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10 Ways to Cut Down on Added Sugars

September 13, 2016 by Dean Simmons, Registered Dietitian

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10 Ways to Cut Down on Added Sugars

Added sugars are a hot topic lately. The sugars and syrups added to food and drinks have come under fire for contributing to weight gain and tooth decay. If you’ve ever tried (or even thought about trying) to cut down on the added sugar in your family’s meals, you’ll be familiar with these two big challenges.

1)    Added sugars are everywhere

  • For example, an American study that analysed the US food supply from 2005-2009 found that about 75per cent of all food and beverage products contained added sugars.
  • There is a long list of sugar ingredients that are commonly added to foods and drinks—ranging from the natural sounding ‘evaporated cane juice’ to the industrial sounding ‘high fructose corn syrup’. Many packaged foods include more than one type of added sugar in the ingredient list.
  • Sweetened foods and drinks might not taste as sweet as they really are. For example, the vinegar in ketchup balances out the sugar, so ketchup doesn’t taste as sweet as it really is.  

2)    Food labels don’t list added sugars in the nutrition facts table.

  • This makes it difficult to determine how much of the sugar in a product is added vs. naturally a part of the food or drink.
  • Fruit, vegetables and milk products contain natural sugars that are counted in the listing for total ‘sugars’ in the nutrition facts table.  For example, 250 ml (1 cup) of chocolate milk contains about twice as much sugar (21 g) as plain milk (11 g). But, it takes some calculation and nutrition knowledge to figure out that half of the sugar in chocolate milk is added sucrose (table sugar), and the other half is a sugar naturally present in milk products (lactose).

Read on for 10 tips on how to overcome these challenges and cut down on the amount of added sugar your family eats and drinks.

  1. Base your meals on whole and unsweetened foods like whole grains, plain milk and alternative products, unsweetened nuts and seeds, beans, lentils, eggs, fish and lean meats. Start by filling half your plate with fruits and veggies.
  2. For packaged foods and drinks (like breakfast cereal and milk-based drinks), compare the amount of total sugar listed in the nutrition facts table and choose lower sugar options more often. Note: Fruit, vegetables and milk products contain natural sugars. These sugars are also included in the total amount of sugars listed on the nutrition facts table.
  3. Be aware that some foods you may think are healthy can be quite high in added sugars. Examples include: sugary drinks like fruit drinks and vitamin-enhanced waters; flavoured yogurt; yogurt drinks; chocolate milk; granola; granola bars, and energy or protein bars.
  4. Eat fruit for dessert instead of cookies, cakes or ice-cream. Try making fruit salad or baking apples or pears.
  5. Drink water, plain milk or unsweetened fortified soy beverage instead of sugary drinks, which are a major source of added sugar. Sipping sugary drinks throughout the day can harm your teeth and lead to cavities or tooth pain. Check out these ideas for healthy drink choices. Water is the best choice to satisfy thirst.
  6. When your family eats sweetened foods and or has sugary drinks, serve small portions. For example, serve mini cupcakes, split a chocolate bar or choose the mini sized 222 ml (7.5 fl oz) cans of pop.
  7. Use fruit as a sweetener instead of added sugar. For example, when making smoothies use berries, bananas or dates for a touch of sweetness instead of adding honey, syrup or table sugar. Or, check out this recipe for chocolate chia pudding that uses dates as a sweetener.
  8. Switch from sweetened yogurt to plain yogurt and add your own fruit. Next time you’re packing lunch, toss some frozen berries into plain yogurt. As the berries thaw their juices will release into the yogurt.
  9. Switch from sweetened breakfast cereal to unsweetened whole grain cereal with fruit on top. Try the bear’s breakfast (aka porridge) or mason jar muesli.
  10. Reset your taste buds. We’ve become so used to sweet tasting food and drinks that we often don’t notice how sweet they really are. Taste more natural flavours by cutting back on added sugars. Set an achievable goal for cutting down on added sugar and then take the challenge with your family or a friend. Start small and see how far you can go.

Cutting down on added sugars is part of a healthy way of eating. If you’ve successfully cut down on added sugars, share your success with other readers in the comments below.

Related blogs

Your Guide to Sugars - Part 1
Your Guide to Sugars - Part 2
Low Sugar Drinks for Kids
Sugary Drinks - How much sugar are you drinking?

Recommended resources

HealthLink BC: Added Sugars
Heart & Stroke Foundation
USDA: Cut Back on Your Kid's Sweet Treats
USDA: What are added sugars?
USDA: Cut Down on Added Sugars

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