Many adults eat much more sugar than necessary, so reducing added sugar intake is a healthful idea for most people. Some people may wish to take it a step further and cut sugar out of their diet entirely.
The no-sugar diet has gained popularity as people continue to look for effective ways to live a healthful life or lose weight.
For all the health benefits of a no-sugar diet, however, there are also a few things to consider.
In this article, we explain eight practical tips to reduce sugar intake, as well as some of the risks to be aware of.
Many adults eat much more sugar than the authorities recommend. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), for example, estimate that adults in the United States get around 15% of their calories from added sugars alone. This sugar intake does not even include natural sugars, such as those in products such as fruit and milk.
Excessive sugar consumption has links to several harmful health conditions, including:
- obesity and metabolic syndrome
- heart disease
- type 2 diabetes
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- chronic inflammation
- nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
- dental plaque and cavities
Reducing the amount of sugar in the diet can help a person reduce their risk of these health conditions.
Replacing high sugar foods with healthful options can help a person get all of their essential vitamins and minerals without the added calories. It may also help them lose weight, if necessary.
Here are eight simple tips a person can use to help cut sugar from their diet:
1. Take it slow
One of the most important things to remember when changing the diet is to do so gradually. Going from a diet full of sugar to one without any should be a slow process.
It may help to start by eliminating the most obvious sources of sugar. People can easily avoid baked goods such as cakes, muffins, and brownies. Removing candy and sugary beverages is also an excellent place to start.
A person can also try reducing the amount of sugar and cream they add to their coffee or tea, working up to using none at all. Building up to a no-sugar diet can help a person retrain the palate, meaning that they are less likely to crave the missing sugar.
2. Read product labels
Once a person has managed to cut out the most obvious sugar from their diet, they can turn their attention to other products that contain sugar. Reading product labels can help them identify types of sugars to avoid.
Sugar has many names and is in many different syrups and concentrates. There are at least 61 different names for sugar on food labels. The most common ones include:
- cane sugar
- brown sugar
- corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup
- evaporated cane juice
- invert sugar
- beet sugar
- barley malt
- coconut sugar
- maple syrup
- agave syrup
- rice syrup
- apple or grape juice concentrate
- panela or piloncillo
People should also be aware that any item on an ingredients list ending "-ose" is also a type of sugar. Examples of these ingredients include:
Sugars hide in many different supermarket foods. Reading the label is a must for people who want to follow a no-sugar diet.
Products such as salad dressing and condiments, pasta sauce, breakfast cereals, milk, and granola bars often have sugar in their ingredients list.
3. Avoid simple carbohydrates
Many no-sugar diets also recommend that people avoid simple carbohydrates. Simple carbs include white flour, white pasta, and white rice.
The body quickly breaks down the carbohydrates in these foods into sugar. This process causes a spike in blood sugar levels.
A person can usually replace simple carbs with whole grain options.
4. Avoid artificial sugars
Artificial sugars are a subject of controversy in the diet industry. They are much sweeter than sugar but contain few or no calories.
However, eating artificial sugars can trick the body into thinking that it is actually eating sugar. This can intensify a person's sugar cravings, making it more difficult for them to stick to a no-sugar diet.
For this reason, a person following a no-sugar diet should avoid artificial sugars such as:
- Sweet'N Low
People can also look for the chemical names of these sweeteners on ingredients lists, especially in anything marketed as low sugar, low calorie, or diet food.
Chemical names include:
5. Do not drink sugar
Sugar may be easy to avoid in processed foods. However, sugar sweetened drinks are among the most significant sources of added sugars in the diet. These include soda, specialty coffee, sweetened teas, and fruit juices.
Replacing these drinks with unsweetened herbal tea, coffee without sugar, sparkling mineral water, or just water can help a person stay hydrated without increasing their sugar intake.
6. Focus on whole foods
A person following a no-sugar diet should also aim to eat whole foods. Processed foods are more likely to contain refined ingredients or added sugars.
Diets that focus on whole and complete foods include the following options:
- lean meats, poultry, or tofu
- whole, unprocessed grains, and legumes
- nuts and seeds
Some people might choose to keep a small amount of dairy in their diet, such as plain yogurt, simple cheeses, and milk.
7. Plan meals
Sticking to a diet with no plan is difficult. When a person feels hungry, they may be more likely to reach for a sugary snack if they do not have nutritious meals and healthful alternatives to hand.
Many people take a day to do both their shopping and meal preparation for the entire week. With healthful food ready to go, they have less temptation to reach for a candy bar or soda.
8. Spice it up
The palate often misses sugar because it has no other flavors to replace it. However, people can easily add many sweet tasting herbs and spices to foods and drinks to replace sugar.
Common replacements include cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, and vanilla. These can be a flavorsome addition to coffee, oatmeal, or yogurt.
Eliminating added sugars and maintaining a diet rich in whole foods has many benefits for the body. Specifically, reducing sugar intake and eating a healthful diet may help people:
- lose weight and prevent obesity, according to one 2019 article in the journalMedical Clinics of North America
- have clearer skin and reduce the risk of skin cancer, according to a 2014 review in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology
- prevent mood shifts, as a 2017 study linked a high sugar diet with changing mood states
- reduce inflammation, according to one 2018 review of studies
- reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, as sugar can increase the risk of obesity, which can lead to type 2 diabetes
Before adopting a no-sugar diet, a person should consider whether or not they also want to eliminate natural sugars. Natural sugars occur in fruit and some dairy products.
Although the proponents of some no-sugar diet plans say that a person should eliminate fruit, this may not be the most healthful choice. Fruit can provide several essential nutrients, including fiber, antioxidants, and other healthful compounds that help protect the body from disease.
Including whole fruits in a no-sugar diet can still be healthful. However, if a person chooses to eat dried fruit, they should do so in moderation and look for varieties without added sugar.
Eliminating sugar from the diet is not a complete solution for weight loss. It is part of a lifestyle change that should also involve regular exercise and a nutritious diet.
Anyone looking to start following a no-sugar diet should speak to a doctor, dietitian, or nutritionist, especially if they have any underlying health conditions.
People wishing to adopt a no-sugar diet plan should do so gradually.
Alternating the diet plan or eating sugar on special occasions may help some people cope with the loss of sweetness in the diet.
Cutting back on sugar is a good idea for many people, as it helps reduce the risk of numerous conditions and can improve a person's overall health.
Are there any healthful forms of sugar?
For most people, consuming a well-balanced diet that includes foods that contain natural sugars — such as fruit, vegetables, and dairy — does not lead to negative health effects.
In fact, these foods contain many healthful nutrients, such as fiber and antioxidants, which are beneficial to our bodies.
Conversely, our bodies do not need nor benefit from consuming added sugar, and if a person consumes it in excess, it can become detrimental to health.Katherine Marengo LDN, R.D. Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.