Food & fluids

Tips to reduce ‘added sugar’ intake for a healthier Christmas

If you want to get fit and healthier for this Christmas and the years ahead, then cutting back on ‘added sugar’ is a good place to start.

What is sugar?

Put simply, sugars are forms of carbohydrate that are found in foods and drinks that provide the body with glucose, the body’s main source of energy.

Sugars occur naturally in many plant foods and are often also added during food processing to make a food sweeter, to change its colour or texture or to help with food preservation.1

  • Natural (intrinsic) sugars can be found in fruit, some vegetables, milk and unsweetened milk products such as yoghurt.
  • Added (extrinsic) sugars are found in processed food such as sugar sweetened beverages (SSB’s); coffee; tea; breakfast cereals; fruit drinks; baked products; flavoured yoghurt; sauces and condiments.

Sugar can also be added to foods that already naturally contain sugar, such as when we add sugar to stewed fruit, when preserving fruit or making jams.

Our body utilizes natural and added sugars in the same way. However, unlike added sugars, natural sugars also contain other nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre so are healthier and more filling. Whereas added sugars lack nutrients, are quickly absorbed and usually high in calories. For example, a can of soft drink can contain up to 10 teaspoons of sugar (160 calories) and no other nutrients.1

IN 2015 the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended a reduction in added sugar to no more than 5% (6 tsp/day).2 Reducing added sugar can help prevent and manage obesity; diabetes; coronary heart disease; high blood pressure and some cancer’s; reducing dental caries and gout and creating a healthier diet for us all.

Note: Reducing ‘added sugar’ doesn’t mean that we have to give up all carbohydrate foods ( e.g. fruits, vegetables, breads and grains) as these are important sources of dietary fibre, energy, vitamins and minerals. Rather that we all need to just have a better understanding of carbohydrate absorption and know how to control how much carbohydrate we consume.

Tips to reduce added sugars

Christmas can be a time of excess sugar consumption so here are a few ways that you can greatly reduce it.

1.Base you diet on minimally processed foods:

  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Wholegrain breads and cereals
  • Unsweetened, fat-reduced milk and milk products (skim 1%,2%)
  • Eat lean meat, poultry, fish, tofu, without commercial sauces or marinades. Instead try making your own using less sugar and salt.
  • Legumes such as dried beans, peas, lentils
  • Use vegetables oils in cooking and spreads.
  • Including foods rich in dietary fibre such as fruits and vegetables, breads and cereals can help you to feel full for longer and reduce the need for sugar laden snacks.

2. Read food labels

Unfortunately at the moment food labels in New Zealand do not distinguish if the sugar in foods is natural or ‘added sugar’. Labels just display the words ‘sugar’ and carbohydrate. So if concerned talk to a Dietitian to learn about the different types of carbohydrate in your diet and how much you need for maintenance of energy for sport, growth and good health whatever your age.

  • Check the order of ingredients list. If sugars are listed in the first few ingredients, then the sugar content is likely to be high.
  • Sugars may be in the form of agave; brown or raw sugar; cane juice; corn syrup; caster sugar; demerara; dextrose; fructose; golden syrup; icing sugar; inert sugar; maltodextrin; maltose; malt syrup; maple syrup; molasses; fruit juice and concentrate; galactose; glucose, honey; nectar; sucrose; treacle and white sugar.
  • Compare foods on 100g and choose the food with the lowest sugar content overall.
  • Nutritional claims on food labels 3 are now regulated in Australia and NZ and these define sugar levels in the following ways:

Low sugar foods are those that contain no more than 2.5g/100mls of liquid or 5g/100g solid.

No added sugar means that no sugar has been added but natural sugars may still be present

Unsweetened means no sugar has been added plus the food contains no intense sweeteners e.g. sorbitol, manitol, glycerol, xylitol, isomalt, maltitol syrup or lactitol.2

‘Free’ no detectable levels

3.Mind what you drink

It’s very easy to drink your sugar and kilojoules.

