Top 10 Ways to Cut Back on Sugar

Ever tried to cut back- or even eliminate- sugar? It’s not so easy.

Nature gave us a sweet tooth for a reason- and it wasn’t just to frustrate our diet efforts!

We humans – unlike other animals- don’t make our own vitamin C. Vitamin C is most abundant in fruits. So nature gave us taste buds that would make these relatively sweet tasting foods desirable.

Unfortunately the whole system has become deregulated since just about everything you buy now has sugar in it, and there’s a huge disconnect between the purpose of our original wiring- to make sure we got enough vitamin C- and the way that wiring is used today (to make sure we get enough Krispy Kreme donuts!)

Giving up- or cutting back- on sugar is no picnic. But the rewards are tremendous. Eliminating (or even reducing) sugar can benefit your health in more ways than you can imagine.

Here’s a list of my Top Ten Ways to Start Reducing Sugar, taken directly from page 126 of the workbook:

  1. Don’t add it to foods. This is the easiest and most basic way to immediately reduce the amount of sugar you’re eating. Biggest targets: cereal, coffee and tea.
  2. Don’t be fooled by “healthy sugar” disguises. Brown sugar, turbinado sugar, raw sugar … it’s all pretty much the same thing as far as your body is concerned.
  3. Make a real effort to reduce or eliminate processed carbohydrates. Most processed carbs — breads, bagels, most pastas and snacks — are loaded with flour and other ingredients that convert to sugar in the body almost as fast as pure glucose. That sugar gets stored as triglycerides, which is a fancy way of saying fat.
  4. Watch out for “fat-free” snacks. One of the biggest myths is that if a food is fat-free it doesn’t make you fat. Fat-free doesn’t mean calorie-free, and most fat-free snacks are loaded with sugar.
  5. Shop for color. The more your grocery basket looks like a cornucopia of color, the better. It usually means you’re getting more fresh vegetables and low-glycemic fruits such as berries and cherries.
  6. Become a food detective. This tip is from the wonderful author and nutritionist Anne Louise Gittleman, who adds, “To reduce sugar, you have to know where it is first.” Start reading labels.
  7. Beware of artificial sweeteners. Unfortunately, they can increase cravings for sugar and carbohydrates. They can also deplete the body’s stores of chromium, a nutrient crucial for blood-sugar metabolism.
  8. Do the math. Look at the label where it says “total sugars” and divide the number of grams by four. That’s the number of teaspoons of sugar you are ingesting. This exercise alone should scare the pants off you.
  9. Limit fruit. (Notice I didn’t say “eliminate.”) Fruit has sugar, but it also has fiber and good nutrients. Just don’t overdo it. For weight-loss purposes, keep it to two servings a day and try to make most of them low-glycemic (grapefruit, apples, berries)
  10. Eliminate fruit juice. It’s a pure sugar hit with none of the fiber and less of the nutrients that are found in the fruit itself.
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  • Ann

    Excellent article. thanks

  • Charles Thom

    Hello Dr.Bowden,

    In this article you say to eliminate all fruit juices (No.10). Do you include pure pomegrenate juice (Pom) which you endorsed in a previous article.

    Thank you,

    Charles Thom

    • Well, this top ten list was a general guide. It can always be individualized. For weight loss purposes, fruit juice isn’t a great idea, but once you’ve got a program set up that’s working for you, there’s no reason not to add 4 oz a day of this extremely healthy juice.


  • Jennifer Johnson

    What is your opinion of “better sugars” like agave nector?

    • I’ve actually written a few articles on agave nectar and will put one in the newsletter soon. Basically agave nectar is pretty much the same as high fructose corn syrup only with a lot better marketing!

      Small amounts fine, but it’s not a “good” sugar– it’s MOSTLY fructose


  • Pam

    sugar, sugar, sugar…oh how I love it so. 🙂 I have noticed while cutting back, if I do have something with sugar in it, it seems too sweet now. Amazing, really, how you can train your body after years of reg. sugar intake. Thanks for the article. I didn’t realize agave nectar was a “bad” sugar… The Eat Clean diet recommends it, but I hadn’t tried it yet.

  • ahmad

    Dear Jonny:
    You said to limit fruit juice. Do you mean fresh fruit juice or bottled juice. I know that juice that is coming from freshly squeezed
    fruits is good for one’s health.
    What do you say to that?

    • Hi
      There is no doubt that juice squeezed from fresh vegetables and fruits are good for your health (though the vegetable ones are probably better). The question is whether or not there’s too much sugar for someone who is sugar-sensitive, on a weight loss program or trying to control blood sugar. In that case, loaded as it is with vitamins, even fresh squeezed fruit juice should probably be limited. BUT.. why not just add some fruit (like an apple) to a freshly squeezed juice made mainly from vegetables?


  • James Cottone

    Hi Dr. Bowden! I love your books! I have a question for you: I found an organic, sprouted, 7 grain bread by Shiloh Farms with less than 1 gram of sugar and 18g of carbohydrates……wold this bread pass your test??? Oh, and cherry juice and cranberry juice, cut with a lot of water, I mean a lot??? Still ok?

