7 Ways to Avoid Simple Sugars

Simple sugars are carbohydrates, and can be found in a variety of different names on food labels. They are quickly digested and utilized by the body but even though they’re essential sources of energy for us, there are certain types of carbohydrates that are more beneficial to the body than others.

Complex carbohydrates are a better choice for a healthy diet, as they take the body longer to digest and typically provide more nutritional value such as larger amounts of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Avoiding simple sugars can aid in weight loss and improve general health. By learning how to identify overt and hidden sources and replace them with complex carbohydrates or healthier food choices, you can avoid a substantial portion of simple sugars in your daily diet. Here are 7 ways to avoid simple sugars.

1. Learn to identify simple sugars by name.

  • Simple sugars may also be listed as raw sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, beet sugar, confectioner’s (powdered) sugar, turbinado, molasses, sugar cane syrup, maple syrup, malt syrup, cane juice, invert sugar, and high fructose corn syrup.
  • Read ingredient lists and search for glucose, fructose, lactose, monosaccharides, maltose, and sucrose.
  • Some simple sugars are naturally found in fruits, milk and other dairy products, as well as in beer. Fruits, vegetables, honey, and milk products contain simple sugars but also provide nutritional value that is essential for a healthy diet. Avoiding products with added (non-natural) sugars should reduce dietary simple sugar enough for most people to allow moderate healthy simple sugar consumption via fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and a limited amount of honey.

2. Eat at home. Preparing foods, dressings, and sauces at home can make it much easier to reduce the amount of simple sugars in your diet because you can better control the amount of added sugar. Try substituting vinegar-based dressings for creamy or fruity dressings, and opt for savory over sugary sauces if simple sugars are your greater dietary concern.

3. Limit the use of sauces, syrups, flavorings, spreads, dressings, and fillers that can be less obvious sources of simple sugars.

  • Whipped cream and coffee flavorings, jams and jellies, and spreads like apple butter can be high in added sugars.
  • Salad dressings, ketchup, and even cream or yogurt sauces that do not taste sweet can be high in simple sugar content, so use them sparingly.
  • Avoid adding more than two tablespoons (total) of toppings like these at any given meal.

4. Analyze the components of each meal to search for hidden simple sugars. Understanding the top contributors of simple sugars in a sample meal can help make the identification and avoidance of simple sugars much easier.

  • For instance, in a breakfast of a honey and oat cereal with low-fat milk, a cup of berries, and a small flavored coffee, the primary sources of simple sugars to eliminate would be the sweetened cereal (avoid glazed, frosted, and sugary cereals) and the coffee flavoring.
  • In a sample dinner of white rice, pineapple, sweet and sour chicken, snow peas, and a soda, the top simple sugar offenders would be the soda and the chicken’s sauce. Try drinking ice water, using a homemade garlic or white wine sauce for the chicken, and eating brown rice instead of white to avoid the vast majority of the meal’s simple sugars and to increase the nutritional value of the meal.

5. Avoid cakes, candies, sodas, and other sweetened foods and drinks. Fruit juices, doughnuts, and flavored coffees are all common items that are usually filled with added simple sugars.

  • Although 100% fruit juices can be okay in moderation, dietitians generally recommend that whole fruits be eaten instead of juiced or dried fruit. When buying canned fruits, avoid products canned in syrup; opt for fruits canned in 100% fruit juice (not concentrated) or water.
  • Desserts may be the most popular target for reducing your dietary intake of added simple sugars, but soda drinkers often consume more sugar from soda than from sweet treats. Switching from regular to diet soda can help resolve some of the health concerns with drinking soda.
  • Canned vegetables frequently contain added sugar as well, although many brands now sell a version with no added sugar.

6. Eat healthy food. Diets rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products are more likely to be low in simple and added sugars. Opting for fresh foods over processed, sweetened, or flavored foods and drinks can make avoiding simple sugars more manageable.

7. Consciously limit your intake of simple sugars at restaurants.

  • Ask for your dressing or sauce on the side instead of pre-poured so that you can limit how much you consume.
  • Avoid toppings or dishes like candied nuts, cinnamon apples, French toast with powdered sugar, or orange chicken.
  • Beware of certain alcoholic drinks. Specialty cocktails and mixed drinks can sabotage any attempt to control simple sugar intake, as they often require simple syrup, soft drink or juice mixers, flavored syrups, and even sugared rims.
  • If you decide to have a soft drink, opt for diet or refuse any offered refills. After the first drink, switch to water, unsweetened tea, or plain coffee.
  • Split dessert or refuse it altogether. Sharing a dessert with others can help reduce your intake of simple sugars over what it would have been eating it by yourself.