  • Cut back on the teaspoons of sugar if you are adding these to tea and coffee or switch to a sugar substitute.
  • Avoid flavoured lattes and specialty coffee or tea drinks.
  • Fruit cocktails, nectars, punches, energy and SSB’s are all sugar laden. If drinking juice limit this to 125ml/ day or dilute with 5 parts water: 1 part juice.
  • If drinking alcohol be mindful of the sugar added in mixes, juices, liqueurs and beers and look for those with a low kilojoule version, less alcohol and sugar.
  • Make your own smoothies using fresh fruit with milk and vanilla (minus added ice-cream, honey or flavoured yoghurt)

4. Avoid sweetening breakfast cereals and fruits

  • Avoid adding brown or white sugar, honey or syrups to porridge and cereals
  • Try instead to serve oatmeal with fruit, chopped nuts or cinnamon
  • Replace canned fruit in syrup with fresh fruit or unsweetened frozen fruit e.g. berries
  • If stewing fruit try slowly cutting down the sugar that you add until you eventually you may find that you don’t need to add any at all.
  • It’s easy to overeat fruit during summer months when berries, grapes and stone fruit are plentiful. To help control the intake of fructose (fruit sugar), limit fruit intake to 2-3 pieces per day.

5. Mind the snack foods

  • Caramel covered popcorn, chocolate, confectionary, cakes and biscuits are all harmful to teeth and your weight.
  • Try replacing these snacks with a small handful (30g) of unsalted nuts and seeds or make your own popcorn with added garlic or chilli powder.1

6. Make your own sauces, dressings, marinades and condiments

  • Commercially made versions of these foods can be laden with extra sugar so try making your own using less sugar
  • See Lea’s article on how to flavour your food with less salt and sugar.

7. Go easy on desserts, cakes, slices, icings, glazes, ice-cream and fudge

  • Try sharing a dessert with someone else
  • Replace ice-cream and cream with vanilla or Greek yoghurt
  • Eat smaller servings of dessert and add some fruit
  • Make the dessert yourself and use 25% less sugar.
  • Make smaller (mini) Christmas mince pies this year
  • Ice or glaze just half your Christmas cake this year, so your guests have a choice.
  • Make your own rum balls this year using cereals instead of icing sugar and coconut (see Lea’s recipe)
  • Cakes usually have three times more sugar than is found in a batch of muffins; fruit loaf; scones; or an uniced spiced bun.

Note: When an unsweetened or low-sugar option is unavailable, have a much smaller serving of the high sugar food than you would have had in the past.

If you would be interested in finding out how much of the carbohydrate in your diet is sugar related or you need to lower an elevated blood sugar or cholesterol level, then contact Lea for a nutritional assessment and advice.


Other articles by Lea that might be of interest

What’s the fuss about fructose? 

8 tips to help you break the sugar habit. 

What’s to drink?

Wise up to discretionary foods for better health. 

Give healthier gifts this Christmas

Make healthier decisions this Christmas


  1. Added Sugars; Healthy Eating Tips. Dietitians of Canada 2016
  2. Guideline: Sugar intake for adults and children. WHO March 2015
  3. Healthy kids, happy lives. Lea Stening 2017. Lea Stening Publishing

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 »


Leave a Reply

Also in Food & Fluids View all »

  • Food, beverage and fitness trends for 2023

    Globally there is disruption to supply chains, inflation, changes in technology and war in many regions. Food systems are experiencing instability which is changing the trends in our choice of food, beverages and fitness. Read more »

  • Are you blending rather than chewing your food?

    With families on the go every day it’s often easier to down a smoothie for breakfast than to sit down and eat. While this is certainly better than not eating at all we really do need to take the time to chew our food. Find out why?.. Read more »

  • 5 good reasons to eat breakfast

    Thinking of skipping breakfast? If you think you'll be saving time, money and calories then think again. Research finds you are more likely to miss vital nutrients peculiar to breakfast foods and to snack on more calories later on. Read more »

  • Milk is a valuable sports nutrition supplement

    Whether you are an athlete wanting to improve your performance or just keen to improve your level of fitness, interest is growing in the use of milk as a sports supplement that is good for your health at any age. Read more »

  • Are you an emotional eater?

    Emotional eating isn't an eating disorder. It is a dyfunctional relationship with food. Associated with depression, anxiety and binge eating. It is highly addictive, causes ill health, needs to be taken seriously. Here are tips to help. Read more »

  • Thinking of going vegan?

