If You're Addicted to Sugar, Follow These Dietitians' Advice on How to Eat Less Without Missing It

If the new year is inspiring you to adopt healthier habits, eating less sugar might be top on your list, especially if you feel like you're addicted. Completely cutting out sugar entirely for the rest of your life seems pretty unreasonable (and it's a life I wouldn't want any part of!), but you also won't feel your best if your diet is made up entirely of cookies, ice cream, chocolate, and cake. There's a way to find a balance, so if you want to cut down on your sugar intake, follow these dietitians' advice.

How Much Sugar Is OK to Eat Each Day?
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How Much Sugar Is OK to Eat Each Day?

There's no one-size-fits-all approach, but registered dietitian Jackie Ballou Erdos, MS, RD, CDN, owner of Balancing Act Nutrition, shared that the 2015 to 2020 Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting added sugars to 10 percent of your total calories per day. So for the average person eating around 2,000 calories a day, that equates to 50 grams or about 12 teaspoons per day.

The American Heart Association in comparison makes slightly different recommendations. It says that women should consume no more than six teaspoons or 25 grams of added sugars per day (which is about 100 calories).

What About the Sugar in Fruit?
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What About the Sugar in Fruit?

This 25-gram recommendation does not include naturally occurring sugars found in whole, unprocessed fruits, veggies, and milk, explained registered dietitian Emily Tills, MS, RDN, CDN.

Those natural sugars are different than added sugars like granulated sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, raw sugar, or something fancy like beet sugar, explained Rachel Stahl, MS, RD, CDN, CDE, owner of Rachel Stahl Nutrition. These added sugars are often found in processed foods, and these are the sugars you want to focus on eating less of.

How Do I Know If I'm Eating Too Much Sugar?
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How Do I Know If I'm Eating Too Much Sugar?

Sugar impacts people differently. You might eat it and feel super happy and energetic. Other people may eat it and feel hungry soon after, or foggy-headed, and have a huge dip in energy. Eating sugar may cause bloating. It may also make you have insatiable cravings for more sugar, and make you feel like you can't stop eating it.

What Are the Benefits of Eating Less Sugar?
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What Are the Benefits of Eating Less Sugar?

"Long-term effects of eating too much added sugar can be elevated triglyceride and cholesterol levels in the body," explained Emily, which is a risk factor for coronary heart disease. Eating too much sugar can also cause weight gain, mood swings, and headaches.

There's also some evidence that suggests that consuming excess added sugars could raise blood pressure, warned Jackie. Some studies have also shown that high intake of sugars is associated with increased levels of oxidative stress and inflammation.

With all that said, cutting down on added sugar can greatly reduce your risk for these health issues. It'll also make more room for nutrient-dense foods that will leave you feeling full of energy and satisfied.

How Can I Cut Back on Sugar?
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How Can I Cut Back on Sugar?

You definitely don't want to eliminate all added sugar because restriction will only lead to bigger cravings, causing you to overeat it. Jackie said it's important to honor your hunger cues and give yourself unconditional permission to eat the foods you desire, two of the 10 principles of intuitive eating. "Normalizing sweets and including them regularly in your diet, when you want them, is the best thing you can do to prevent feeling deprived and end up binge eating those foods," Jackie said.

But if you know that eating too much sugar makes you feel crummy and you want to cut down, here are some tips to help you reduce your sugar intake without missing it:

  • You may be eating sugar all the time because you have this mentality that you shouldn't be eating it — this only makes you want it more, Jackie explained. Allowing yourself one time each day to eat sugar could alleviate your need to eat it all day long. Rachel agreed and said to make it part of your routine. Pack a piece of chocolate in your lunch or buy portion-controlled ice cream cups. Something like that is small but enough to satisfy your cravings.
  • Don't go too long without eating, Rachel said. Hunger increases our cravings for quick energy foods, like sugar.
  • Make sure your first meal of the day offers protein such as eggs, healthy fats like peanut butter, and complex carbs like steel-cut oats and fruit, Rachel said. It'll give you energy and help you feel satisfied so you won't feel the need to reach for a high-sugar pick-me-up.
  • Eat adequate healthy fats at meals, suggested Rachel. Fat takes a long time to digest, which helps to keep blood sugar levels stable and helps keep you full longer. Examples include nuts and seeds, olive oil, and avocado.
  • Increasing your intake of fruits and veggies can help curb sugar cravings, Emily said.
  • Snack on fresh fruit after dinner, or make frozen fruit "nice" cream instead of ice cream.
  • Get enough sleep as fatigue can increase sugar cravings, Jackie explained.
  • Find non-food, more productive ways to deal with stress.

Make small, realistic goals when it comes to cutting down on sugar, Emily suggested. If you drink three sodas a day, try cutting it down to two sodas in the first week. Then a week or so after, try cutting back a little more until you don't feel like you're relying on it.

You can do this with dessert, or chocolate, breakfast doughnuts, sugar in your coffee, or maple syrup in your oatmeal. Some people may do great cutting down on sugar cold turkey, while most will appreciate the gradual decrease so your body can adapt without really missing it.