You know you want to cut back on sugar. There are so many reasons to do it: high sugar consumption has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, obesity — even wrinkles. Tasting sugar makes you crave more sugar, and then the crash in energy after you binge on sweets leaves you feeling depleted. It’s time to make a change!

Three Steps to Get Started

1. Eat 25 grams or fewer a day of added sugar (that’s 6 teaspoons).

2. Cut out hidden and artificial sugars.

3. Focus on eating lean proteins, healthy fats, and unprocessed carbohydrates.

Now let’s break that down.

How to Track Sugar Consumption

The key to the goal is that we’re talking about added sugar here. Foods with natural sugars like fruit are fine. It’s the high-fructose corn syrup in sodas and the hidden sugars, the artificial sweetener we put in coffee, and the hidden sugars in unexpected places like pasta sauce, smoothies, and flavored yogurts that are the problem.

The American Heart Association recommends that adults get 25 grams of sugar a day, the equivalent of 6 teaspoons. The average American eats way more than that — 82 grams a day.

How do you know how much you’re eating? You need to read nutrition labels. Packaged goods tell you how many grams of sugar are in a serving. One gram is about ¼ teaspoon of sugar. That’s why we translated the 25 grams into 6 teaspoons, so you realize that adding a few spoonfuls of sugar into your morning coffee uses up a lot of what you should be eating each day.

How to Cut Back on Sugar

Here are rules to follow this week to help you keep your added sugars at 25 grams or less. First, here are five things you’ll cut out:

1. DON’T add sugar to your food. That means no sweeteners in your coffee and tea: you can add whole milk, which has natural sugars. You’ll also skip the jam, honey, and dried fruit in oatmeal. Make unsweetened oatmeal instead (you can cook it in milk for natural sweetness), then add a sprinkle of cinnamon on top.

2. DON’T use artificial sweeteners (i.e. Splenda, stevia, aspartame). Fake sugar makes you crave more sweets as much as regular sugar does.

3. DON’T eat packaged goods that have more sugar than fiber. Read nutrition labels and compare the number of grams of each. You’ll be surprised at how many foods have hidden sugars like this: regular pasta, breads, crackers. Clean these items out of your pantry, so you’re not tempted to eat them.

4. DON’T have sugary drinks like soda or juice. We all know sodas are full of sugar (a 12-ounce can of Coke has 39 grams), but some bottled green juices have just as much (a 15.2-ounce bottle of Odwalla’s Superfood Smoothie has 51 grams). Go for water, seltzer, or unsweetened coffee/tea.

5. DON’T use bottled salad dressings, pasta sauce, and condiments like ketchup and bbq sauce, which often have hidden sugars. If you look at the ingredient list, sugar shouldn’t be in the first three ingredients.

And here are five things you should include in your meals:

1. DO eat lean proteins (such as chicken, fish, and shrimp). If you include some protein in every meal, it will make it more satisfying and keep you from craving sweets.

2. DO include healthy fats (such as avocado, eggs, and nuts). Fats take more time to digest, so you’ll feel satiated for longer.

3. DO have whole grains, legumes, and seeds like brown rice and quinoa. Skip simple carbs like white rice (as in sushi) and pasta.

4. DO eat fresh fruit, but no more than 3–4 pieces of whole fruit a day. Cut out juice and applesauce, which remove the fiber that keeps you full.

5. DO give yourself a daily intentional treat like a square of chocolate or one small cookie. Don’t totally deny yourself, or your new eating plan won’t be sustainable.

Suggested Menu

Not sure what to eat? Here’s a sample day:

Breakfast

  • Two eggs and a piece of whole-grain toast (look for bread with less than 3 g of sugar a slice).

Lunch

  • A salad with chicken or tofu, all the veggies you want, and even cheese! Just be careful to use a dressing with little or no sugar.

Snack

  • A handful of almonds, a piece of fruit, and green tea.

Dinner

  • Grilled salmon with a vegetable stir-fry over cauliflower rice. (Avoid teriyaki or other sauces that contain sugar.)

Dessert

  • A 1-ounce square of dark (85% cacao or higher) chocolate (which has 4 grams of sugar).

 

No matter what, cutting back on sugar means you’re already a winner!