Food & fluids

8 tips to help you break the sugar habit

sugar_cube_by_iwishicouldtake-d38rj1sThe World Health Organisation (WHO) has advised that we should reduce our intake of added sugar.

They recommend levels of < 10% of total energy for adults and children (50g) and < 5% for good health (25g) excluding the sugar found in whole fruit, milk and vegetables.

In doing so it is hoped to reduce the risk factors associated with Type 2 diabetes, obesity , heart disease and some forms of cancer.

As The Royal Society of New Zealand recently pointed out to achieve this and make better food choices consumers need added sugar as well as total sugar information on the labels of the foods they buy.

But how do we follow through and turn this knowledge about sugar into a change in behaviour? How do we break the habits of a “sweet tooth”?

Try this 8 tip plan

1.Stop feeling hungry

This might seem too obvious to be true however it is impossible to reduce sugar intake if you are skipping meals, grazing, picking at food and eating on a whim.

Regular meal times prevent fluctuations in blood sugars, the lows of which trigger appetite, increase stress and irritability and send you “hunting” for more food, more sugar and unnecessary weight gain.

See a Dietitian or contact us for a full nutritional assessment to assess your nutritional intake and come up with a plan to control your carbohydrate intake and blood sugar levels. This process will also help track down the nutrients that you may also be missing as a result of your haphazard eating style.

2. Gather data

At the start gather as many facts as you can about your health. Find out your weight, Body Mass Index, blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol levels. Also count the number of minutes you take part in regular exercise each day. This is so that as time goes by and you change behaviour you will also see measurable changes in your health and fitness.

Keep a 7 day food diary this will help to show up when foods with added sugar are eaten.

For instance if you are having 2 tsp in 5 cups of tea or coffee =10tsp/day (50g sugar/200kcals) which is 350g/1400kcals week or in food value terms equates to eating for nearly 8 days rather than 7 per week. Over the course of a year this equates to 18.2Kg of sugar /72,800kcal extra per year.

Also note the time of day, who you are with?; where are you?; how are you feeling (happy or sad)? This can help you see the influence that social activities and emotions can have on your eating pattern and behaviour.

3. Set a goal and count your “victory laps”

Pick a date to reassess your progress (say) two days, 1 week, 2 weeks, 1 month from now. Next pick a goal further away (say) a birthday or anniversary 3-6 months out.

Make this goal so easy that so long as you start now you can’t help but achieve it e.g. 8 tsp of sugar/day instead of 10. Straight away you have dropped your yearly total to 14.5kg of sugar/58240kcal per year.

You can also pick a harder goal if you like just so long as you keep count and make it achievable.

Each day is a “victory lap” so note down the number of days you have succeeded doing what you said you would do and keep doing this for a month or as long as it helps. If you relapse then start recording again until you are back on track.

4. Break the habit

There are three methods you can try:

Go cold turkey -Give up sugar altogether in tea/coffee. You may hate drinking coffee without sugar for a week but by the second week you will notice your taste buds starting to change and you might even start to prefer this new flavour.

Wean yourself off gradually by dropping to 1 tsp the first week, ½ teaspoon then ¼ then none at all.

Substituteyou could swap the sugar for an artificial sweetener. This is what diabetics should do as their first “port of call” then wean off that.
Ideally for the rest of us (as artificial sweeteners carry their own set of problems and risks and only prolong your hankering for sweet flavours) in the longterm we are probably better to continue to use sugar and slowly wean ourselves off as mentioned above. See Fig 1

Fig 1. Examples of substitute foods to reduce sugar intake

Food Weight Kcals/kJ Sugar (g)   Food Weight Kcals/kJ Sugar (g)
White sugar 1tsp (5g) 20/84 5 White sugar 1/4 tsp 5/21 1.25
Orange juice 330mls 146/612 35 Iced Water 330ml 0 0
Soft drink 330mls 146/629 37 Lime and Soda 330ml 0.61/2.6 0.09
Standard Beer 330ml 121/507 1.98 Lo Cal Beer 330ml 31/130 0
Flavoured milk 250ml 187/785 24.6 Trim milk 250ml 108/455 13
Chocolate biscuit (1)18g 98/411 9.2 Cream Cracker (1) 9g 41/173 0.05
Popcorn candied 1 cup 91/380 10 Air popped corn 1 cup 34/144 0.08
Wrapped lollies (2) 14g 51/214 7.6 Brazil nuts 2 51/216 0.12
Icecream on stick 90g 213/892 23 Yoghurt 150ml 105/439 11

Ref Foodworks 2013

As your intake of added sugar in beverages and snacks declines you will notice a dramatic change in your taste buds as your palate begins to freshen up and you will start to notice the “real” natural sweetness of foods such as bananas, milk and carrots.

5. Enlist help

Tell someone your trust what you are trying to do and ask for their support and encouragement. Most of all be honest, measure how much you are changing and how this makes you feel. This can be very empowering.

6. Plan for failure

There are sure to be days when you lose sight of your goals. So when this happens try to minimise the damage. Note what happened and why? Were you out of routine with your meals or did other people needs get in the way of your own? Re-count your success and pat yourself on the back for having achieved progress thus far, remind yourself of your goal this month then re-double your resolve to write off the distraction and get back on track now.

7.Take up something new

Often people crave sugar because they are lonely or bored. As they start to gain weight feelings of guilt and failure start to feed this negative cycle and they eat more and get more depressed and unwell.

So before you buy into this way of thinking visualize a healthier you and take up a new hobby or form of exercise or creative interest. E.g. you might plant a vegetable garden, paint a picture, attend a night class. That way by the end of the year not only will you have a new skill but also have achieved all or at least a part of your new health goal as well.

8.Look for other habits to change

Notice the other foods that you eat which contain added sugar and swap these for others. See Fig 1. Also apply these habit breaking tips to other things that might be spoiling your life and health such as smoking, excess consumption of alcohol, inactivity, procrastination.

Always look ahead to how great you will feel in a year from now if you have achieved even half of the goal you have set yourself.
God welling you will still be here in a years time, that time will be here soon, will you be the best version of you by then?

If you would like help with any of these issues raised then do contact us today we would love to help you.

For more articles by Lea on related topics:

What is the fuss about fructose?
Tips to help you shake off the salt habit
8 health tips when making ‘real’ food choices
Sugar control is essential to better health
Are you a sneaky snacker?
What are our children drinking?
Making changes


Sugar and Health The Royal Society of NZ
Food works 2013.
Prochaska, James O.; DiClemente, Carlo C. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol 51(3), Jun 1983, 390-395. doi: 10.1037/0022-006X.51.3.390

About the author View all

Lea Stening

Lea is one of New Zealand’s leading paediatric dietitians and also specialises in Sports Nutrition. She has specialised in Paediatric Nutrition for 31 years and in 1985 was the first paediatric dietitian to enter private practice in New Zealand. Lea helps families through her private consultations, public lectures, newspaper and magazine articles as well as television and radio interviews. Read more »

View all posts by Lea Stening »


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