Senior Home Care Blog - Western Cook & Eastern DuPage Counties

5 Surprising Ways to Cut Back on Sugar

By Mary Doepke, RN

You’ve cut out sugary drinks, thrown out your sweetened breakfast cereal and you haven’t had dessert in weeks. That’s a good start, but if your goal is to eliminate or vastly cut down on sugar in your diet, you need to know where sugar is hiding.

The American Heart Association recommends a daily maximum of no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar for women. Men are encouraged to consumer less than 9 teaspoons of sugar each day. But as of now, it’s hard to know if sugar in foods is natural or added. Naturally occurring sugars, such as lactose in dairy products and fructose in fruits and vegetables, aren’t the problem. It’s refined sugars added during the manufacturing process that we are encouraged to avoid.

New nutrition labeling rules will soon make it easier to spot sugar in food products. By July 2018, manufacturers are required to list added sugars, in grams and as a percent of daily value, on food labels. Until then, here are a few places where sugar could be hiding.

Pasta Sauces

Canned and bottled pasta sauces might not seem like a sweet treat, but a ½-cup serving contains about 10 grams of sugar, some but not all of which comes from naturally occurring fructose. But chances are you’re ladling much more than a half cup of sauce onto your spaghetti or mastiocolli, which could easily lead to you consuming a full day’s worth of sugar all in one sitting.

The solution? Make your own sauce by adding herbs such as garlic, oregano and basil to plain tomato sauce. A ½-cup serving of tomato sauce has about 4 grams of sugar, or less than half the sugar in pre-made pasta sauce.


Sure, it packs bone-strengthening calcium and a healthy dose of protein, but hidden inside your creamy snack could be an entire day’s worth of sugar.

One single-serving container of strawberry yogurt contains about 18 grams of sugar. That’s as much as a handful of chocolate chip cookies. And while naturally occurring sugar accounts for some of those 18 grams, you can do better.

The fix? Switch to plain low-fat yogurt and you’ll cut your sugar by about two-thirds. That leaves plenty of room for a drizzle of honey or a scoop of fresh fruit to add flavor and sweetness to your breakfast or snack. For even more nutritional punch without the sugar, switch to plain Greek yogurt.


Oatmeal provides your body with fiber, potassium and calcium. But if you reach for the wrong kind, it also fills it full of sugar.

Instant oatmeal – the kind you pour from a packet and add to boiling water – lists sugar as its second-most abundant ingredient. In fact, a package of Quaker Maple and Brown Sugar Instant Oatmeal contains 13 grams, or more than 3 teaspoons, of sugar.

The low-sugar answer?  Switch to plain, quick-cooking oats and add your own flavor with a pinch of cinnamon, a drizzle of honey or maple syrup, or a small sprinkle of sugar.

Low-fat salad dressing

You thought you were making a smart diet move by switching from regular salad dressing to the low-fat variety. But you could just be swapping fat calories for sugar calories.

Two tablespoons of Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing has less than 1 gram of sugar added. Switch to the fat-free version and the sugar content increases to 3 grams per serving.

Other kinds of dressings, both regular and fat-free, contain even more sugar. Kraft’s French Dressing contains about 2 grams of sugar per serving, but the fat-free variety bumps the sugar content up to 5 grams.

If you’re concerned about fat in your salad dressing, try sprinkling olive oil and your favorite herbs on your greens instead. Olive oil contains heart-healthy fat and zero sugar. A splash of vinegar will add a punch of flavor, and while it contains sugar, it’s the natural variety, not refined.

Breakfast bars

They’re packed with healthy ingredients like fruit, whole grain and nuts. But holding those ingredients together is a whole bunch of sugar.

A Nature Valley Trail Mix bar contains about 7 grams of sugar – more than 25 percent of a woman’s daily dose.

The healthy answer? Instead of grabbing a breakfast bar, go for a handful of nuts and a few raisins or pieces of dried fruit. The fruit and raisins contain sugar, but of the naturally occurring variety.