6 Ways to Eat Less Sugar, Plus My Best Low-Sugar Recipes (That Still Taste Amazing)

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Curious about how to eat less sugar, yet still live a sweet life? Check out my guide for Ways to Eat Less Sugar (without noticing anything’s missing). Then I’ll show how to put these tricks to use in my best low-sugar recipes.

Bowls of fresh fruit on a white background.

Oh, sugar sugar. It’s a a key ingredient in so many of my favorite desserts (I’m looking at you, Puppy Chow and Sugar Cookie Cheesecake Bars). As much as I love sugar and will never give it up completely, it’s also something that I try to keep tabs on and enjoy in moderation.

The average American adult consumes 77 grams of sugar per day, the American Heart Association (AHA) reports. That’s three times as much as the recommended amount, and tallies up to about ⅜ cup of sugar per day. While you might think kids sip and snack on less sugar, that’s actually incorrect; the typical American kid consumes 81 grams per day.

Not to be a bummer, but this sugar isn’t just adding to our calorie intake for the day, it’s also drastically impacting our health and longevity over time. A high-sugar diet can contribute to higher blood pressure, chronic inflammation, type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, heart disease, and more, according to Harvard Health

6 Ways to Eat Less Sugar

With all that in mind, today I’m sharing my top tips for how to eat less sugar, along with my best low-sugar recipes that show these tactics at work. I promise you won’t feel like you’re sacrificing a thing!


1. Watch for added sugars.

Not all sugars are created equal. The AHA confirms that added sugars are what’s most important to monitor, since they don’t add any nutritional value but do add substantial calories to recipes. We eat about 270 calories from added sugars alone, per estimates from the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans. That works out to about 13% of total daily calories coming from a source that doesn’t deliver any vitamins, minerals, fiber, or other wellness-boosting features.

There are also natural sugars, which are part of dairy products (lactose) and fruit (fructose); any items made with milk or fruit will contain some natural sugars. There’s certainly no need to track or limit those natural sources of fuel (unless you’re allergic, of course).

Since so many medical experts have deemed the supplemental sugars as the most important thing to keep an eye on, you’ll now notice an “added sugars” listing on the nutrition facts panel.

Take a peek at those grams, or if you’re scanning the ingredient list on a product, watch out for these alternative names for sugar:

  • Brown sugar
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Dextrose
  • Glucose
  • Maltose
  • Malt sugar
  • Syrup
A variety of berries for sale at the Farmer's Market.

2. Steer clear of sugary drinks.

The leading source of added sugars in the average American’s diet? Sugar-spiked drinks, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

If you’re aiming to eat less sugar, start by replacing one serving of soda, sports drink, or juice with unsweetened sparkling water or your favorite combo from my infused water recipe round-up below. Since these alternatives are free of added sugars but still offer a pop of flavor, the transition should be a bit easier than if you jumped straight from Pepsi to plain ol’ H2O.

As soon as one serving per day feels easy, continue replacing one more serving with flavored, unsweetened water until you’ve reached your personal sweet spot of beverage ratios. (Psst…I’ve found that when my family and I are each sipping several glasses daily, an infused water pitcher can come in handy!)

8 Infused Water Recipes
Stay hydrated with these easy infused water recipes. If you find plain ol' H2O to be boring, consider making a pitcher of infused water that scores a hint of flavor from fresh fruit, vegetables, and herbs.
VIEW RECIPE
Glasses of water infused with fruit, vegetables, and fresh herbs.

3. Make your own dressings and condiments.

Many food manufacturers pack their products with added sugars to contribute to shelf life and/or flavor. The next time you see a bottle of ketchup or salad dressing at the supermarket, flip it around. Chances are high that the recipe developers have sneaked in at least a few grams of added sugars.

You can control the sweetness level and the quality of ingredients by making your own dressings, sauces, compotes, and garnishes from scratch. Each of the following has far fewer added sugars than its store-bought competition:

Marinara Dipping Sauce
This homemade Marinara Dipping Sauce pairs perfectly with all your favorite appetizers. It’s fast and easy, made with just 5 pantry ingredients and ready in minutes! Perfect for mozzarella sticks, pizza bites, zucchini fries, crispy artichokes, breadsticks, and more!
VIEW RECIPE
Marinara dipping sauce with mozzarella sticks in a red basket.

4. Try flavor-boosters that seem sweet.

Adding sugar isn’t the only way to please your your sweet tooth. With enticing aromas and complex flavors, a handful of other ingredients, including warm baking spices and certain extracts, can trigger similar sensations in your recipes.

