Bridge to Wellness

November: 7 Tips to Reduce Sugar Intake

by Sophia Speroff, MPH, RD

The latest dietary guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture urged Americans to reduce added sugar to no more than 10 percent of calorie intake per day. To put that into perspective, the average person consuming a 2,000-calorie diet should get no more than 50 grams (or 200 calories) from added sugar per day. People who eat too much added sugar may be at higher risk for tooth decay and obesity.

According to the American Heart Association, the average American consumes 385 calories from added sugar daily—almost double the recommended limit. And it is easy to do. For instance, just one 20-oz. bottle of Mountain Dew has 77 grams of added sugar.

How do you measure up?

Getting started

First, figure out how much added sugar you are currently consuming each day. You can determine this by using an app such as MyFitnessPal. Try doing this for three consecutive days to establish a baseline. From there, set small goals to taper unnecessary sugar in your diet.

Plan ahead

Think about the time of day when you are most likely to reach for a sweet snack. For many people, it is late afternoon when you are looking for a pick-me-up at work or before bedtime while you are watching television. Being mindful of those times when you are most likely to be tempted, plan ahead by bringing in healthy snacks to leave at work or by getting rid of the tempting foods you have in the house.

Limit sugar-sweetened beverages

Sugar-sweetened beverages account for almost half of all added sugars consumed by the U.S. population. Resolving to cut back on sweetened beverages such as soft drinks, sweetened coffee and tea, energy drinks, and sugar-laden alcoholic beverages, can drastically affect excess sugar consumption.

Smart swaps

Investigate some healthier alternatives to sweeten your favorite foods. For example, try substituting applesauce for sugar in a batch of oatmeal cookies. Use a food processor to blend a cup of raisins or dates that can be used to sweeten up any baked good while also adding healthful antioxidants and fiber. With a little research, you will notice lots of simple and realistic substitution options exist to help you replace added sugars.

Check nutrition labels

By doing this, you will start to see how often sugar is added to everyday foods, such as bread, salad dressing, and sauces. You may be shocked at how much added sugar is in “health foods” like granola bars and yogurt. Aim for sugar to comprise less than 10% of your calorie intake per day. Read ingredient lists. Look at the first five ingredients, which are listed in order of how much is in the product, and if you see sugar in the top five, that is a sign to not consume as much.

Moderation not elimination

The key to success is sustainability. Going cold turkey on added sugar is not realistic for most people, nor is it sustainable. Instead, try to cut back gradually to adopt the new behavior into your lifestyle. For example, if you normally use two packets of sugar to sweeten your coffee or tea, try cutting back to one. Combat feelings of deprivation by giving yourself permission to enjoy and savor your favorite treat every so often, while still being mindful of moderation. Minor changes over time can add up to making a significant difference.

Ask for support

Ask for support from friends, family, and co-workers as you start making these lifestyle changes. Remember to set small goals and to benchmark progress along the way. Recognize and celebrate success by rewarding yourself for making progress and reaching goals.


This column is sponsored by the Stockbridge Area Wellness Coalition. Sophia Speroff is a Registered Dietitian (RD) of 10 years with her master’s in public health, currently working at St Joseph Mercy Hospital in Chelsea as a community RD. She has an athletic and competitive side, staying active training for triathlons and half marathons. In her free time, Sophia likes to hike, folk dance and garden.

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