Want to Cut Down on Sugar? Here’s the Best Way to Do It

Plus, natural ways to satisfy your sweet tooth craving.

By August 23, 2022

When it comes to fighting your afternoon slump, do you often reach for a strong cup of coffee, heavy on the sugar? Or, perhaps your favorite part of the day is a sweet treat after dinner. While there’s nothing wrong with either scenario, you may be wondering if there’s a bit too much sugar in your diet. Eliminating sugar from your diet cold turkey is not for the faint of heart, so instead, consider a few simple ways to cut down on sugar consumption while making healthier choices.

Playbook chatted with Francesca Alfano MS, CNS, CDN, a New York City-based functional integrative nutritionist, about how to gradually eliminate sugar from your diet, ways to kick those pesky cravings, and more.

How Much Sugar is Too Much?

Adults in the U.S. consume an average of 77 grams of sugar per day, according to the American Heart Association (AHA) — more than double the AHA’s recommended daily maximum 24 grams of added sugar for women and 36 grams for men. To add some perspective to these daily recommendations, there are 39 grams of sugar in a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola.

“Reducing added sugar can lead to weight loss, decreased inflammation, increased energy, fewer cravings, and a lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes,” Alfano says.

How to Gradually Cut Down on Sugar

Completely cutting sugar out of your diet is next to impossible, not to mention zero fun. Instead of swearing off sweets completely, Alfano recommends cutting down on your sugar intake, starting with the “low hanging fruit.”

“[Try] eliminating the sugar you add to coffee or any sweetened beverages you are consuming. Next, take a look at ‘healthy’ foods that have added sugar. For example, some yogurts and protein bar varieties can have up to 20 grams of sugar per serving,” Alfano says.

Beware of additional sneaky sources of added sugar, such as condiments, dressings, cereals, and pasta sauces. Instead, fill your cart with products that contain naturally-occuring sugars, such as fruit, milk, and yogurt, and review product nutrition labels when shopping, being mindful of the total sugar and added sugar a product contains.

Beware of Sugar Substitutes (& What to Try Instead)

While you may consider swapping pure cane sugar for sugar-free options or artificial sweeteners like Splenda or Sweet’N Low, Alfano recommends avoiding artificial sweeteners as much as possible, which she says are much more potent in terms of sweetness than pure cane sugar.

“The issue here is, people who routinely use artificial sweeteners may start to find less intensely sweet foods, such as fruit, less appealing. Artificial sweeteners may also trigger more intense cravings for foods that are sweet,” Alfano says. “Additionally, evidence suggests that frequent consumers of artificial sugar substitutes may also be at increased risk of excessive weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.”

Instead, reach for an FDA-recognized natural sweetener like honey or maple syrup to stir into your morning coffee or tea.

How to Successfully Curb Sugar Cravings

1. Allow Yourself the Occasional Treat

Alfano advises not to be too restrictive with yourself — which may make your sugar cravings even worse — and recommends allowing yourself the occasional sweet treat.

“Restrictive diets often backfire and lead people down the path of binging and restricting. Instead, it is better to be mindful of added sugars in your diet, where they are coming from and how often you are consuming them,” she says. “Once you understand how often you are having sugar, you can create a realistic plan to reduce the amount you are consuming each day.”

2. Eat Balanced Meals

The best way to curb sugar cravings, Alfano says, is to make sure you’re eating balanced meals throughout the day.

“Every meal should contain a balance of protein, healthy fat, and fiber. This formula helps keep you satisfied and keeps your blood sugar balanced and prevents blood sugar swings that trigger sugar cravings,” she says.

3. Consume Whole Fruits

The next time you’re tempted to reach for a candy bar in the middle of the day, consider a serving of fruit instead, which Alfano highly recommends for combating sugar cravings.

“Whole fruit, which contains sugar in its natural form, is highly nutritious, contains fiber, and has a low glycemic load,” she says. “I encourage my clients to enjoy a variety of whole fruit! Just because you are cutting down on sugar does not mean you need to eliminate fruit from your diet.”

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