13 Easy Ways to Break Your Sugar Addiction
Whether you're looking to stop your sugar cravings or cut sugar out of your diet, these simple tricks will help you reach your goal.
Do not go cold turkey
It’s no secret that sugar is hard on your health. According to Harvard Health, the consequences of high sugar intake can increase your risk for heart attack and stroke. But unfortunately, the more sugar you eat, the more you’ll crave. So cutting down slowly is the best way to stop your sugar addiction, says nutritionist Margaret Eich, MS, RDN. The exception: If you don’t eat much sugar to begin with, says Eich. If you normally have two candy bars a day, cut to one a day. Then next week, one every other day. The following week, one every three days, until you’re down to just one a week. If you normally take 2 teaspoons of sugar in your coffee, use the same routine, cutting down to 1 1/2 teaspoons for a week, then 1, then 1/2. Eventually, you’ll get to the point where you don’t need sugar at all.
Go half and half
You might already know to mix half a regular soda with half a diet soda or cut your juice with water. But you can also trick your sugar addiction by eating half a carton of sweetened yogurt with half a carton of plain yogurt. Or toss your pasta with a sauce made half with plain tomatoes and half with your usual sugar-added sauce. Do this for two weeks, then cut back to one-quarter sweetened to three-quarters unsweetened. Continue until you’re only serving the unsweetened version. If you’re having a hard time cutting back on sodas or juices (the leading source of added sugars in the American diet, per the National Institutes of Health), try drinking a glass of iced water, soda water, or homemade flavored water every other time you reach for a drink.
Set a daily sugar quota where it matters most
Eating and drinking too much sugar can lead to weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease, note the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So focus on eating sweets when you enjoy them most. For many people, that means desserts. Don’t waste it on hidden sugars in dressings, spreads, peanut butter, breakfast cereals and soda, or added sugars in coffee or tea. (Try all-fruit spreads: sweet as sugar, and good in hot tea, plain yogurt or instead of syrup or honey.)
Once you reduce your sugar intake for the day, it will help you lose your sweet tooth. Again, sugar is incredibly addictive: The more you eat, the more addictive it becomes and the more it takes to satisfy you. The opposite is also true. “As we eat less sugar, our tastebuds adapt and can be satisfied with less sweet options,” says Eich.
Make rules around dessert
Planning ahead is a helpful strategy for breaking a sugar addiction, says Eich. For instance, only have dessert after dinner, never lunch. Only eat dessert on odd days of the month, or only on weekends, or only at restaurants. If you have a long tradition of daily desserts, then make it your rule to have plain fruit at least half the time. As you cut back, you’ll notice your cravings slow down too.
And make rules around trigger foods
That means cookies, cake, or ice cream. A half-gallon of ice cream in the freezer is temptation defined. Our rule? No ice cream kept at home. Ice cream should always be a treat worth traveling for. If you find yourself making a dessert run too often, consider all the ways too much sweet stuff can harm your health.
Don’t add sugar to foods
Many everyday recipes—including those for vegetables, soups, casseroles and sauces—call for sugar to add some sweetness. In most cases, it’s just not needed. So if you’re making biscuits, for instance, you probably can skip the sugar. Substitute applesauce or pureed prunes or dates for half the sugar in recipes; you can also use them in place of the recipe’s fat. “Sometimes it doesn’t work, in which case, looking for or developing a lower sugar version is the best bet,” says Eich. Make your own barbecue sauce, which will cut out the extra sugar in the ketchup.
Watch for hidden sugar
Cough syrups, chewing gum, mints, tomato sauce, baked beans and lunch meats often contain sugar. Even some prescription medications contain sugar. For a week, be particularly vigilant and scan every possible food label. Given that 1 tablespoon ketchup can contain about 1/2 teaspoon sugar, buying sugar-free condiments can help end your sugar addiction.
Know what sugar is called
“There are SO many names that sugar falls under,” says Eich. Common ones include: brown sugar, corn syrup, dextrin, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, high-fructose corn syrup, galactose, glucose, honey, hydrogenated starch, invert sugar maltose, lactose, mannitol, maple syrup, molasses, polyols, raw sugar, sorghum, sucrose, sorbitol, turbinado sugar and xylitol. The higher up these words are on the list, the more added sugar is in the product, notes the United States Department of Agriculture.
Nix the sports bars and drinks
They’re loaded with the “s” word! Same with many protein powders. Reach for water and fruit after a workout to beat your sugar addiction. If you need more help cutting back on the sweet stuff this 6-week plan can help.
Think rich and decadent, in tiny portions
Dip fresh strawberries into nonfat chocolate sauce, scatter chocolate sprinkles over unsweetened, plain yogurt or eat a mini-piece of dark chocolate—which you should freeze so it lasts longer in your mouth.
Choose the right breakfast cereal
Many are loaded with sugar. Even the healthy ones can make you fat, here’s what to look for. You want one with less than 8 grams of sugar per serving (try the good-for-you grown-up cereals from Magic Spoon) or an unsweetened option like steel-cut oatmeal. Use diced fruit or one of these healthy toppings to sweeten your bowl.
Don’t skip meals
Too busy to eat? When you go without breakfast, lunch or dinner, your blood sugar levels drop. This can propel you toward high-sugar (often convenience, ie processed) foods to quell your cravings, says Eich.
Pick your post-workout snack before you hit the gym
Choosing in advance can help you make healthier choices. A 2018 study in the journal Nutrients let 256 people pick their snack—either an apple or a brownie—either before or after a sweat session. People who chose before a workout were more likely to opt for the apple. Study authors suspect that people may be more likely to “reward” themselves with a sweet treat if they wait until after their workout.
- Margaret Eich, MS, RDN, nutritionist, Madison, Wisconsin.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Know Your Limit for Added Sugars."
- National Institutes of Health: "Sweet Stuff; How Sugars and Sweeteners Affect Your Health."
- United States Department of Agriculture: "Cut Down on Added Sugars."
- Nutrients: "Exercise and the Timing of Snack Choice: Healthy Snack Choice is Reduced in the Post-Exercise State."