My friends and teammates frequently ask me how I avoid added sugar – sugar added to processed or pre-packaged food during the production process – in what I eat.  Here are some ways to reduce sugar without sacrificing taste or switching to artificial sweeteners.

In general, pick food items with short ingredient lists, and know one teaspoon of sugar = 4 grams to help visualize just how much sugar you are consuming when you buy processed or pre-packaged goods.  The average soda can has over 10 teaspoons of added sugar -- would you put 10 teaspoons of sugar in your cup of coffee?

Here are some quick tips with a few example products that I like. (I’m not being paid for any of these recommendations.)

  • Add whole fruit to everything (salads, yogurt, oatmeal). Put fruit into plain yogurt instead of buying flavored yogurt. Try apple slices in turkey sandwiches. - Plain Chobani, Fage, or Kirkland Signature Greek yogurt. Kirkland is cheapest and can be bought in bulk at Costco.
  • Buy fresh fruit instead of canned or dried fruit. When buying frozen fruit, check that it doesn’t contain added sugar. Frozen strawberries, for example, often have added sugar.
  • Try oatmeal (steel cut, old-fashioned, or rolled oats) instead of cereal or flavored instant oatmeal. Flavor it with fruit or cinnamon. Add unsalted nuts like almonds or sunflower seeds for texture. - Bob’s Red Mill Oatmeal or Quaker Steel Cut Oats.
  • Try natural peanut butter instead of “low-fat" options that often add sugar to replace the fat taken out. - Any Teddie peanut butter or Smuckers All Natural.
  • Try granola bars sweetened with natural fruits - All LÄRABAR® Original Fruit & Nut bars without chocolate chips.
  • Go for salad dressings without added sugar like balsamic vinegar, olive oil, or a squeeze of citrus or lemon -  Add sunflower seeds for crunch, or raisins for taste.
  • Mix pure whey protein with fruit or peanut butter to make shakes/smoothies when you have time. You can also try Greek yogurt to replace a post-workout shake - BiPro whey protein.
  • Try food extracts – like almond or vanilla extract -- instead of added sugar in recipes.
  • Use spices like ginger, allspice, cinnamon or nutmeg to enrich foods when cooking
  • Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages: fruit juices, soda, sport, and energy drinks. Carry a water bottle; it will remind you to stay hydrated.
  • Try black coffee or unsweetened tea.  Add frothed low-fat milk to replace French vanilla or other sugary flavored creams.
  • Eat whole fruit instead of fruit juice, which is associated with type-2 diabetes.
  • Swap unsweetened applesauce for sugar in recipes.

To summarize, hot sauce, spices, nuts, and fruits are your best sugar-free friends to enrich foods. Whole fruits are the best way to satisfy your sweet tooth without added sugar.

Also remember that the same brands often have both high- and low-sugar options, so don’t be fooled by brands that appear to give off halos of health. For example, Larabars claim no sugar is added to their Original Fruit & Nut bars, and that the sweet taste comes from the “natural sweetness of dates.” However, a separate page in the Larabar website admits this “no sugar added” claim makes a bold (read: crazy) exception for chocolate chips – which are, of course, largely sugar!  

Check out my post on 60 Ways The Food Industry Hides Added Sugar for more info.  Keep your eyes peeled for my future posts on sugar alcohols, artificial sweeteners, and refined starches, which can creep into ingredient labels as easily as added sugar.



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