Most of us are eating more than double the amount of sugar that we should be, according to the American Heart Association
. That’s a problem because eating a lot of sugar has been linked to health problems and shortfalls of essential nutrients. (Note: the concern is with added sugar, not naturally occurring sugar like that found in fruit or milk.) Sugar makes things taste good, but reducing the amount you eat doesn’t have to mean misery. There are several ways to cut your sugar intake without even noticing.
Read food labels. The "Total Carbohydrate" line on a food’s Nutrition Facts Panel can give you an idea of how many carbs are in a serving of that food. Unfortunately, it’s tough to tell what kind it is or how much is naturally-occurring versus added sugar. By mid-2018, food labels will be updated with an "Added Sugars" line that breaks out that information. In the meantime, if you see "sugar", "high-fructose corn syrup", "brown rice syrup", "sucrose", "cane sugar", "honey", or "molasses" listed at the beginning of the ingredient list, the product probably has more sugar than you need. In that case, you may want to find a similar product that lists sugar further down the ingredient list.
Buy unsweetened. Products like apple sauce and fruit cups are sweet enough of their own. Buy the unsweetened versions of the products and you’ll never miss the added sugar. Unsweetened products will often say "unsweetened" or "no added sugar" on the front of the package, but you can tell for sure by checking the list of ingredients for any added sugar.
Opt for low sugar versions of products. Using sugar-free flavoring in your coffee drink can save you 19g of sugar as compared to the regular flavoring. Do that for your caramel nut mocha, a drink that contains three different flavor shots, and you’ll save a whopping 57g of sugar (228 Calories!) without noticing. Likewise, drinking a can of diet soda instead of a regular one will save you about 39g of sugar (156 Calories).
Put sweet things in small containers
. We judge how much we should eat based on how full our bowl/plate looks. So, we’ll serve ourselves - and therefore eat - more ice cream if we’re scooping it into a cereal bowl versus a juice glass. In fact, one study
showed that people served themselves 31% more ice cream when using a large bowl and 14.5% more when using a large scoop as opposed to when they used a medium sized bowl or a smaller scoop. Think your stomach will notice the difference? It won’t. Studies
have shown you’ll rate yourself as feeling just as full even though you ate less.
Slightly under measure sugar. The next time you put sugar in your coffee or tea, use slightly less than you normally do, and chances are you won’t be able to notice. If you’re baking cookies, measure the sugar to just below the line on the measuring cup rather than right at it. The difference won’t be enough to throw off the recipe or the taste, but a little sugar savings here and there will add up.
Use naturally sweet foods instead of sugar. Skip the jelly on your peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and have a peanut butter and banana sandwich instead. Snack bars can be made with pureed dates or figs instead of sugar. True, you’ll still be getting some sugar from the fruit, but it’ll be less overall and will come with more vitamins and minerals than sugar alone would.
What’s your favorite way to cut sugar without noticing?
Theresa Hedrick, MS, RD, is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist in Oregon and provides counsel to the Aspartame Resource Center.