Cutting back on the amount of sugar that you eat is one of the best things you can do for your diet. Sugar has zero vitamins, zero minerals and zero nutritional value. And yet it’s packed with calories. This post is has lots of ideas on how to eat less sugar.
We are currently eating far too much sugar!
In the UK, it is estimated that the average person consumes around 3 times more sugar than is recommended. Unfortunately levels are still continuing to rise. The NHS recommends sugar consumption of no more than 6-7 teaspoons (or 30 grams) of added sugar per day for an adult, and less for children. (Added sugar is that which is not naturally present in foods such as fruit and milk). However, many people are averaging nearly 100 grams per day, or over 35 kilos per year. Unsurprisingly, the UK is in the top 10 countries for sugar consumption.
Health effects of eating too much sugar
Unfortunately, these levels of sugar consumption are having a negative impact upon our health. In addition to causing dental problems, eating too much sugar is linked to increases in type 2 diabetes and heart disease. There is also a high risk of increased weight gain, which can trigger a number of life limiting health issues from cancer to liver disease and strokes.
Benefits of cutting back on sugar
Conversely, there are some great health benefits to be gained by giving up or eating less sugar. Firstly, your risk of a number of serious diseases will decrease. Secondly, your oral health and skin will improve. And thirdly, you’ll feel better in yourself, with increased energy levels and improved mood. You may find yourself enjoying other foods more, as you’ll notice the natural sweetness in foods such as carrots and fruit.
How to eat less sugar
Making some changes to the way that you do your shopping is an important strategy in a low sugar diet. It’s going to be much easier to avoid sugar if it’s not present in every cupboard that you open in the kitchen. So make a concerted effort to buy less (or none!) in the first place. One top tip to achieving this is to ensure that you don’t go shopping when you are hungry, as you’ll have more willpower that way. If you find it easier, do more of your shopping online after dinner, and try to stick to a list. Avoid the aisles that are packed with sweet treats. And if you think you’ll be tempted by the proliferation of sweet stuff at the petrol station, snack on an apple before you go in, or change the time that you fill up.
Check the labels
It’s important to look at food labels before you purchase. Sugar can be disguised on food labels in a number of ways: dextrose, fructose, galactose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose. And don’t forget that honey and maple syrup are still forms of sugar. There are high levels of sugar in some foods that you might not expect. For example savoury sauces such as chilli sauce, ketchup etc can be very high in sugar, as can baked beans. And products that market themselves as healthy such as cereal bars and low fat yogurt are often high in sugar.
Plan your meals and snacks and eat regularly to eat less sugar
Returning home late, starving, with absolutely no idea what you are going to eat can be a recipe for a sugar attack. Try to have an idea of what you are going to have for your next meal. Have healthy snacks available such as fruit, veg or nuts, especially if you are going on a long journey. And ensure that there is lots of healthy stuff in sight at the front of your fridge and cupboards. Supermarkets put the sugary products at eye height to drive revenue – use their strategy to make healthy snacks your first choice.
Eat plenty of fibre, protein and good fats
Eating regularly, and ensuring that your meals contain a good balance of protein, fats, fibre and wholegrains will help to keep you fuller for longer. As you eat less sugar, your own blood sugar levels should help to stabilise, which will help you to ward off the snack attack! (If you want to read more about eating more fibre, this post has lots of ideas)
Try to make a habit of eating a healthy breakfast before you leave the house. That way if temptation is put in front of you later in the morning, you’ll be more likely to resist. If you enjoy cereal, consider your choices carefully. One smallish helping of a leading brand of granola served with a pot of flavoured low fat yogurt will take you close to your entire recommended allowance of sugar for the day. (And granola and yogurt are generally considered to be healthy choices!!) Try to have a wholegrain no-added sugar cereal and if you enjoy yogurt, buy plain, natural yogurt. You can then add your own fruit as you like. Eggs are also a great way of starting the day, containing protein and fat to keep you fuller for longer. And if you enjoy baked goods for your breakfast, have a go at making them yourself so that you are in control of the ingredients.
You might like to try
Even when you are trying to cut down on sugar, there will still be times when you want to add some sweetness to a recipe. Generally, I avoid using artificial sweeteners as a replacement for sugar. There is evidence that they can boost sugar cravings, as they mimic the taste of sugar without providing the energy it would usually provide. If you do decide to use a sweetener, try to use a natural product such as stevia. And whilst honey and maple syrup are still a type of sugar, they are sweeter than normal sugar, so you should be able to cut down the amount you use to get the same effect.
Eat naturally sweet foods to help you eat less sugar
Eating healthy, unprocessed foods which are naturally sweet, is a way to help your body to combat sugar cravings and stick to a low sugar diet. Carrots, sweet potato, sweet corn, and of course virtually all fruit, tastes deliciously sweet. These fruit and veg do still contain sugar, but it is naturally occurring. Unprocessed fruit is also great source of fibre, vitamins and minerals, so you are not eating empty calories. Take care with canned fruit which is canned in syrup however, as this still contains added sugar. Half a can of peaches canned in light syrup contains nearly 30g of sugar! Dried fruit can also provide some natural sweetness, but stick to small amounts as it is very high in natural sugars .
Use flavours and spices to eat less sugar
Another way to cut down or eliminate sugar is to use other flavours and spices. Natural extracts such as vanilla, almond and lemon can add delicious flavours which avoids the need for additional sugar. Try making your own vanilla yogurt if that is one of your favourite flavours. Sweet spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and cardamom can all be used in both sweet and savoury cooking to add richness and flavour. This no added sugar fruit cake recipe uses the natural sweetness of dried fruit, orange and spices to sweeten it. A high cocoa solid chocolate also make a great addition to recipes. The higher the cocoa content, the less sugar the chocolate contains.
How to eat less sugar - watch your portion sizes
We tend to think about portion sizes when we are trying to lose weight, but it’s also a way to cut down on sugar consumption. If you’re out, maybe share a cake or dessert with a friend rather than having a whole portion. And if you enjoy baking at home, consider what size cake you really need. It’s all too easy to end up eating up huge slices just because you don’t want your delicious baking to go to waste. Maybe buy some pretty baking tins which allow you to make individual cakes. Individual portions are a proven way to help to control the amount you eat of something irresistible.
Drinks are critical when it comes to eating less sugar. The sugar dissolves, drinks don’t fill you up in the same way that food does, and it is very easy to over consume. A can of coke contains 30g of added sugar – which is the whole of an adult recommended daily allowance. Fruit juice is also very high in sugar, and you don’t get the same benefits as you would from eating a whole piece of fruit. A 150ml carton of apple juice contains 15 grams of sugar. And smoothies are also often high sugar. Try to get into the habit of drinking water. If you really don’t like it plain, try a squeeze of lemon or a sprig of mint. And carry water with you when you are out so you’re not tempted by a can of soda.
Recipes to help you eat less sugar
If you enjoy baking, make your own healthy, low sugar sweet treats and cut down on the added sugar content. Here are some low/no sugar recipes to try:
You might also like to browse the healthy treats category, which are all low sugar recipes.
Do you have any other tips to eat less sugar? If so, do share them in the comments below.