How to Avoid Simple Sugars

Three Methods:Preparing Meals Without Simple SugarsMinimizing Simple Sugars in RecipesAvoiding Simple Sugars While Eating Out

Simple sugars are carbohydrates that are found in a variety of natural foods including fruits, vegetables and milk in addition to processed foods like sweets and regular sodas.[1] These sugars are quickly digested and utilized by the body, causing blood sugar (blood glucose) levels to quickly spike and quickly fall back down, resulting in low blood sugar .[2] Avoiding some simple sugars (especially sugar coming from sweets or sweetened beverages) may aid in weight loss, improved insulin response, and better management of blood lipid levels.[3] Try to decrease or avoid the amount of simple sugars in your diet and replace them with healthier options, such as protein, fiber and healthy fat.

Method 1
Preparing Meals Without Simple Sugars

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    Read the food label. In the US, it's mandatory for food manufacturers to list the amount of sugar and types of sugar in all foods that have a label.[4] Read all food labels and ingredient lists so you're aware of exactly what's in your food.
    • Review the food label and look for "sugar". You'll find it listed underneath the label of "Total Carbohydrates." The amount listed is the amount of sugar in one serving of the food.
    • Search the ingredient list for other terms outside of "sugar." Look for: fructose, glucose, monosaccharides, lactose, maltose, dextrose and sucrose.[5]
    • Simple sugars may also be listed as raw sugar, brown sugar, beet sugar, cane sugar, confectioner’s (powdered) sugar, molasses, turbinado sugar, maple syrup, honey, sugar cane syrup, cane juice, invert sugar, malt syrup, agave syrup and high fructose corn syrup.[6]
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    Avoid added sugars. Added sugars are syrups or sugars that are added to foods during processing and are always considered a simple sugar.[7] Added sugars are considered "empty calories" since they do not provide any helpful nutrition to your diet.
    • Candies, cakes, regular sodas, fruit juices, breakfast pastries, sweetened cereals and flavored coffees are all common items that are usually filled with added sugar.
    • Steer clear of the cookie, chip and candy aisle at the grocery store.
    • Take a peek at your pantry, refrigerator and freezer. Toss out most processed foods that contain simple and added sugars (like cookies, candy or regular sodas). Keeping one or two sweet treats to have in moderation is acceptable.
    • Note that although simple sugars are found in fruits and some dairy products, these simple sugars are far healthier than added sugars. Fruit and dairy products offer a variety of essential nutrients (like vitamins, minerals, fiber and protein) to your diet.
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    Make 50% of your meals fruits and vegetables. Some fruits and vegetables contain small amounts of simple sugars. However, they also provide nutrients like vitamins, minerals and fiber that are essential for a healthy diet.[8]
    • Vegetables that contain some simple sugars include: carrots, sweet potatoes, peas and winter squash.[9] Do not avoid these veggies, just balance them with a healthy serving of green vegetables.
    • Aim to consume whole fruit, not fruit juice. Juices are lacking fiber and are high in sugar and calories.
    • Also minimize your consumption of dried fruit. Many times companies add sugar to dried fruit (especially tart fruit like cranberries).
    • In addition, the amount of sugar is more concentrated in dried fruit since the water was removed during the dehydrating process.[10] Stick to the appropriate portion size of dried fruit - about 1/4 cup. One serving of fruit juice is about 1 cup or less.[11]
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    Include low-fat dairy daily. Dairy foods like milk and yogurt also contain simple sugars in the form of lactose. However, these foods are also great sources of protein, calcium and Vitamin D and should be included in your diet each day.[12]
    • Aim for 2-3 servings of low-fat dairy products each day.[13] These can include milk, yogurt or cheese.
    • Although dairy does contain natural simple sugars, be aware of dairy products that contain a significant source of added sugars. Items like chocolate milk or yogurt with added fruit typically contain more sugar than their plain counterparts.
    • Choose yogurt or cottage cheese without fruit or other flavorings. Add in fresh, whole fruit or a teaspoon of honey for more natural, healthy flavorings. You can always purchase low fat, plain Greek yogurt and sweeten it with your own raw honey, berries and nuts. The key is controlling the sugar you consume and choosing where that sugar comes from.

