Looking to decrease daily sugar intake, but unsure how best to tackle it?
Sugar is in pretty much everything. It’s delicious and highly addictive, which is why so many companies and restaurants add it to their foods.
Unfortunately, this means that added sugar isn’t only present in places you’d expect, like Auntie Anne’s cinnamon pretzel bites. It’s also in foods like ketchup, breads, meats, and granola. It’s everywhere! Which means that most of us eat wayyy too much of it. And that’s a very, very bad thing.
In Why is Sugar Bad for You? I cover the details behind why high sugar consumption is so harmful. If you haven’t read it yet, you really should.
And today, I’m going to give you an example of a typical American’s day of eating. I’ll show you where the added sugar often sneaks in, as well as provide some healthy swaps to drastically decrease your sugar intake.
Now of course this isn’t how everyone eats every day; it’s just an example. But hopefully you will learn something new, and it will give you some ideas about where you can make healthy swaps in your own eating.
I used to do this all the time with my patients in cardiac rehab. They would fill out a three day food diary, and then we’d sit down and go through each meal, seeing if there was a way to make it more nutritious. Many of them said it was extremely helpful and made them look at their eating in a whole different way. I hope this will do the same for you!
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How to Decrease Daily Sugar Intake – An Example Day of Eating
Breakfast: Honey Bunches of Oats cereal with vanilla almond milk
If you’re like me, you love to start your day with a bowl of cereal. It’s delicious, easy, and takes no time to prepare.
But many cereals have tons of added sugars. Just look at a few nutritional labels; you’ll be hard-pressed to find one with under 10g of sugar per serving. And that’s not even including your choice of milk.
Since we should be aiming for 25 grams of added sugar or less a day, do you want to be almost halfway there after only breakfast?
We’ve got three options here!
1) Scour the cereal aisle to find one with as little sugar as possible
2) Make your own granola and add little to no sweetener
3) Mix and match your cereals!
#3 is my favorite. What it means is simply take a half serving of your favorite cereal and supplement the other half with another that has no added sugar. For example, you could use puffed wheat or Cheerios! It takes no extra time and you’ve eliminated half the sugar. This is what I currently do, and I don’t mind the slight flavor change. In fact, I like it better because I don’t get a sickly sweet meal first thing in the morning.
You can also swap the vanilla almond milk for unsweetened vanilla almond milk. Still has a nice vanilla flavor, but loads less sugar!
Lunch: Hamburger and side salad
Let’s start with the hamburger. Remember, we’re looking at this meal from a sugar perspective today. Here are a couple of places sugar could sneak in:
– Bun: depends on the type, but the grams of sugar can range from about 4-8g.
– Condiments: ketchup, relish, “secret sauce”. For example, Heinz Ketchup has 4g of sugar in just 1 Tbsp.
When it comes to the side salad, the sugar present depends a lot on what you add to it. Many salad dressings, for example, have tons of sugar. Candied nuts and dried fruits (with added sugar) will also quickly take this salad from healthy to detrimental.
While buns don’t have a ton of sugar, they will contribute to your daily sugar intake. Try swapping out the bun for a lettuce wrap. That way you’ll save on calories too.
If you really want to keep the bun (I feel ya, I’m a bread person too!), opt for a whole wheat one. The fiber will help slow the digestion of the bun, meaning you won’t get a big blood sugar spike like you would from the white bun. That’s way better for your body! Plus the fiber will keep you full for longer and decrease the likelihood of an after-lunch energy crash.
For the salad, make sure to portion your salad dressing. While it’s so easy to just drizzle a bunch on, keeping with the recommended serving size will help minimize your sugar intake. You can also try out a simple dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, and your favorite herbs.
Minimize your non-veggie salad additions. Only add raw or roasted nuts, beans, or a little bit of cheese if you’re trying to bulk it out a little more.
Dinner: Spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread
When it comes to sugar, the spaghetti, meatballs, and garlic bread are actually not big culprits. The hidden sugar here will actually be in your marinara sauce!
While making your own spaghetti sauce allows you to control what’s in it, that may not be the most practical solution for your everyday meals. Though if you know a simple recipe you love to make, go for it!
But if not, consider making an olive oil based sauce with herbs, fresh or dried. All it takes is a dash of olive oil and a sprinkle of your favorite flavors: basil, thyme, oregano, garlic powder, and onion powder are a few of my go-to’s. Once your pasta cools off, you can add a little sprinkle of Parmesan too.
You could also purchase a marinara sauce that’s lower in sugar, such as the one I mentioned on my 7 healthy store-bought sauces list. (If you haven’t read this post, check it out!)
Snacks are an excellent way to fit some more nutrition into your day. Unfortunately, many processed snacks are laden with sugar – even those you’d think were a pretty healthy choice. Let’s take a look at three examples:
Apple slices dipped in Jif peanut butter
All things considered, this is actually a very decent snack. You’re getting vitamins and fiber from the apple, and protein and healthy fats from the peanut butter. Much better than a Snickers bar from the vending machine.
