6 Ways To Cut Back on Your Added Sugar Intake

Woman pouring sugar into her coffee.

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Key Takeaways

  • The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025, recommends consuming a maximum of 10% of calories from added sugars, yet many people are exceeding this recommendation. 
  • Eating too many added sugars is linked to negative health outcomes.
  • Including simple swaps into a diet can help limit added sugars a person eats in a day. 

You will be hard-pressed to find a person who doesn’t love the taste of a sugary-sweet treat once in a while. Researchers have reported that adults are eating even more sweets since the COVID-19 pandemic started.

But unfortunately, eating too much sugar has its downsides. From increasing your risk of developing heart disease to contributing to weight gain, loading up on the sweet stuff is not good for your overall health.

The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans, put forth by the Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services, recommends that adults consume no more than 10% of their calories from added sugars. For a person who eats a 2,000 calorie diet, this would be equivalent to 50 grams of added sugars. Yet, according to the American Heart Association, the average daily intake of added sugar is 77 grams per day—much more than what is recommended.

What This Means For You

Limiting added sugars to only 10% of your daily calories can help support overall health. Some ways to cut back on added sugars include steering clear of fat-free condiments, swapping granola for nuts, and limiting your sugary beverages.

6 Tips for Reducing Your Sugar Intake

So, how can you get your diet more aligned with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendation? First, make sure you know what is considered an added sugar.

Added sugar is any sugar that is added to a food or drink. So although foods like fruit have natural sugars, they are not considered to have added sugars. Cookies, on the other hand, contain added sugars because it's added to the recipe.

To determine whether a food contains added sugar, you should be mindful of which ingredients are being added. Along with table sugar, the following items are considered added sugars:

  • Honey
  • Syrups
  • Brown sugar
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Agave nectar
  • Cane sugar
  • Malt syrup

Foods containing added sugars can be surprising at times. Some may be taken aback to learn that jarred pasta sauce or pre-made peanut butter can be heavy in added sugars. 

It is entirely possible to limit your added sugars and still enjoy the foods you love to eat. With a little know-how, you can navigate the grocery store with confidence and choose foods that can help you cut added sugars and still taste amazing. Here are 6 tips to help you keep your added sugar intake to under the 10 grams limit per day.

Swap Candy for California Raisins or Medjool Dates

When the 3 p.m. sugar craving hits, it is a common practice to hit the vending machine and snag a sweet treat to give a boost. Yes, downing a bag of gummy bears can be satisfying, but it is also loaded with added sugars, artificial coloring, and not much in the nutrition department. 

Snacking on fruit like California raisins or medjool dates gives you a similar sweet and chewy snack with zero added sugars. Plus, these fruits are a natural source of fiber and potassium to give you a nutrition boost along with your sweet snack. 

Be Wary of Fat-Free Condiments

Many foods that are traditionally high in fat are now being offered in a fat-free or low-fat version. When fat is removed from food, the taste of the product will change. Fat tastes good, so if it's removed the taste will change.

To make up for the lack of fat in these products, many companies will add sugar to compensate. So, fat-free salad dressings, peanut butters, and other similar products are often higher in added sugars when compared with their traditional counterpart. 

Don’t use fat-free or reduced-fat products in unlimited quantities. Read food labels and be aware of which ingredients are included. 

Swap Granola for Crunchy Nuts

Granola can be a delicious snack and can be a wonderful addition to yogurts to give a satisfying crunch. Unfortunately, many granolas are held together by some form of an added sugar.

If you are craving that crunch, snack on some nuts instead. Crushed mixed nuts on top of yogurt will give you a similar satisfaction without the sugar boost. 

Limit Fruit Flavored Yogurts

Yogurts can certainly be a healthy snack that is chock-full of protein, calcium, and live probiotics. However, many varieties that are “fruit flavored” are loaded with added sugar.

Your best bet is to choose a plain yogurt and add your own chopped or pureed fruit to it. You will get the same flavor, but will save your body from the added sugars that traditional fruit yogurts contain. 

Choose Fresh or Frozen Fruit Over Canned Varieties 

Some varieties of fruit are better choices than others. 

While canned fruit can be a nutritious choice, many varieties have the fruit mixed with syrups (a.k.a added sugar). Fresh and frozen fruits, on the other hand, simply lean on their own natural sweetness and don’t contain any added sugars.

If you are choosing canned fruit, opt for the ones that are canned with 100% fruit juice instead of heavy or light syrup. If fresh or frozen are options, those are better choices. 

Be Mindful of Beverage Choices

Sugary drinks are the number one source of added sugars in our diet, representing almost half of all added sugars we consume.

Drinks that contain added sugars include:

  • Regular sodas
  • Sports drinks
  • Flavored waters
  • Energy drinks
  • Sweet tea
  • Many coffee drinks
  • Fruit drinks

One 12-ounce can of regular soda contains almost 40 grams of sugar—a value that is very close to the recommended maximum of 50 grams of added sugars for a 2,000 calorie diet. 

Swapping sugary drinks for plain water or tea can help you keep your daily sugar quota under control while keeping you hydrated. Also note that 100% fruit juice is not considered to be an added sugar source, so an occasional glass of 100% orange juice is A-OK too.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Flanagan EW, Beyl RA, Fearnbach SN, Altazan AD, Martin CK, Redman LM. The impact of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders on health behaviors in adults. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2020 Oct 11:10.1002/oby.23066. doi:10.1002/oby.23066

  2. United States Department of Agriculture. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025.

  3. American Heart Association. How much sugar is too much?

  4. Healthy Food America. Sugary drinks.