How to Reduce Sugar Intake

The average American adult consumes about 17 teaspoons of sugar a day. However, dietary guidelines suggest less than 10% of your daily calories should come from added sugar.

Reducing sugar intake not only lowers your risk of type 2 diabetes but other health problems as well.

This article explores the many types of sugar, deciphering food labels, and alternatives.

Eating cake
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Check Labels for Added Sugar

It's important to distinguish natural sugars (those that are naturally in foods) from added sugars. Fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy products all contain natural sugars.

Adding sugar to food during manufacturing increases unnecessary calories and carbohydrates in your diet, which can lead to health problems.

The first step in reducing sugar intake is to learn the names of various types of sugar that you may come across on food labels, as in the list that follows.


You're most likely using sucrose (table sugar) when you bake or add a teaspoon of sugar to your coffee. A diet with too much sucrose can lead to many health problems, including high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol and triglycerides, type 2 diabetes, inflammation, and more.

Sucrose vs. Sucralose

Don’t confuse sucralose with sucrose. Sucrose is table sugar. Sucralose is an artificial sweetener sold under Splenda, Zerocal, and many others.


Glucose is the main type of sugar in your blood and needs to be measured by people with prediabetes, type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes. Chronic high blood glucose from a high-sugar diet can eventually lead to permanent damage to your eyes, nerves, kidneys, and blood vessels.


Fructose is sweeter than sucrose and is converted into energy by your liver. If you overeat fructose, your liver turns it into triglycerides, a fat in the blood linked to several medical conditions, including insulin resistance, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

Corn Syrup/High Fructose Corn Syrup

In the United States, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has been blamed for the rise in obesity. Because of this, some food manufacturers cut down the name to "corn syrup" on labels. Some research links large amounts of HFCS to fatty liver disease.

Maltose/Hydrolyzed Starch

Maltose (malt), or hydrolyzed starch, is much less common than other sugars, and its impact on your health is similar to that of other sugars. Maltose is mainly found in germinating seeds and grains, white flour/bread, couscous, corn kernels, soy milk, beer, and more.

Fruit Juice

Concentrated juices used as sweeteners, such as apple juice, sometimes contain even more fructose than HFCS. All the good things in fruit (vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants) are stripped out of juice concentrates.


The sugar in molasses is no different from sugar in any other source. However, this thick, sticky syrup contains more vitamins and minerals than table sugar. Still, you're unlikely to get enough of those nutrients to improve your health unless you eat lots of molasses.


Honey contains some beneficial nutrients but in trace amounts that are unlikely to favorably impact your health. Honey also has more calories than sugar.

Honey as Medicine

Honey is sometimes used for treating wounds (topically), coughs, diabetes, cancer, asthma, and more. If you’re consuming honey for medicinal purposes, be aware of the high-calorie content and impact on your blood sugars.

Agave Nectar

Agave nectar (agave syrup) is often promoted as a healthier alternative to sugar and a vegan alternative to honey. It may be better in some ways but not in others. Agave nectar is mostly fructose, which is linked to several health problems.

Invert Sugar (Simple Syrup)

Invert sugar is in many baked goods, candies, sodas, and other packaged foods. It tastes sweeter than table sugar, which makes it popular with food manufacturers. Your body treats invert sugar like any form of glucose and fructose.

Sugar Alcohols

Sugar alcohols (polyols) are common in products like sugar-free gums and candies. On labels, they may be called "sugar alcohols" or listed by their specific type, such as mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol. Sugar alcohols don't cause a blood-sugar spike, making them popular among people with diabetes and those who watch their calories or carbohydrates.

Choose Whole Foods, Not Processed

While label-checking can be a big part of weeding out added sugars, your best bet is to eat foods that don't even contain ingredient labels, that is, whole, natural foods. These include:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains (rice, oats, corn, quinoa, buckwheat) 
  • Lean meats, fish, and seafood
  • Eggs
  • Dairy (low-fat or skim)

Some nutritionists suggest sticking to the perimeter of the grocery store, where the fresh, whole foods are, rather than going down the aisles lined with packaged, processed products.

Rethink Breakfast

A typical American breakfast can contain a full day’s worth of added sugar, which can spike your blood sugar and lead to a crash that leaves you sluggish—and hungry.

Swap sugary cereal for whole-grain varieties with no or very little added sugar. Opt for whole grain toast with an egg and avocado, or make a fresh fruit smoothie.