Method 2
Minimizing Simple Sugars in Recipes

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    Bake with unsweetened applesauce, bananas, figs or dates. When preparing baked goods at home, like muffins or cakes, try swapping out the sugar for a similar amount of unsweetened applesauce or a smashed ripened banana.
    • Using fruit will cut down on the amount of simple sugar in the recipe, plus provide you with extra fiber, vitamins and minerals that are found in the fruit.
    • When using bananas or unsweetened applesauce in place of sugar, cut down on the liquid in the recipe. It'll help ensure the batter or dough isn't too wet. [14]
    • When making any substitutions in baked goods, the texture, color or flavor may change from the original recipe.
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    Cook with honey, agave syrup or maple syrup instead of white sugar. Some recipes require sweetener and limit you on what substitutions you can make. More natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup are sweeter than refined sugar allowing you to use less.[15]
    • Homemade barbecue sauce, ketchup or salad dressings are examples of sauces that would be equally tasty with honey or maple syrup.
    • Sweeteners like honey, maple syrup and agave syrup are less processed compared to white or brown sugar.
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    Make homemade frozen sorbet. Instead of buying ice cream or sorbet from the store, make it at home. Blend no-sugar-added frozen fruit in a blender or food processor to make a sorbet-like result.
    • There are even some kitchen tools that will turn frozen bananas and other fruit into "soft-serve" like ice cream treats.
    • Frozen fruit based desserts will also have fiber, vitamins and minerals from the fruit making for a healthful dessert.

Method 3
Avoiding Simple Sugars While Eating Out

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    Read the menu and food descriptions carefully. Understanding exactly what's in your meal can help you determine which options have more or less simple sugars.
    • Key foods to look out for include: items made with sweet and sour sauce, BBQ sauce, ketchup or salad dressings, baked beans, sweet potato fries, marinara sauce, salsa, and other condiments/spreads. [16]
    • Don't forget about more obvious sources of simple sugars as well. Items like desserts, pancakes/waffles, muffins, white bread with jelly and granola typically have a significant amount of added sugars included in the cooking or preparation process.
    • Don't hesitate to ask the waiter or chef for more specific information regarding meals or ingredients.
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    Limit condiments. These items may have a significant amount of simple sugars and can be avoided or limited when you serve them yourself.
    • Ask for items like dressings, sauces, ketchup, syrups or spreads to be served on the side.
    • Ask for plain olive oil and vinegar for salad dressings instead of creamy-based or vinaigrette style dressings.
    • Jams and jellies, whipped cream and coffee flavorings, and spreads like apple butter can be high in simple sugars.
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    Don't order a soda. Regular sodas can have over 39 g of sugar - and that's for a small![17] Stick to water and other sugar free beverages.
    • 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 unsweetened coffee.
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    Skip the alcohol. Beware of certain alcoholic drinks including mixed drinks, wine and beer. Even though they do not taste sweet, they still contain a significant amount of simple sugars.[18]
    • Specialty cocktails and mixed drinks can sabotage any attempt to control simple sugar intake, as they often require simple syrup (sugar water), flavored syrups, soft drinks or juice mixers, and even sugared rims.
    • To minimize sugar opt for an alcoholic drink mixed with water or unflavored seltzer instead or go for a low-carb/low-calorie beer.
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    Split desserts. Ordering the occasional dessert or sweet indulgence is perfectly OK. However, sharing a dessert with others can help reduce your intake of simple sugars.
    • If no one is willing to split a dessert with you, ask for half of it to be boxed ahead of time.
    • Order a child's or "petite" dessert if available. This smaller portion will help limit the amount of simple sugars you consume.
    • Try ordering fruit instead. Although it still contains some simple sugars, you'll be getting the benefit of fiber, vitamins and minerals.


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


  • For diabetics, simple sugars are not the only type of carbohydrate that has to be moderated for a healthy diet; you may also have to limit complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates have increased fiber content which controls blood sugar. It still effects blood sugar but it is not as drastic as simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates may be commonly found in starchy foods such as breads, rice, cereals, and some vegetables.

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Categories: Nutrition and Lifestyle Eating