How to cut down on sugar

How to cut down on sugar

You might be surprised to learn where added sugars hide. Use these smart swaps and shopping tips to lower your sugar intake without giving up your favorite foods.

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There are plenty of good reasons to cut back on sugar. Maybe you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes and you’re trying to keep your blood sugar levels in check. Or maybe you’re doing it for your overall health and well-being.

Whatever the reason, it’s a smart goal. Consuming too much sugar has been linked with a higher risk of health problems such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and metabolic syndrome.

And the truth is that most of us consume too much sugar. On average, American adults eat or drink 17 teaspoons of added sugars per day. That’s 57 pounds of added sugar per year.1

To put this in perspective, the American Heart Association recommends limiting your added sugars to 100 calories (or about 6 teaspoons) per day for women. For men, the limit is 150 calories (or 9 teaspoons) per day.2 So how do you cut back on added sugars?

The first step probably sounds familiar: Stay away from desserts and sweetened snacks and drinks (cookies, brownies, candy, pastries, ice cream, fruit drinks and sodas). Step two: Steer clear of hidden sources of added sugars. Added sugars contribute calories, but no essential nutrients.3

You might be surprised to learn where sugar hides. The best way to know is to make a habit of reading the “added sugars” line on nutrition labels. But nutrition labels list grams of sugar, not calories or teaspoons. That calls for a little simple math: 4 grams of sugar equals about 1 teaspoon.4 So if you’re aiming for 6 teaspoons max, that’s 24 grams. If 9 teaspoons is your limit, that’s 36 grams per day.

One good rule of thumb: The higher up an added sugar is on the ingredients list, the more added sugar the package contains. To help make your next grocery shopping trip a little easier, here are common added-sugar bombs to watch out for and healthier swaps.

It may not taste as sweet as your favorite treat, but ketchup has a lot of added sugar. The next time you have a burger (meat or veggie), try swapping ketchup with extra tomato slices or fresh salsa.

Salad dressing
Store-bought salad dressings are high in added sugar and sodium. The good news is it’s easy to make your own. A simple combination of olive oil and vinegar (balsamic, red wine or champagne) is healthy and tasty. Use 3 parts oil and 1 part vinegar. Add your favorite spices like basil, oregano, garlic or black pepper for extra flavor.

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You probably know cereals with marshmallows and frosted flakes are sugary. But did you know that ones with granola, oats or bran can have just as much sugar? Some seemingly healthy cereals can still have 15 grams of added sugar per serving. Oatmeal is a great alternative. Sweeten it up with sliced bananas or a dash of cinnamon. Tip: Choose quick-cooking oatmeal instead of instant for even less sugar. Or look for cereals that have 5 grams or fewer of added sugar per serving.

Granola bars
Looking for a midday snack? Skip the chewy granola bars, which often have more added sugar. Choose a crunchy one instead. Also, avoid bars with chocolate, yogurt or nut-butter coatings. They have added sweeteners, too. Plus, look for bars that are made with 100 percent whole grains.  

Flavored yogurt

Yogurt is already sweet thanks to the natural sugars in milk, called lactose. But many popular flavored yogurts add more sugar than you need. Fill your fridge with yogurts labeled “low sugar” or “no sugar.” Bonus: These often have more protein, too. If you opt for plain yogurt, which has no added sugar, mix in fresh or frozen fruit for some sweetness.

Nut butters
Peanut, almond, cashew and other nut butters have small amounts of natural sugar, but many brands add more. Try nut butters that have oil on top. These tend to be lower in added sugars.

One more way to lower your blood sugar levels? 

Stay active! As an Aetna Medicare Advantage member, you may have access to hundreds of online exercise classes — from cardio to strength to yoga — through SilverSneakers® and Apple Fitness+. To learn more about your fitness benefits, visit your plan web page.

Are you due for an A1C test?

If you’re cutting back on sugar to reduce your risk of diabetes, the A1C test can also be a helpful tool. This blood test shows whether you’re at risk for diabetes.

As an Aetna Medicare Advantage member, you may be covered for up to two diabetes screenings per year if you have certain other risk factors like a history of high blood pressure or obesity. To learn more or book a screening, call us at 1-833-570-6670 (TTY: 711) between 8 AM and 8 PM, seven days a week.  

1. University of California, San Francisco SugarScience. How much is too much? Accessed April 10, 2023.

2. American Heart Association. Sugar 101. April 17, 2021. Accessed April 10, 2023.

3. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Dietary guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 eight edition: cut down on added sugars. March 2016. Accessed April 10, 2023.

4. Michigan State University. How to convert grams of sugars into teaspoons. December 7, 2020.  Accessed April 10, 2023.

Check out our new Health Trends report!

We studied the future of healthy aging to learn about what we can do better to serve the 65-and-older population. 

Read the report to learn more.

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