Some experts recommend choosing a few whole foods from various food groups, such as:

  • Whole grains: Oatmeal (not flavored)
  • Proteins: Flaxseed or chia seeds
  • Fruits: Blueberries

Don’t Drink Extra Sugar

Regular soda, sports drinks, juice, many bottled teas, flavored lattes, and coffee creamers all contain high amounts of sugar. Eliminating them can go a long way toward reducing your sugar intake.

Instead, try water, unsweetened tea or coffee, 100% juices, sparkling water, or seltzer. Many sodas and energy/sports drinks have no-sugar versions.

Replace Sugar When Baking

If you’re trying to avoid added sugar, baked goods like cakes and cookies are something you’ll want to limit. But that doesn’t mean you need to give them up entirely.

Instead of the full-sugar versions, try your favorite recipes with alternative ingredients. Popular sugar substitutes include applesauce, grated fruits or vegetables, dried fruit, or ground nuts. You may also be able to use less sugar without adding other ingredients. 

Some artificial sweeteners (such as aspartame and saccharin) don’t work well for baking. But Stevia (a natural no-calorie sweetener) and Splenda may work well in many recipes.

Splenda and Blood Sugar

Research is divided on whether sucralose is helpful or harmful in blood-sugar regulation. If you have diabetes, check your blood sugars after consuming sucralose until you know how it affects you.

Use Spices

Try baking with spices instead of table sugar and adding them to foods in place of sugar. Good ones to try include:

  • Vanilla (natural and unsweetened)
  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg
  • Cloves
  • Allspice
  • Licorice, dried root, or extracts (natural licorice from the plant, not the candy)

Some scientific research shows that substituting spices for sugar allows you to enjoy the food as much.

Pass on Sugary Condiments and Sauces

Condiments, sauces, and salad dressings are common places for added sugars to hide. You can buy reduced sugar or sugar-free versions of many products. Or you can opt for those that naturally have little or no sugar added, such as:

  • Mustard
  • Mayonnaise
  • Ranch or bleu cheese dressing
  • Oil and vinegar
  • Balsamic or malt vinegar
  • Soy sauce
  • Some salsas
  • Hot sauces

Eat Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate is typically lower in sugar than milk chocolate or white chocolate. There is still plenty of sugar, but dark chocolate is the best choice for an occasional treat. A bonus is that it’s so rich, you may be less likely to overeat it.

Try Natural Non-Sugar Sweeteners

You have several choices for sweeteners that don’t contain sugar at all. These include:

  • Stevia
  • Sugar alcohols such as erythritol, sold under the brand name Swerve
  • Yacon syrup 
  • Monk fruit extract

Artificial Sweeteners

Many people opt for artificial sweeteners, which do help you cut calories and carbohydrates out of your diet. Common artificial sweeteners include:

  • Saccharin (Sweet and Low, Sweet Twin, Necta Sweet, and others)
  • Aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal, Sugar Twin, and others)
  • Sucralose
  • Ace-K/acesulfamine potassium (Sunett, Sweet One)

While research isn’t yet conclusive, some studies suggest artificial sweeteners may have several adverse health effects. They’re also known to harm people with certain medical conditions.


When deciding how to reduce sugar intake, you need to get used to reading food labels. Ingredients your body treats the same as sugar include maltose, concentrated fruit juices, invert sugar, corn syrup, honey, molasses, agave nectar, and sugar alcohols.

Dietary changes that can help include eating more whole (not processed) foods, eliminating high-sugar breakfast foods, cutting sugary beverages, condiments, and sauces, baking with sugar substitutes, and more.

A Word From Verywell

Reducing sugar intake isn’t easy. You need to read labels, put more thought into what you eat, and possibly deal with sugar cravings. Your healthcare provider or a nutritionist may be valuable resources, especially if you’re struggling. It may also help to reach out to friends, family, or online groups that can help you find new ways to enjoy food while supporting your healthy changes. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can people with diabetes eat any sugar?

    Yes, you can eat sugar when you have diabetes. But you may need to eat less of it and consider substitutions to stick to a diabetic diet.

  • What are the signs you eat too much sugar?

    You might be overeating sugar if:

    • Your weight keeps going up, or you can’t lose weight.
    • You frequently crave sweet things.
    • You often have symptoms of a blood-sugar crash (shakiness, lack of energy, headaches, and rapid heartbeat).
  • How much sugar in a day is recommended?

    The USDA recommends keeping added sugars to less than 10% of your total calories. The American Heart Association suggests 5% daily calories for females and 7% for adult males.

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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.
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Additional Reading
  • United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. FoodData Central.

By Adrienne Dellwo
Adrienne Dellwo is an experienced journalist who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and has written extensively on the topic.