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Six Week Diet Turnaround: Slash the Sugar

Week Two


Updated June 25, 2014

The World Health Organization suggests that no more than 10 percent of your daily calories come from added sugar, so that's a good dietary goal.

Last week, you calculated the number of calories you should be taking in every day (if you didn't - go back and review the first lesson). So how much sugar can you have? No more than 10 percent of that number of calories should come from added sugars. For example, if you need 2,000 calories per day, than only 200 calories should come from extra sugar. You can determine how many grams of sugar that is by dividing the number by 4 (there are 4 calories in one gram of sugar). So in our example, 200 calories would equal 50 grams of sugar.

If you don't like calculating numbers or that seems like a drastic cut in sugar, then choose a different goal. Look at your food diary from last week. How many sugary foods did you eat or drink each day? Do you usually drink three cans of a sugary soda? You can set a goal of just one soda each day. Did you start most of your days with a sweet mocha latte from the coffee shop? How about switching to drip coffee or tea a few days each week? 

You don't have to give up sugar completely - you can use it like a condiment instead of an ingredient. Each teaspoon of sugar has 16 calories or 4 grams of sugar. So instead of buying a presweetened breakfast cereal with 15 grams of sugar in one serving, buy a whole grain cereal and add some fruit and sprinkle a little sugar on top. You'll get your sweet flavor, but you'll eat a lot less sugar.

You can use honey the same way. Nutritionally, honey is about the same as sugar, but since it adds more flavor, you may use a teaspoon of honey on some of your foods.

Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners, which are also called "non-nutritive sweeteners," add sweetness to many foods and beverages without adding any calories or nutrition. They are well-known ingredients in diet sodas and snacks, and some are easily identified in little colorful packets alongside sugar in your favorite coffee shop or restaurant. Common sweeteners include saccharin (Sweet'N Low), Sucralose (Splenda) and aspartame (Nutrasweet). Another non-caloric natural sweetener is an herb called stevia.

Some people find the use of artificial sweeteners to be controversial, although there is plenty of research that demonstrates the safety of these sweeteners (learn more about how aspartame is digested). Some people object to the flavor of artificial sweeteners, which are different from natural sugars. If you don't like artificial sweeteners, you don't have to use them. If you like the non-nutritive sweeteners, just remember that while they don't add calories to your diet, they really don't add anything good either. So, go ahead and replace a regular soda with a diet soda, but don't use them to replace healthy beverages such as milk, 100-percent fruit juices, water and vegetable juice.

Avoiding Added Sugar

Buy fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads and pasta, plain oatmeal, lean meats, poultry, fish, and dairy products (other than sugar-sweetened yogurts). Avoid the overly processed foods and read the labels on packaged foods to look for added sugar. Buy plain yogurt and add a little bit of honey, some chopped nuts and lots of blueberries.
  • Serve fresh berries for dessert instead of ice cream. Make your own trail mix with dried fruit, mixed nuts and whole grain cereal and take to work for a snack instead of candy bars, cookies or pastries.
  • Add a lemon slice to sparkling soda instead of sugary soda.
  • Avoid ice cream sundaes, malts and shakes, and cold, blended coffee drinks, which are all high in sugar. Mix 100-percent fruit juice with club soda for a healthier soft-drink.
  • Buy fresh fruit instead of cookies and pastries.
  • Most of the fruit smoothies sold at coffee shops are filled with added sugar and not much fruit. Make your own smoothies at home with bananas, berries and a little non-fat milk.

Your Assignments This Week

Now that you're going to pay more attention to the added sugar in your diet, choose a goal similar to one of these:

I will only drink one can of sugary soda instead of three cans on at least three days this week (or four days or all week).

I will eat less than X number of grams of sugar three days this week (or four or five days). Calculate that number by using the example from the reading.

Continue to use your food diary. It will help you keep track of how you are progressing.

Your next lesson will help you incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet, even if you're a picky eater - very important because fruits and vegetables are so good for your health.

Added Sugar Quiz

Ready to test your knowledge on added sugar? Take this quiz before moving on to lesson 3 next week.

Related Reading


Wilmore JH, "Body composition in sport and exercise: directions for future research." Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1983;15(1):21-31.

United States Department of Health and Human Services and United States Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005. 6th Edition, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, January 2005.

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. "Aim for a Healthy Weight." Obesity Education Initiative.

"Carbohydrates." Nutrition Source, Harvard School of Public Health. March 20, 2007.

"United States Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference." USDA Agricultural Research Service. March 20, 2007.

"Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids." Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. September 05, 2002.

Gropper SS, Smith JL, Groff JL. "Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism." Fourth Edition. Belmont, CA. Wadsworth Pub Co. 2005.

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