  • Camille

    Hi Dr Jonny
    It would be great if you could write an article/book on sugar and sweeteners. I have been trying to determine the best alternatives to refined sugar but the information is very conflicting. I recently read a book entitled ‘sweet poison – why sugar is making you fat’ by David Gillespie which opened my eyes to the evils of fructose, however unfortunately pointed out that many ‘healthy’ alternatives to sugar such as honey, agave and rapadura are infact high in fructose which we should avoid!. He suggests to eliminate fructose from our diets we pretty much need to stop eating sweet things altogether. Although I agree that we could all eat a million times less cake, chocolates etc, the thought of never again having a homemade fruit sorbet is depressing! I guess what I am saying is its is near impossible to wade through all the ‘info’ out there and get to a reputable source. I am sure there are many more people out there trying to do the best for their health but are utterly confused by the which sugar alternative, how much and how often questions. Maybe your next book could help us all out!

    • it’s a great topic and you’re right- a difficult one-

      i did tackle the agave issue in this coming newsletter–

      but the bottom line is sugar is still delicious and maybe we don’t have to eliminate it entirely. The point is to get it down as low as we can so it makes a minor- and occasional- contribution to our diet, not a major one.


      • Camille

        hi Dr Jonny

        I think that as people become more aware of the dangers of sugar, we are going to see more and more ‘healthy’ alternatives, just as when all the ‘low fat’ rubbish came out. Finding out exactly how good (or not) these things are is near impossible as the information is very conflicting. there is a website which lists all the sugar alternatives and gives some details as to their nutritional value, but the author is not a nutritioninst so it’s hard to know what you can and can’t believe! This is why I mentioned that it could be a great (and very timely) idea to have a book on this subject in the style of ‘150 healthiest foods’ which examined each sugar alternative critically and advised exactly what was in it nutritionally and how it affects blood sugar etc. As far as I am aware such a reference text does not yet exist, I am just hoping someday it will!

  • Laila

    Dear Johnny,
    I read your article about Agave syrup and am so disappointed. You see I have hypoglycemia and try as I might, the only sweetener that I can tolerate (taste wise) is the Blue Raw Agave Syrup that I buy in my local health food store. I can’t get used to the taste of Stevia, it just doesn’t taste good and alters the flavor of whatever I’m drinking. So what’s left for us hypoglycemics to sweeten our coffee and tea beverages with? I drink decaf of both but consume about 5 mugs of tea a day and I try to alternate between the Agave and the Stevia when I can stand it but in my coffee I have to have the Agave over the Stevia or I might as well not drink it as it tastes so bad. Can you help? Is there anything else out there that doesn’t contain so much Fructose? Thanks.

    • Hi Laila!

      i agree with you about stevia, great stuff but i can’t stand the taste either

      have you tried erythritol? it’s a sugar alcohol, sold commercially as TruVia, and it doesn’t raise blood sugar at all and tastes fine in coffee. Also Xyltiol (which i have on my website and which you can buy in stores)… has a TINY glycemic index but not anything to worry about.


  • As a diabetic controlling my sugars is obviously critical. Even though I agree that pure fruit juice is a “hit”, I have a small glass of orange juice every morning and I have for decades. I may be dreaming, but particularly in the winter months if I’m out of orange juice I can pretty well guarantee I’ll get sick with a cold or the flu.

  • Tasha G.


    I found this article by way of a Google search, and so far it’s been the most informative.

    A friend introduced me to Coconut Palm sugar, and I absolutely love it. I found and purchased a bag from a natural general store in my area, and it doesn’t have a nutritional label. I’ve been told that it’s supposed to be low on the glycemic index as well. Can you confirm that?


  • Lauren

    Hello Dr. Johnny,

    I am in high school and we have a cafe in our school that sells cookies and candy and any other sugary treat you can imagine. I really want to lose weight but I find it so hard because I am always tempted to buy the sugar. I have such a massive sweet tooth. What can I do to keep myself away from all this because shear willpower is just not working.


    • Jonny Bowden

      Hi Lauren,

      I feel you. Really i do. And I would be lying if i said this was an easy task. Every American– especially children and teenagers– are exposed daily to these temptations, through ads, availability, cafeterias like yours, bake sales, television, unscrupulous marketing… and it’s a miracle anyone is able to resist any of it. Know that you are NOT alone, and that you can get support. If i were you, i would think of myself as a warrior.. a Samurai– a Samurai for your own health. You’re swimming upstream– but in a way, so does every hero.

      What you also have to do– in my humble opinion– is “bypass” motivation. What i mean is this: If you wait to “feel” motivated, you’re going to be waiting a very long time. Your senses will “win out” over willpower every time. But if instead of making the right choices because you have enough momentary willpower, or because you happen to feel “motivated” at that moment, if instead of that you make the right choices just because you gave your word to yourself– just BECAUSE YOU SAID SO—- then it will not matter so much whether you “FEEL” motivated, or whether you experience a momentary lapse in willpower. Your word will be more important to you than just how you feel at the moment. And if you give your WORD to yourself to support your health with the best eating decisions, that will be enough to overcome the temporary temptations.

      I wish you luck! Keep your word to yourself, though, and you won’t need it!

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