min read

5 ways to eat less sugar

It’s no surprise to hear that eating sugar isn’t great for overall health, but cutting down, or quitting sugar is easier said than done. Use these tips to cut down on your overall sugar intake.

Written by
Sanchia Parker
Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist
Reviewed by

Consuming too much sugar from foods and drinks can contribute to many issues. Research has shown that excess sugar intake can lead to weight gain, an increased risk of heart disease, increased levels of inflammation and high triglyceride as well as higher blood sugar and blood pressure levels.  Additionally, excess sugar, especially from sweetened drinks, has been linked to atherosclerosis, where arteries start to thicken due to a buildup of plaque.

While most health professionals would agree that reducing the amount of sugar a person eats is a great way to improve health, it’s important to note the difference between naturally occurring sugars and added sugars.

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Naturally Occuring Sugars

Naturally occuring sugars include those found in milk, milk products, fruit and some vegetables. 

These foods provide plenty of nutrition. Milk and milk products provide our body with protein, calcium, iron and other vitamins and minerals. 

Fruit and vegetables are rich in fibre, phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals 

Therefore, we want to continue including these foods in our diet as they contain plenty of nutrition and can improve our health outcomes. 

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Added Sugars

Added sugars (also known as ‘free sugars’) are anything that has been added to food products by food manufactures to sweeten, or enhance the flavour of a food product. 

Added sugar might appear on food labels as:

  • Agave nectar
  • Brown sugar
  • Cane juice
  • Coconut sugar
  • Corn syrup
  • Fruit juice concentrates
  • Fruit puree
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar
  • Molasses
  • Raw sugar
  • Sugar molecules ending in “ose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose)
  • Syrup
  • Turbinado

Foods that contain added sugars are typically highly refined and processed, and low in nutrition. For example, cakes, pastries, chips and even savoury foods such as powdered soups, chips etc. 

Added sugars also include anything sweet you add onto food such as sugar in tea, honey on cereal and so on. However, most of the added sugar we consume today comes from processed foods, rather than sugar added at the table or in cooking.

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“The 2011-12 Australian Health Survey showed the majority (81%) of added sugars were consumed from the energy-dense, nutrient-poor 'discretionary' foods and beverages. Just over half (52%) of free sugars in the diet were consumed from beverages, with the leading beverages being soft drinks, electrolyte and energy drinks (19%), fruit and vegetable juices and drinks (13%), and cordial (4.9%). The leading foods were confectionery and cakes/muffins (each contributing 8.7%).”

5 ways to eat less sugar

1. Use spices in your food

Use cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves or cardamom in food to impart a sense of sweetness. You might try cinnamon in your coffee, nutmeg in plain yoghurt or cardamom sprinkled over a fruit salad. 

By adding flavour with spices help provide extra flavour, plus spices contain antioxidants which are beneficial for health. 

Save: 1-2 teaspoons a day

2. Use a smaller spoon

If you are finding it too hard to give up your sugar-topped cereal or having sugars in your coffee try using a smaller spoon than normal. Your eyes will still see your normal one or two teaspoons of sugar but there will be less on the spoon. It’s a small decrease so there won’t be much change in taste but you will have reduced the amount eaten. 

Over time, as your taste buds adapt, gradually use less and less sugar. 

Save: 1 teaspoon per drink

3. Ditch the soft drinks

Soft drinks are one of the worst offenders of added sugar – a can contains around 10 teaspoons of sugar! 

Swap a can of Coke or lemonade for plain mineral water and lemon juice loaded up with sliced fruit and a few sprigs of mint for a refreshing alternative. Keep a jug made up in the fridge so it is readily available.

Save: 10 teaspoons per can

4. Check your sauces

Take a look at the ingredients panel for any of the packaged sauces on the shelves at the supermarket. You might be surprised to notice how much sugar is actually in each.

As an example take a look at Trident Chilli Sauce Sweet Chilli

You can see the first ingredient is actually sugar. If you look at how much sugar is found per 100g you can see it’s 65.3g. So this sauce is 65% sugar! 

Keep the sauces on the shelf and try some of these alternatives;

  • Instead of ketchup grab a tub of salsa to add some flavour to food instead. Both feature tomato as the base, but while the ketchup will contain sugar or other sweeteners, salsa is simply made of tomatoes, onion, red peppers and some vinegar.
  • Instead of low-fat mayonnaise try a slice of avocado. Low-fat mayonnaise will generally have sugar added to boost the flavour, but a slice of avocado is naturally sugar-free and will have a creamy taste as well as provide some nutrition.
  • Look at your hot chilli sauce ingredient label like the one above. Go for Tabasco, fresh or dried chilli or Sambal Oelek

Save: 1-2 teaspoons per meal

5. Swap granola for oats

While granola and toasted muesli appear to be a healthy option, both are made by tossing oats with sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup or sugar (along with oil and salt for flavour) and then toasted. So while they might taste good, they can be loaded with plenty of added sugar. 

Low sugar options included porridge, overnight oats or untoasted muesli. Add extra flavour with fresh fruit and nuts if required. 

Save: Around 12 g of sugar per serve 

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