Top 10 tips for cutting down on your sugar intake

Cutting down on sugar intake is really important for weight control.  This is because it digests quickly and then is stored as fat if it’s not needed for energy.. Apart from contributing to weight problems, a high sugar diet can lead to various other health problems such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately many people on Western diets have had a high sugar diet since childhood and find it hard to give up.  Sugar isn’t just in the obvious foods like sweets, chocolate and ice cream.  It’s in all sorts of foods, including ones that are marketed as “healthy”.  For example, fruit yoghurts and cereal bars are usually very high in sugar. It also has many names, which you might not recognise as sugar on the ingredients list.

Although reducing your sugar intake is good for health and weight control, it’s best not to suddenly try to cut it out altogether.  This can lead to cravings and is less likely to be successful.  If you cut down gradually, you’ll get used to a lower sugar diet and sugary foods won’t seem so appealing.

Tips for cutting down on sugar intake:

#1 Avoid using artificial sweeteners

Sweeteners don’t help you to stop craving sweet tastes and recent research has even suggested that they might encourage you to eat more because your body associates an intake of energy with the sweetness.

#2 Cut down on sugar in hot drinks

Sugar-intake---hot drinks

If you take sugar in hot drinks, start to gradually cut down on the amount you use.  You won’t notice a small decrease and over time you’ll be able to cut it out altogether without missing it.

#3 Choose low sugar breakfast cereal


If you eat breakfast cereal, check the sugar content and see if you can find a lower sugar cereal you like.  See below for how to check the total sugar content of foods.  Look for cereals with less than 10% total sugars.

# 4 Avoid high sugar drinks

Try to avoid fizzy soft drinks and squash altogether.  Regular versions are packed with sugar and low sugar versions contain sweeteners.  Both also contain other additives.

#5 Look out for hidden sugars

SI sushi

Identify any “hidden” sugars or sugars in foods and try to cut these foods out.  As well as cereal bars and fruit yoghurts, there is added sugar in many foods you wouldn’t expect, including:

  • Sauces and dressings
  • Soups
  • Breads and other bakery products
  • Baked beans
  • Crackers
  • Sushi

Start getting used to checking labels.  Sugar has many names.  Look out for all these common forms of sugar:

Sugar intake word cloud

To find out the total proportion of sugar in a food, you need to look at the carbohydrate content, then the line that says “of which sugars”.

SI nutrition table

Try to choose foods with less than 10% (10g per 100g) sugar.

#6 Cut down on your sugar intake from snacks

If you eat sugary snacks, try alternatives, such as fruit (fresh or dried), nuts, dark chocolate, crackers or natural yoghurt.

#7 Avoid “empty” sugar calories altogether

SI sweets

Sweets (candy) are the worst sugary foods.  They have no nutritional value (other than energy) and will give you a brief sugar high followed by craving more. They also usually contain lots of unnatural additives  Avoid them as much as possible.

#8 Enjoy dark chocolate as a healthy treat

Sugar intake - dark chocolate

If you like chocolate, try to keep it plain.  Avoid caramel, fudge and fondant fillings and go for a pure chocolate bar. Even better, choose dark chocolate with a high cocoa solids content.  Cocoa itself is very nutritious so if you eat chocolate with 70% or more cocoa solids this is actually quite a healthy snack.

#9 Choose healthier biscuits

The same goes for biscuits.  There are plenty of plain biscuits to choose from that are relatively low sugar.  Biscuits like digestives, oat biscuits, malted milk and shortcake are a much better choice than, for example, wafers and jam or cream filled biscuits.

#10 spread thinly

SI - jam

On the subject of jam, all sweet spreads are very high in sugar. This includes honey which, despite having some nutritional benefits, is a high sugar food. However, a little can go a long way. If you like sweet spreads, make sure you spread them very thinly – you’ll get the taste of the spread without the sugar spike.

A note on naturally occurring sugar

The above tips relate to cutting down on added sugars.  Sugar also occurs naturally in fruit, in the form of fructose.  You shouldn’t cut fruit out because all fruits contain important vitamins and minerals.  Fruit also contains fibre, which slows down sugar digestion. However, you should keep your fruit sugar intake in check.  Ideally, your “5 a day” should be a combination of fruit and vegetables, not just fruit.  In addition, you should limit your intake of juices because the sugars in these digest more quickly than the sugars in whole fruits.

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