Expert Health Articles

Cutting Down on Added Sugars

Rachel Snyder, RDN, LD

Registered Dietitian

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that less than 10% of our daily calories come from added sugars. Sugar is found naturally in some foods and drinks like fruit and milk, but is usually added to many food products to enhance sweetness. The amount of sugar added to food and drinks can cause Americans to consume too many calories from added sugars, which with time can lead to weight gain.              

Typically when someone thinks of sugar, dessert or candy comes to mind. These are sources of added sugar but there are many others foods and drinks that contain it as well. Sweetened beverages such as soft drinks, sweet teas, fruit drinks, energy drinks, specialty coffee drinks and cocktails are all sources of added sugars. Added sugars can also be found in foods such as snack items, like crackers or cookies, ready-to-eat foods like pizza, pasta sauces or yogurt. Sprinkling sugar on cereal or pouring flavored creamers into coffee are other sources in the diet too.  

One way to know if a product has added sugar is to look at the ingredient list under the nutrition facts label. The ingredients that make up the majority of the product, will be listed first on the list. Some key words indicating the product has added sugar are: dextrose, fructose, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup, sucrose, agave, coconut sugar and white granulated sugar.           

Avoiding added sugars altogether is not necessary, but it’s important that we strive to consume more nutritious foods and drinks first. Sugar found naturally in products such as fruit and unflavored milk, provide other nutrients like fiber, vitamins and minerals that are essential in the diet. For example, milk provides vitamin A, vitamin D, calcium and protein while fruit contains fiber and a significant amount of vitamin C.

If following the recommendation to consume less than 10% of our calories from added sugar is overwhelming, begin by choosing one or two ways to reduce added sugar and work towards those goals first.

Tips to reduce sources of added sugar while still consuming foods you enjoy:

  • Sweeten plain yogurt with fresh or frozen fruit in place of fruit-flavored yogurt.
  • Trade your regular peanut butter for natural peanut butter, which has little to no added sugar.
  • Add your own toppings to plain oatmeal instead of instant-flavored oatmeal packets and top it with cinnamon, dried/fresh fruit or a dollop of natural peanut butter.
  • Switch to regular white milk instead of flavored milk. If this initial switch is difficult to carry out, drink half white milk, half flavored milk and work towards consuming more unflavored milk until you are able to consume it alone.
  • Quench your thirst with water, sparkling water and unflavored milk instead of sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • When baking, remove 1/4 to 1/3 of the sugar called for in the recipe. Structure and flavor will not be affected by the reduction. The reduction will bring forth other flavors used such as vanilla, spices or even the nutty taste of some flours.
  • Cut back on sugar in baked goods by using mashed bananas or dates. Reap the nutritional benefits of fruit while still enjoying your favorite dessert.