Try vanilla extract in Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, cinnamon in Pumpkin Muffins, and almond extract in Angel Food Cake. Or jazz up plan yogurt or oatmeal with any or all of the above instead of (or in replacement of a portion of the) brown sugar, regular sugar, honey, or maple syrup you might normally use.

How to Make Vanilla Extract
Skip the synthetic versions and avoid the high prices at the market: Learn how to make vanilla extract from scratch. Use it for baked goods, drinks, and all your favorite vanilla bean recipes. This homemade vanilla extract recipe takes just two ingredients and a pretty bottle! 
VIEW RECIPE
A bottle of homemade vanilla extract.

5. Focus on fresh fruit.

As I mentioned earlier, when sharing tips about how to eat less sugar, very few health pros worry about natural sugars. (And as a cook and eater, I certainly don’t!)

While it’s not going to exactly replicate the experience of a handful of candy or slice of cake, incorporating more whole fruit, frozen fruit, and fruit purees is a tasty way to cure your cravings. Try a smoothie bowl for breakfast, pack a snack of tortilla chips and fruit salsa to ward of the mid-afternoon hangries, and pair your lunch or dinner with a generous scoop of fruit salad.

Fruit Salad
Freshen up your menu with an easy, make-ahead Fruit Salad that's tossed in a zippy honey and citrus dressing. Toss it together, then allow this crowd-pleasing Fruit Salad to chill for an hour (or more) for a simple and healthy side dish recipe.
VIEW RECIPE
Fruit salad in a small white bowl.

6. Eat more whole food, homemade recipes.

One of the quickest and easiest ways to eat less sugar? Cook your own meals! According to a study of more than 9,000 American adults published in the journal Public Health Nutrition, compared to those who whipped up a homemade dinner zero to one time per week, those who DIY-ed dinner six to seven times per week at about 150 fewer calories and 16 less grams of sugar per day.

You’ll score an even larger boost if those meals are made with whole food ingredients. Unlike ultra-processed foods or restaurant meals, if you focus on cooking a recipe that’s based around meat, seafood, beans, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products, you’ll be whipping up a dish that contains few, if any, added sugars.

The AHA recommends that those who identify as men aim to consume 9 teaspoons/36 grams/150 calories or fewer of added sugar per day. Women should shoot for 6 teaspoons/25 grams/100 calories.

All of the following recipes have less than 5 grams of sugar per serving total (natural and added!), which should leave plenty of wiggle room for the rest of your day.

How to Make Rotisserie Chicken
Learn how to make rotisserie chicken at home with my super simple spice rub (4 ingredients plus salt & pepper). Or, recreate that same delicious flavor for your next oven-roasted chicken! 
VIEW RECIPE
A rotisserie chicken on a white plate with slices of lemon.
Eggs Benedict
Yes you can master how to make poached eggs and homemade hollandaise for Eggs Benedict. I'll show you how to make this classic breakfast recipe in just 20 minutes.
VIEW RECIPE
Eggs benedict on a white plate.
Executive Chef and CEO at | Website | + posts

Meggan Hill is the Executive Chef and CEO of Culinary Hill, a popular digital publication in the food space. She loves to combine her Midwestern food memories with her culinary school education to create her own delicious take on modern family fare. Millions of readers visit Culinary Hill each month for meticulously-tested recipes as well as skills and tricks for ingredient prep, cooking ahead, menu planning, and entertaining. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the iCUE Culinary Arts program at College of the Canyons.

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Comments

  1. Really enjoying your tips/tricks/recipes etc. Thank you for all your hard work..I know it’s not easy.
    Quick question please: my oven quit on me and I can’t really afford to fix or replace it right now. I’m looking for more stovetop desserts and dinners etc.(preferably from scratch). Any recommendations/recipes you might be able to post?

    Thanks kindly,

    Jim in Buffalo NY

    1. Hi Jim, thank you so much for your comment and questions! For dinner recipes for the stove-top, I would recommend you start here at 30-minute meal recipes: https://www.culinaryhill.com/eats/30-minute-meals/. Many of them can be made on the stove. For desserts, I recommend starting with some no-bake recipes, like No Bake Peanut Butter Bars: https://www.culinaryhill.com/chocolate-covered-peanut-butter-bars/. You can also search the site for other no-bake recipes! I hope this helps! Take care! – Meggan