We may not realize it, but many of the food products we purchase are full of added sugars. These sugars hide behind a plethora of names, such as corn syrup, molasses and rice syrup. They’re added to improve the flavor and shelf life of products, but can come at the expense of nutrient density and, frankly, our long-term health. Don’t get us wrong — as part of a balanced diet, sugar from whole foods like fruits and vegetables is not bad for us. However, it’s important to keep track of our added sugar intake and not go overboard. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 100 calories per day of added sugars for women (approximately 6 teaspoons) and no more than 150 calories for men (about 9 teaspoons). To make things easier and just as delicious, we’ve put together 10 simple swaps to help you cut back on added sugars.
1. Swap: Flavored Yogurt for Plain Greek Yogurt
Sugar saved: 15–20 grams
Yogurt is touted as a healthy food, but it’s often packed with added sugars in the form of fruit concentrates and cane sugar. In and of itself, yogurt already contains naturally occurring sugars in the form of lactose (approximately 12–15 grams per 8 ounces). For this reason, it’s best to swap sweetened yogurts (which can pack 20–30 grams of sugars per serving) for plain Greek yogurt, which has zero added sugars, and slightly less naturally occurring sugars than regular cultured yogurt. Instead of purchasing pre-sweetened kinds, simply add in fresh or frozen berries, banana slices, or even a drizzle of honey to plain yogurt if you have a sweet tooth. This swap alone can save you 15–20 grams of added sugars.
2. Swap: Sweetened Skim Latte for Unsweetened Coffee or Cappuccino with 2% Milk
Sugar saved: 8 grams
Morning coffee drinks can pack a heavy sugar load that can set us up for sugar cravings and grogginess all day long. A medium-sized sweetened skim latte, for example, has about 18 grams of sugar, 8–10 of which are added sugars. Swap for an unsweetened latte, unsweetened coffee or cappuccino and you can easily save yourself 8–17 grams.
Related: The Pros and Cons of Caffeine
3. Swap: Sugary Breakfast Cereal for Oatmeal
Sugar saved: 15–25 grams
Cereal can be a nutritious breakfast option, but not when it’s loaded with sugars, which typically appear in the form of rice syrup, molasses and evaporated cane juice. A serving of typical breakfast cereal can contain 15–25 grams of sugar per cup. Pair that with a glass of milk and you have yourself quite the sugar load. Instead of navigating nutrition labels, you can simply opt for plain oatmeal, which has zero added sugars. Add in a handful of berries, slices of banana or a small handful of dried fruit and nuts for a sweet kick.
Try these delicious, no-added-sugar oatmeal recipes at home:
Related: Our Favorite Good-for-You Cereals
4. Swap: Bottled Balsamic Vinaigrette for Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar
Sugar saved: 5 grams
Bottled dressings are a hidden culprit for added sugars (not to mention fat and sodium) and can really downgrade an otherwise healthful salad. Instead of purchasing bottled dressings, simply make your own. It’s easy and requires little prep time, we promise! Balsamic Vinaigrette is one of the easiest places to start – though it is thought to be a healthful dressing choice, bottled balsamic vin actually contains up to 5 g of added sugar per serving of 2 Tsbp. Simply make your own with balsamic vinegar and olive oil for tons of flavor but no added sugar whatsoever.
Try these delicious, no-added-sugar dressing recipes:
5. Swap: Packaged Whole-Wheat Bread for Fresh-Baked Multigrain Bread
Sugar saved: 2–3 grams per slice
You may not think of bread as a source of added sugar, but packaged bread and baked goods often contain hidden sugars in the form of molasses, rice syrup, etc. This is even true for packaged whole-wheat varieties. Be vigilant about reading labels when it comes to bread, and try to choose breads with no sugar buzzwords on the ingredient panel. An even safer bet is to purchase freshly baked 100% whole-wheat bread or a hearty multigrain bread from your local bakery, which doesn’t bake shelf-stable breads and typically omits added sugars.
6. Swap: Name-Brand Tomato Sauce for Homemade Tomato Sauce
Sugar saved: 6 grams
A bowl of pasta with tomato sauce and a bit of cheese is a classic, hassle-free dinner that everyone in the family loves. Unfortunately, many canned and bottled pasta sauces often hide a significant amount of added sugar. Become a vigilant label-reader when purchasing pasta sauces, looking out for sugar buzzwords including high fructose corn syrup and cane sugar. Better yet, make your own without any added sugars! It’s easy to do and you can make it in batches and freeze it for easy meal prep later on. Need recipe inspiration? Try this homemade tomato pasta sauce recipe.
Related: 6 Healthier Pasta Recipes
7. Swap: Milk Chocolate for 75% Dark Chocolate
Sugar saved: 15 grams
Chocolate can have benefits, but not when it’s full of added sugars. Next time you have a chocolate craving, put down the milk chocolate and opt for 75% dark chocolate or higher. You’ll save yourself at least 15 grams of sugar per bar, and will likely save on calories too — you are probably less likely to overdo it on bitter dark chocolate than on sweet milk varieties.
8. Swap: Bottled Smoothies for DIY Smoothies
Sugar saved: 10–20 grams
Though they sound like a healthy beverage or snack choice, smoothies can be full of added sugars and excess calories. Always read labels when purchasing a bottled smoothie, and make sure all ingredients are from whole foods, not full of fruit juice extracts, cane sugar, etc. The best option is simply make your own smoothie, so you can be sure to avoid added sugars, and sweeten with a bit of frozen fruit. Try these delicious, no-added-sugar dressing recipes
9. Swap: Shelf-Stable Peanut Butter for Natural Peanut Butter
Sugar saved: 3–5 grams
Nut butters can be a versatile addition to a healthful diet. However, spreadable nut butters, especially shelf-stable, no-mix varieties, are typically sources of sugars in the form of high-fructose corn syrup and evaporated cane juice. Read labels when purchasing peanut butter and other nut butters and opt for the natural varieties (where oil separates at the top) with only one ingredient: peanuts.
10. Swap: Bottled Teriyaki Sauce for Low-Sodium Tamari
Sugar saved: 4 grams
Teriyaki sauce is a fun way to liven up stir-fries, but it’s also source of added sugars, with 4–5 grams per 2 tablespoons. Avoid this trap by choosing naturally sugar-free sauces, such as tamari, that will still add an umami kick to your dishes.