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If you’ve ever found yourself wanting to change your diet, you’ve likely ended up confused. Trying to keep up with the latest experts, scientific discoveries, and fads is a full time job, and no one really knows what is science and what is just someone’s grandma’s recipe. The information we find online is often contradictory at best and just plain inaccurate at worst. Somewhere in the middle, however, are some common denominators upon which most agree. The importance of eating vegetables, drinking water, and eating less sugar are a few of these points of agreement. In order to actually implement eating less sugar into your life, it is important to understand if, how, and why is diet adjustment will make a big change in your diet and your life.

How much sugar is too much?

The why about eating less sugar is more commonly agreed upon than the how to eat less sugar. Experts, scientists, and other health advocates almost unanimously support the need to reduce daily sugar consumption for people across the United States. Although the Dietary Guidelines for Americans’ recommends getting less than 10% of daily calories from added sugars (the equivalent of about 12 teaspoons or 200 calories) and the World Health Organization goes a step further with their recommendation of only 5%, most Americans are eating closer to 12-16% (about 17 teaspoons or 270 calories). This does not account for “healthy sugars” which are the naturally occurring sugars that appear in fruit or other fresh foods. As a country, we are overconsuming processed foods that contain too much added sugar.

Why is it important to eat less sugar?

Our bodies are not meant to be consuming that much sugar. When our bodies can not keep up with the rate of our sugar consumption, they start to suffer under the weight of increasing blood sugars (which damages your ability to think), which leads to an increased risk of disease. This includes obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and tooth decay. The higher the consumption, the higher the risk. WebMD outlines the negative impact of overconsuming sugar on your body, including its impact on the brain, mood, teeth, joints, skin, heart, sexual health and more. While it is important to prioritize balance in your diet, lowering sugar intake is usually a safe bet, due to the processed nature of many high sugar foods. When you eat less sugar, you improve the health of your body from head to toe. 

How can you eat less sugar?

While most of us know it’s important to eat less sugar, doing so can feel daunting. The more you know about food, the easier it becomes. Here’s a quick list of some foods that are high in sugar. 

  • Soda, juice, sports drinks, energy drinks
  • Baked goods – muffins, donuts, cake, cookies, and other pastries
  • Candy
  • Dairy – ice cream, yogurt
  • Protein bars 

Swap some of your favorite foods and beverages for lower sugar alternatives. Be mindful, too, of less obvious added sugar foods like bread, pasta sauces, and protein bars. Reading labels can be tricky because sugar can have names like corn syrup, agave nectar, palm sugar, cane juice, or sucrose. Look for these names on labels:

Is it better to go cold turkey or moderate sugar intake?

While some diet plans advocate for total elimination of added sugars in your diet, plans like this are often unsustainable and unrealistic in the long-term. As many as 80-95% of dieters gain back the weight they lose, often with additional gain, by making major changes to their diet all at once. The cold turkey approach to eat less sugar is hard physically and psychologically. A sustainable nutrition approach and moderation, on the other hand, removes the deprivation mindset that comes with total elimination of a food group. Sticking with the recommended guidelines of 200 calories of added sugar per day, or about 12 added teaspoons, is a good starting point to eat less sugar. 

Knowing how to eat less sugar will impact your wellbeing if you put what you know into action. Start by choosing a single higher sugar food to remove from your diet and celebrate the small step that will have a big impact on your overall health.