13 Easy Food Swaps to Reduce Your Sugar Intake
You might want to hold off on that strawberry-flavored yogurt, bowl of oatmeal, and that low-fat salad dressing. Really.
Sneaky sugar sources
You might think that when it comes to eating sugar, you’re doing a pretty good job. If you resist baked goods, sodas, candy, and chips, kudos, you’ve taken a big step in the right direction.
Yet there are sneaky sources of sugar hiding everywhere, especially in packaged foods—including the ones you might think are “healthy.” With the help of nutritionists, here are some strategies for retaining flavor while shedding the white stuff. And keep an eye out for the seven signs of high blood sugar.
Make your own breakfast cereal
Most packaged breakfast cereals, granolas, and oatmeals contain lots of calories, carbohydrates, and plain sugar. That morning sugar can cause a spike that will lead to an energy crash at the office a few hours later. You’ll end up hungry again, in search of more sugar, explains Autumn Ehsaei, a dietician and nutritionist in North Carolina.
Here’s a fix. Make your own cereal, she says. “Instead of a packet of sweetened oatmeal, make your own plain oatmeal and flavor it yourself,” she says. You can start with pure, rolled oats or unsweetened instant oatmeal mix.
If you can’t resist that sugary favorite, she says, “consider buying one that is maybe sweeter, and combine it with another that has little to no added sugars. You will still feel satisfied by the sweetness, but it’s less than you would normally eat,” Ehsaei explains.
Get a healthy, no sugar-added box of oats and you use it in numerous healthy ways in your meals. (And bonus! Eating oatmeal in the morning helps you burn calories all day long.)
Flavor your water
Infusing water or seltzer with flavors from fruit, herbs, and veggies—think cucumbers, lemons, watermelon, grapefruit, mint—enhances the flavor without adding sugar, and you even get a little nutritional lift. “If you want a flavored beverage, use just a splash of whatever it is you like with plain tea, sparkling water, or regular water. You’ll still have taste, but minimize the added sugars,” explains Ehsaei.
If you need inspiration, try one of these fruit-infused water recipes for a refreshing, sweet treat in the day.
Instead of white sugar, try using stevia—a popular natural low-calorie sweetener. It may even stabilize your blood sugar.
“Use stevia instead of plain white sugar in your oatmeal in the morning, and add frozen blueberries to get the natural sugars from fruit. This reduces your caloric intake. And, if you add walnuts for that extra crunch and protein, you’ll be even more satisfied,” says Giovanna Abraham, a lifestyle coach and fitness instructor.
The substitute can also replace sugar in your baked goods, coffee, desserts, cereals, and more.
Get your fruit fresh
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, eating fruit to satisfy that craving is way better than downing a chocolate milkshake—as long as it’s in moderation, and it’s fresh.
“Whole fruits offer fiber and other good-for-you ingredients like vitamins. Yet, fruit juice and dried fruit, on the other hand, are sugar-concentrated versions of the real thing,” explains Zevia wellness expert, Paddy Spence. These forms are often high in added sugars and fats, especially the packaged, store-bought versions. Spence should know: He cut out all added sugar for 14 years ago, and relies only on stevia for his sweetness kick. If you’re in need of a few tasty ways to eat fresh fruit, consider a fruit salad or grilled fruit kabobs.
Eat that burger naked
Which means ditching the mayo, ketchup, and aioli dressing, of course. (What did you think it meant?) A naked patty is an excellent way to lower sugar intake, says Spence: “There’s a reason kids love ketchup… it’s one of the most sugary condiment culprits, and barbecue sauce is just as bad.”
While you might suspect the salt content of these condiments, it’s actually the sugar that’s out of control—here are some other surprisingly sugary foods. As an alternative, try making your own spread, like a healthier, homemade tomato or yogurt dip.
“Perhaps the sneakiest of the lot,” says Spence, “is salad dressing—especially fat-free varieties.” Keep yours simple: Try some olive oil, vinegar, and lemon—or make your own.
When it comes to your nuts, seeds, and chips, at least. They’ll be plenty delicious on their own. When you cover healthy snack foods like nuts and seeds with glazes, dessert coatings, or salt, you’re sabotaging all those wonderful health benefits they provide, explains Spence.
