4 Steps to Ditch Added Sugars

Three out of every four adults is trying to cut back on added sugar. Sugar comes in many delicious forms, but we know that too much of something is often not too good for our health. In addition to heart disease, cognitive problems, and diabetes, a diet high in added sugars puts you at risk of inflammation, skin aging, tooth decay, and weight gain. 

Some foods, like apples and milk, naturally contain sugar. While they contain sugar, they also come with nutritional benefits. Other foods have sugars added to them, and these foods typically are poor sources of nutrition. Added sugars are such a threat to our health that the new 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans proposed a reduction--from 10 percent to 6 percent--in the recommendation of daily calories from added sugar. The current average intake of added sugars for Americans age one year and older is more than twice that much, at nearly 17 teaspoons of sugar a day. For reference, 6% of daily calories from added sugar is the equivalent of 6 teaspoons of sugar for someone who eats about 1,600 calories.

So how do you go about cutting back on added sugar? Try this four-step approach:

How to cut back on sugar

Work your way through the following steps to head toward a lower-sugar lifestyle that’s delicious, healthy and fulfilling:

Step 1: Learn the names of sugar:

It would be easy to spot sources of added sugar if “sugar” was the only term used on ingredient labels. Unfortunately, there are more than 60 different names for added sugar. Some of the ones you’ll see most often are agave nectar, beet sugar, cane sugar, caramel, coconut sugar, date sugar, dextrose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, honey, maltose, maple syrup, raw sugar, rice syrup, sucrose, tapioca syrup, turbinado sugar, and many more.

While this may seem overwhelming, the good news is that updated Nutrition Facts Panels now require food manufacturers to list Added Sugars, specifically, so you’ll know how much sugar has been added to it, or if the sugars are occurring naturally in that food. 


Step 2: Be leery of the top 5 sources of sugar:

A whopping 70% of added sugars in our diets come from just five main sources. 

    • Sugar-sweetened beverages (soft drinks, fruit drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, smoothies)
    • Sweetened coffee and tea
    • Candy and toppings (jams, syrups)
    • Desserts and sweet snacks
    • Breakfast cereals and bars

    When you look at these top sources of added sugar, it’s important to note how much added sugar comes just from our beverage choices.

    Step 3: Add, don’t subtract:

    Now that you know how to spot added sugars and where most added sugars come from, you can have some fun. Rather than cutting them out and feeling deprived, take a positive approach by ADDING in a new and better alternative. Try making your own fruit-sweetened water, or try a flavorful herbal tea. Cut sugary drinks with water and over time you’ll think the original was too sweet. In moderation, try products that employ sugar alcohols or low-calorie sugar alternatives, such as stevia or monkfruit. Make your own banana “nice” cream. There are many swaps you can try to add in, and the power of positive psychology will make your new habits easier to keep.

    Step 4: Rework your pantry:

    Now it’s time to spring into action and track down any sneaky sources of added sugar, especially those you may not be aware of. Remember your top sources of added sugar and consider replacing those sources a better no- or lower-sugar option. Also take a peek at things like the pasta sauce, ketchup, and other condiments and foods you serve regularly. Many forward-thinking food makers, like Otamot, have a healthier approach and want to help solve the sugar problem. All of Otamot’s pasta sauces, for example, contain zero added sugar.

    Congratulations! You are now armed with the knowledge and basic steps it takes to cut some added sugar out of your day. Remember to think positively whenever you make positive changes. 


    Jessie Shafer is a registered dietitian-nutritionist, team member at The Real Food Dietitians, former magazine editor, and busy mom of two who loves to keep nutrition positively sweet. 

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