Cutting down on sugar intake is really important for weight control because of the way sugar is digested quickly. 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 of foods.
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
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 what the sugar content is – most have quite a high percentage. Look for cereals with less than 10% total sugars – see how to do this here.
# 4 Avoid high sugar drinks
Try to avoid fizzy soft drinks and squash altogether. Whether the sweetness comes from sugars or artificial sweeteners, they’re not good.
#5 Look out for hidden sugars
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
- Breads and other bakery products
- Baked beans
Start getting used to checking labels – see here for how to do this and a list of sugar’s other names.
#6 Cut down on your sugar intake from snacks
If you eat sugary snacks, find lower sugar alternatives. See here for some ideas.
#7 Avoid “empty” sugar calories altogether
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 Make chocolate a more healthy treat
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
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. There is also sugar naturally in fruit (fructose). You shouldn’t cut fruit out because all fruits contain important vitamins, minerals and fibre. However, you should keep your fruit sugar intake in check. Try to get as many of your “5 a day” portions as you can from vegetables rather than fruit. When you do have fruit, choose fruits with lower GI values – see here for more on this. Finally, limit your intake of juices because the sugars in these are more quickly digested than the sugars in whole fruits.
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