Fresh citrus fruits in the wooden box

Added sugars have inundated our food supply so it can be difficult to avoid them – but not impossible! Here are some guidelines to help you dodge some of that sweet stuff.

Read the ingredient list.

The only dependable way to determine if there is sugar added to a product is to read its ingredients. This is one of the most important things you can do to improve your diet, especially if you are trying to reduce sugar intake. Even if a product is organic, natural or marketed as a health or diet food, it can have a lot of sugar added.

Understand why sugar might be added to a product.

We all know that sugar makes things taste sweet, but why is there sugar in savory foods like crackers and marinades?  In addition to making foods taste sweet, sugars can:

  • Provide texture, color and flavor
  • Help preserve foods: think jams, jellies, canned fruits
  • Provide a fuel for fermentation, which allows breads to rise
  • Balance acidity from tomatoes, citrus, vinegar and other acidic foods
  • Act as a bulking agent in baked goods

Watch out for the foods that make up the majority of our added sugar intake:

  • Sugar sweetened beverages (soft drinks, juices, energy drinks, sports drinks and more)
  • Syrups
  • Candy
  • Cakes and cookies
  • Dairy desserts and milk products

But also look out for foods that aren’t as obvious a source of added sugars:

  • Granola, protein bars and cereals
  • Salad dressings, marinades, sauces and peanut butter
  • Bread products
  • Crackers, snack foods and dried fruit
  • Processed meats and jerky

TIP: Work towards eating more un-processed foods in order to decrease your added sugar. If a food item at the grocery store doesn’t have a label, it means that it is not processed and doesn’t have added sugars. Examples include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, unprocessed meats and dairy like plain yogurt, cheese and unflavored milk. A good way to achieve this is by shopping the perimeter of the grocery store as that is where the fresh food is located.

RECIPE: Try this Italian salad dressing recipe to help you reduce sugar with your meals.

Zesty Italian Dressing

Use this recipe to decrease the amount of added sugar with your meals and enjoy a recipe with limited ingredients. This dressing will store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks but is better enjoyed fresh. Try making small batches to help reserve the flavor. In addition to using it on salads, try this recipe for marinades or on roasted veggies.
  • 3Tbspvinegar (red wine, white wine or cider vinegar would work well)
  • 1tspDijon mustard
  • 1/4cupolive oil
  • 1/2tsponion powder
  • 2cloves finely minced garlic
  • 1/2tspthyme
  • 1/2tspbasil
  • 1/2tsporegano
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Put all ingredients in a small jar and shake vigorously.
  2. Enjoy!
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Get more recipes from the UVM Medical Center. View our Recipe Collection by clicking here. 

Bridget Shea, RD, is a clinical dietitian at The University of Vermont Medical Center.

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