“From a sugar perspective, treats like honey-roasted nuts, teriyaki jerky, and yogurt-covered pretzels run neck-and-neck with candy bars. Opt for the naked versions, instead,” he says.
Everybody likes parfait—but make your own
If you want a fruity or granola-filled yogurt parfait, don’t let the food makers do the job for you. Packaged and flavored yogurts are often laden with hidden sugars, calories, and other additives that aren’t good for you. “A cup of regular fruit-flavored yogurt can contain about 30 grams of sugar—that’s not much less than a can of Coke,” says Spence. Yikes.
“If you want blueberry yogurt, you’re much better off stirring fresh blueberries into plain yogurt. They’re naturally low in sugar. Oikos Triple Zero is a brand of Greek yogurt that uses stevia as a sweetener, so it tastes great without added sugar,” he explains.
Treats come in many forms
If you’re craving a Snickers, don’t give in just yet. Instead, ask yourself if there’s a healthier protein or granola bar that’s chocolate-based, high in fiber and other healthy nutrients, and low in net sugars and carbohydrates. You’ll be able to find one. Just be sure to check the labels at the grocery store before picking the winner. And whether you choose one that’s for a meal replacement, a snack, for building muscle, or one for just satisfying a dessert craving late at night, these types of healthier bars exist and can save you from the candy jar, explains Jackie Newgent, RDN.
Her personal choice? “KIND Nuts & Spices bar, such as Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt, in place of any chocolate-covered candy bar.”
Or, make your own energy bars with these recipes.
Scream for nice cream
There’s nothing quite like digging into a bowl of ice cream after a long day. But those fats, calories, and sugars aren’t so comforting. A fix: “Choose a natural, low-sugar frozen treat or ice cream (like Halo Top Mint Chip Ice Cream), instead of its full sugar counterpart to save over 15 grams sugar per 1/2 cup serving,” says Newgent. Here are some healthy frozen treats to try.
Or, if you’re not into the store-bought route, you can make your own. Try blending banana with some chocolate or peanut butter for a slimmer, homemade version.
You can even make popsicles, like Greek yogurt popsicles, to keep serving size in check, if you’re worried about topping off the whole thing in one sitting.
Add veggies to your smoothies
Smoothies can be great for you, but if you add in mostly fruit and not much in the way of veggies or protein, you could turn your drink into a dessert. That’s why it’s important to know some tips for making a healthy smoothie.
Here’s an idea: “Ensure your home-made smoothies are two parts vegetable to one part fruit, and blend it with water or milk instead of added fruit juice so you don’t end up with an overly sugar-laden drink,” explains Rebecca Lewis, a registered dietitian at HelloFresh.
What’s more, look for low sugar fruits, like berries, melon, lemon, or kiwi, as opposed to higher fruit items, like cherries, mango, pineapple, and papaya.
If you’re looking for an easy morning smoothie, look to one of these breakfast smoothies you can whip up instantly.
Make sure you can taste the coffee in your cup
Sugar frappaccinos aren’t real coffee—they’re coffee milkshakes. If you prefer a pick-me-up in the AM, drink your coffee plain or with a dash of milk; if you need sweetener, add stevia or natural flavoring, like cinnamon or vanilla.
Focus on establishing healthy coffee drinking habits, and you’ll soon enough get into the groove. Work on enjoying the taste of the coffee bean, as all that sugary gunk, like syrups, whipped cream, and nibs have to go, explains Lewis.
In fact, “flavored coffees which can have upwards of 100g of added sugar depending on size and add-ins,” Lewis warns. That’s a lot.
Skip store-bought trail mix
The mixes with cereals, chips, popcorns, pretzels, and sugar-coated treats aren’t that great for you, and if you actually check out the label for serving size, you’ll be dumbfounded.
Instead, swap those staples for healthier ones—make healthy trail mix recipes like these that you can munch on throughout the day, guilt-free. “Use a mixture of nuts and coconut flakes instead of regular trail mix,” says nutritionist Matthew Lee.
“Most store-bought trail mixes contain grains, chocolate, and a ton of sugar. Make your own instead with almonds, pecans, and coconut flakes, all added sugar-free, unsalted, or raw,” he suggests.
Or, you can try Paleo-friendly bags of granola, which also tend to contain very little sugar, he explains.