Quitting added sugars cold turkey? We’ll file that under “damn near impossible.” The real secret to scaling back on harmful added sweeteners has nothing to do with willpower—it’s all about arming yourself with the right tools and tricks. We asked our experts for their best advice on how to break free from the sweet stuff sustainably.
1. Swap out sugar, not the foods you love.
Sugar hides out under a bevy of confusing names, so it’s no wonder we’ve become inadvertently hooked on the stuff. Check the nutrition facts and ingredients list of breads, crackers, pasta sauces, soups, and condiments—products that frequently contain excess sweetness. “Then see if you can find alternative brands with fewer or no added sugars,” says Wendy Bazilian, RD, author of The SuperfoodsRx Diet. We promise you that you can. And in foods that are supposed to be savory anyway, like tomato soup, you won’t even miss it.
2. Snack, then attack.
Ah, the power of distraction. A study at the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab asked subjects to eat only one quarter of an afternoon snack (chocolate, apple pie, or chips) and then busy themselves by either tidying up their offices or returning phone calls. “Fifteen minutes later, they rated themselves as feeling full and satisfied, even after only eating a fourth of the snack,” says Brian Wansink, PhD, author of Slim By Designand the lab’s lead researcher. Try the technique in your own office by scheduling snacktime right before a task that needs doing.
3. Trick your brain.
“A lot of times, when we feel a craving for sugar, it’s really a craving to thank or reward ourselves for something,” says Wansink. Luckily, his lab found a way to trick people into eating less of the sweet stuff. At snack and meal times, his researchers offered subjects an array of snacking options: fresh fruits and veggies, chips, sugary chocolate. Then they were asked to express one thing about their day that they were grateful for by writing the sentiment down, saying it out loud, or whispering it under their breath. In every situation, Wansink’s team found that giving thanks caused subjects to reach for the produce—not the sweets and chips.
4. Make the little changes.
There are lots of little, easy things you can do to drop your sugar load big time without missing taste, says Bazilian. Her go-tos: Make baked goods at home instead of buying them; switch to jams and preserves with that have reduced sugar or are sweetened with 100% fruit juice; swap out sugar for stevia when you need a bit of sweetness in coffee, tea, yogurt, or oatmeal; sprinkle cinnamon over coffee grounds before brewing to mellow out the bitter taste without adding sugar; and dilute sweet drinks with sparkling water until you find a formula that still satisfies your taste buds while reducing sugar content.
5. Strategically stash your sugar.
You don’t have to give up keeping Hershey’s Kisses at home or relinquish your throne as Keeper of the Office Candy Dish—just make sure you keep it out of reach. Another of Wansink’s famous studies, published in the journal Appetite, found that when candy dishes were moved a mere 6 feet away from an office assistant’s reach, candy consumption decreased by almost 50%. And when candies were kept out of sight in a desk drawer (but still within arm’s reach), consumption still decreased by 25%. Apply the findings at home by placing treats in the backs of cupboards or on high shelves.
6. Don’t go cold turkey.
Withstanding sugar cravings and doughnut sightings is no small feat. “It’s not easy to cut back on sugar if it’s a regular go-to in your day,” Bazilian says. “It takes practice and a bit of time, but if you cut back by even just 2 teaspoons of sugar daily, you’ll save 730 teaspoons in a year (that’s 15.2 cups!) and 11,680 calories in a year.” A slow pace can still get you to the finish line and give you dramatic results.