How to eat less sugar: Simple steps to cutting down

Napala Pratini
min read
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Quick summary

  • Cutting down on sugar can be difficult, but here are some simple steps you can take to get started

In a previous article, we explored how excessive fructose, which is in every food that lists ‘sugar’ as an ingredient, can harm our bodies, and where it can often be hidden. In this article, we build on the science to present simple steps to cutting down on sugar in our diets. 

Simple Steps to Reducing Sugar Intake

It’s hard not to get overwhelmed by information about how sugar can be bad for us, especially if you have a sweet tooth. But, as always, it’s about balance and moderation. These simple tips will give you a good head start to eating less sugar and maintaining your health, whether you're a sugar addict or just want to decrease your overall intake.

Uplevel your detective skills 🕵️

Sugar can be hidden in virtually any food under the sun—even meat and other savoury things! As a first step to reducing your sugar intake, become vigilant about checking food labels for added sweeteners. Whilst it can take a lot of mental resilience to turn down a cookie or other treat, it’s relatively easy to simply heighten your awareness about hidden sugars.

Opt for fruit 🍎

Whole fruits are unrefined and therefore are much better for you than other sweet snacks because of the fibre and nutrients they contain, which counter many of the harmful effects of fructose. The obvious conclusion here is to try replacing dessert or sugary snacks with whole fruits, but there may be other opportunities to do this as well, such as swapping sugar in your cereal or porridge for dried berries, or having strawberries with a little chocolate instead of a chocolate bar alone.

It should be noted, whilst juicing maintains some of the nutrients and vitamins in the fruit, it discards the fibre—leaving you with the same amount of fructose as you get in Coca Cola. Even smoothies don’t do the trick, as blending fruit destroys one of the components of fibre… making this tactic nearly as bad as juicing. Whilst fruit juice is a “natural” source of sugar, that doesn’t change what happens to those sugars when they get to the liver —which we know is bad news. Thus, we should avoid it where possible.

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Experiment and substitute 👩🏽🔬

Spices (like cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger) and extracts (such as vanilla or almond extract) can add a lot of flavour you might be missing in the absence of sugar. There are also tons of alternatives to refined sugar (like unsweetened applesauce and bananas) which can be used in baking and other recipes—which can help to not only cut down your sugar intake, but often decrease calories as well. Thanks to the internet, there are so many healthy alternative recipes (healthy pancakes, anyone?), so try different options out to find new versions you love—and that your body will thank you for.

Avoid sugar-free sweeteners 🚫

Sugar-free sweeteners (and the products that commonly use them, such as diet soda) can seem healthy because they contain no calories. However, calories are only one factor that matters. In fact, studies show that the use of sweeteners like sucralose (Splenda) may actually increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, weight gain, and metabolic disease.[1] Furthermore, research shows that people who eat sugar substitutes tend to overeat in the rest of their meals—essentially undoing any positive impact you might have had on calorie intake.[2] Whilst there remains some controversy over these sweeteners in the research world, simply remember that far more valuable than swapping out one sweet thing for another is finding ways to modify your behaviour and preferences so that moderation becomes your new normal. Which brings us to our next point…

Consider setting “sweets days” 🍭

If you’re trying to cut down on sugar but just can’t imagine life without chocolate (or whatever your sweet of choice!), consider allowing yourself to indulge only on certain days of the week. On the other days, find an alternative like dried fruit to keep on hand in case you’re really having a craving. Then, when your allowed day comes around, you’ll be even more excited for—and appreciative—that treat.

Truly enjoy your treats 😍

We’d never tell you to avoid something entirely. Rather than going extreme and attempting to cut out sugar altogether, we’d much prefer you to make some modifications as described above—and then, when you really can’t replace the experience of [insert your favourite sweet treat here], you really enjoy it. Having a treat shouldn’t be a shameful or reactionary experience… it should be a conscious choice, and that treat should bring you happiness. If it doesn’t, what’s the point?!

Maintaining a healthy weight is all about finding a new normal, and that applies to everything from your exercise to routine to your relationship with sugar. We hope these tips will help you find a new, healthier normal when it comes to sugar! If you want to find out more about the importance of finding a new normal and tips for maintaining weight loss in the long term, check out this article.


[1] Wang, Q-P., Lin, Y.Q., Zhang, L., et al. (2016). Sucralose Promotes Food Intake through NPY and a Neuronal Fasting Response. Cell Metab 24(1):75-90. Accessible here.

[2] Tey, S.L., Salleh, N.B., Henry, J., Forde, C.G. (2017). Effects of aspartame-, monk fruit-, stevia- and sucrose-sweetened beverages on postprandial glucose, insulin and energy intake. Int J Obes (Lond) 41(3):450-457.

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