But Jif and many other peanut butters have sugar and other additives. It may only be 3g in 2 Tbsp, but it all adds up. And do you really want to be getting your sugar from peanut butter?
To make this snack added-sugar free, get an all-natural peanut butter where peanuts are the only ingredient. It will still taste good, and be much better for you.
I used to think that Clif bars were one of the healthiest granola bars you could get. Sure, they have a decent amount of calories. But they were filling and great for holding me over between meals.
Then I learned that Clif bars have massive amounts of sugar.
Take the chocolate chip one. It has 23g of sugar! That’s almost as much as you should have in a day! From your granola bar!
I now opt instead for Rx Bars and KIND bars. Rx Bars have no added sugar, and their ingredients are the cleanest I’ve seen in any granola bar. And many KIND bars have 5g of sugar or less and boast clean ingredients as well.
Moral of the story? Look at nutrition labels!
Vanilla Greek yogurt
Flavored yogurts are some of my least favorite sugar culprits. Because I had no idea for the longest time! Chobani’s vanilla flavored yogurt has 13g of sugar! I used to eat the black cherry one all the time, and it has a whopping 16g of sugar.
I have to hand it to Chobani – they do have a newer line of Greek yogurts that are “less sugar.” But their vanilla one still has 9g.
Opt instead for plain! I’ll be honest; it’s a bit of an acquired taste. But once you find out what toppings you like, you may be able to hop on board. Some of my favorites are: fresh fruit, dried cranberries, almond butter, coconut flakes, and this antioxidant seed blend that I got from Amazon. So good!
Your drinks can absolutely sabotage you too. In fact, I’d say that drinks are most people’s biggest source of sugar. Really buckling down on what you’re drinking can help you quickly decrease daily sugar intake. Let’s look at these three examples:
I mean, we all know at this point that soda isn’t good for you. But did you know that one can of Coke has 39g of sugar? Like, whoa.
That’s already obliterated your daily max of added sugar.
While diet soda is definitely not great, it’s certainly the lesser of two evils. And better yet, try swapping for flavored seltzer water! Just make sure it has no sugar added.
I LOVE coffee. But for many, coffee can be a huge sugar source.
Think about it. Let’s say your favorite coffee is a caramel macchiato, or something else flavored with milk and syrup. A medium size at a typical coffee shop will have 33g of sugar.
Say you get that every day. That means that every single day, you’re exceeding your max added sugar with one drink alone.
I know how hard it is to imagine parting with your favorite morning coffee beverage. But it’s just not healthy to drink that every day.
Instead, try asking for that drink with half the amount of syrup. I do this all the time with the more indulgent coffee drinks, and I really, truly do not notice a difference.
You could also consider getting it every other day, and opt for a less sugary option – say, a latte with only one pump of caramel – on the other days.
Glass of wine (or 2…or 3…)
Wine is another pesky sugar source. The sugar content of your wine, though, will depend on how sweet or dry it is. The drier the wine, the less sugar it will have.
To decrease your sugar here, go for the driest wine you still enjoy. You can also cut sugar by making a wine spritzer; just like with cutting down on soda, this will cut the sugar content in your glass by half. And you can also exchange one of your glasses of wine with herbal tea. It’ll still allow you to unwind at the end of a long day, but will be a nice hydrating option (as well as a low-sugar one!).
Thanks for reading! I hope you found this helpful as you work to decrease your daily sugar intake.
Are you decreasing your sugar intake in order to lose weight? While sugar is a great place to start, make sure you’re also hitting all the other checkboxes! Get my FREE Weight Loss Checklist.
I have really been working to cut back on sugar as well. I’ve started doing intermittent fasting to help deplete daily sugar levels. Do you have any thoughts on fasting? Thanks for sharing!
Thanks DeShena! I’m torn on intermittent fasting. From the research and testimonials I’ve seen about it, it can work great for some people. But I’ve also always been taught that eating small, frequent meals during the day is the best for maintaining a high metabolism and controlling cravings. I think that if you try out intermittent fasting and it works for you, then great! And if you don’t have certain medical conditions such as diabetes, then it certainly won’t harm you. But if it’s a real struggle to achieve or makes you feel too hungry/full during your respective fasting/eating times, then don’t bother. Personally, I wouldn’t be able to do it due to my sporadic work schedule. But like I said, if you’re trying it out and it works for you, then keep on going!
ahhhh for the past year I’ve been trying to cut down sugar. I stopped buying products that says “sugar added” and I try my best to refrain myself from eating candy. BUT IT’S SO HARD xD. I enjoyed all the tips you have provided here. I’ll definitely come to revisit this someday.
It really is so hard! Sugar is so addicting, and we each have our trouble spots. My sweet tooth comes out at night – so for me I really need to think ahead and make sure I have some healthier options. Good for you for making some changes already!!
Hi Cedar, I have read your blog a couple of times and enjoy it. I read it when I see your mom’s post and link on FB. Keep it up!!!
Thank you so much!! I’m so glad you like it!