” Eating too much sugar is linked with causing:

How much sugar is too much?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 advise limiting calories from added sugars to no more than 10% daily. As an example, if you consume 2,000 calories each day, that means aiming for no more than 200 calories, or about 12 teaspoons, from added sugars. On average, most Americans get about 270 calories of added sugar (17 teaspoons) each day.

Identifying sources of added sugars

The Nutrition Facts Label is a good way to see how much added sugar is in a serving of a food or beverage. The updated food label now lists “Added Sugars” under “Total Sugars.” Keep in mind that, when reading food labels for carb counting purposes, be sure to look at the “Total Carbohydrate” grams to get an accurate count of how much carb is in one serving of that food or drink.

You can also look at the ingredient list. “The ingredients that appear first are in the largest amount,” says the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Choose foods and drinks that don’t have a source of sugar as the first ingredient.

Here are a few examples of how much added sugar is in common foods and drinks:

  • 20 ounces of a sports drink: 122 calories of added sugars
  • 12-ounce can of regular soda: 126 calories of added sugars
  • 1 piece of chocolate cake: 196 calories of added sugars
  • 6 ounces of flavored yogurt: 72 calories of added sugars
  • 1 tablespoon of ketchup: 12 calories of added sugars

Remember that sugars naturally found in fruits, vegetables, and milk are not added sugars.

Tips for cutting back on added sugars

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggest the following ways to help you reduce your added sugar intake:

  • Sweeten low-fat plain yogurt with fresh, frozen, or canned fruit (in its own juice) in place of fruit-flavored yogurt.
  • Use no-sugar-added jams and jellies.
  • Reach for water, seltzer water, or unsweetened ice tea in place of soft drinks, or energy or sports drinks.

Some other suggestions to help you slash the sugar are to:

  • Skip the flavored coffee drinks and add a dash of cinnamon or cocoa powder to your coffee, instead.
  • Flavor oatmeal with cinnamon or nutmeg and/or fresh fruit rather than eating flavored instant oatmeal.
  • If you crave something sweet, split a treat with your partner or a friend.
  • Go for cereals with no more than 4 grams of sugar (1 teaspoon) per serving.
  • If you enjoy baking, try reducing the amount of sugar called for in the recipe by one-third to one-half, advises the American Heart Association.

Nonnutritive sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose, stevia, or monk fruit extract can help satisfy a sweet tooth, but even with these, it’s best to go easy, since some research points to these sweeteners as possibly leading to more sweet cravings.

Want to learn more about eating well? Read “Strategies for Healthy Eating,” “Improving Your Recipes: One Step at a Time,” and “Top Tips for Healthier Eating.”

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES on social media

A Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Good Measures, LLC, where she is a CDE manager for a virtual diabetes program. Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition & Meal Planning, a co-author of 16 Myths of a Diabetic Diet, and has written for  publications including Diabetes Self-Management, Diabetes Spectrum, Clinical Diabetes, the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation’s newsletter,, and

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