    Veganism can be a very healthy lifestyle but there are some important things to know about before deciding that veganism is going to be right for you and will provide sufficient energy to fulfil the life goals you have in mind Read more »

  • Dietary Guidelines are constantly changing:...

    Although science is constantly evolving, generating new recommendations to improve our health, for many people their eating habits are based on things other than their longevity so are guidelines still relevant today? Read more »

  • 5 good reasons for eating eggs

    Are eggs really cheap and nutritious when compared with other protein rich foods? What about cholesterol? and are they safe to eat raw or if you're pregnant? Find out .. Read more »

  • Coffee concoctions

    Whether we sit in or take out it seems our love affair with coffee just keeps growing. Let's take a quick look at the effect our choice of coffee may have on our nutrient intake. Read more »

  • Potatoes – they’re maybe healthier...

    Potatoes are often labelled too starchy, too fattening too boring, but is this fair? As we grapple with Covid-19 maybe it's time to take a fresh look at how eating potatoes nationally could help our health and economic growth Read more »

  • Snacking on the plant-based diet

    Business is booming in the snack food trade. However not all commercially available foods are good for our health. Find out how planning snacks can help to power your day Read more »

  • Can caffeine improve your performance?

    New Zealand ranks 13th in the world for coffee consumption ahead of Australia and USA. What are the effects of caffeine on our health and can it improve our performance? Read more »

  • Soup to soothe

    There is something very comforting about a bowl of soup especially on a cold winters day or if you are feeling unwell. Here we compare soups available today and offer guidelines on choosing the healthiest. Read more »

  • The active life of yoghurt

    Yoghurt is a healthy, economic and beneficial way to supply the body with macronutrients particularly protein and calcium, very convenient as a meal or snack its health benefits could help you. Find out more.. Read more »

  • Alcohol and sport- Is it a good match for you?

    When used responsibly alcohol can help to relieve tensions in athletes and to build feelings of inclusiveness in a team. However in excess it can slowly unravel training, health and sporting careers. Read more »

  • Don’t like fish?

    Fish is high in protein, iron, B group vitamins and essential fatty acids. But not everyone likes it. What can parents do to help their child try it again? Read more »

  • Are nuts all they are cracked up to be?

    Are nuts healthy and how much do we need to eat in order to enjoy their health benefits? Read more »

  • Wise up to Discretionary Foods for better health

    If you are struggling to lose weight or lower your cholesterol then taking a closer look at your intake of discretionary foods can improve your results. Read more »

  • Could you make healthier decisions when shopping?

    Every food item we drop into our supermarket trolley isn’t just affecting us but also the health of those we provide food for. How well do you shop? Read more »

  • How to put ‘real’ flavour into...

    It can be so easy to snip the top off a packet of flavouring when cooking. But if we really want to reduce the salt, fat and sugar in our diet natural flavours are best. Find out how. Read more »

  • Get children cooking this Christmas

    Increasing the confidence of children to cook from scratch is now seen as part of the strategy to reduce chronic diet related disease and obesity. We offer 12 top foods to know how to cook before leaving home. Read more »

  • Garnishes galore and all those “little...

    Is garnishing getting out of hand? Find out how much energy those "add ons" really do add. Read more »

  • 8 tips to help you break the sugar habit

    What habits would you like to break? With all eyes on sugar reduction learn the steps to make this happen to achieve better health now. Read more »

  • Time your eating for better performance?

    If playing sport or exercising, understanding the GI can help you to select foods that will provide optimal energy at key stages of activity for better performance. Read more »

  • What’s the fuss about fructose?

    Sugar has been the focus of attention lately amidst concerns for our dental health and obesity. But what about fructose, the sugar that intrinsically exists in fruits and vegetables? Could this be injurious to our health too? Read more »

  • Get into fruit and vegetables for optimal health

    Do you get your 5+ A Day servings of fruit and vegetables? Learn how gardening and creative activities can improve your consumption of these foods and maximise their nutritional benefits for better health. Read more »

  • 15 Tips for healthier barbeques this Christmas

    Are you planning a Barbeque this Christmas? It's not hard to lower everyone's saturated fat, salt and sugar intake while still serving beautiful, tasty food. Read more »

  • Tips to help you ‘shake off’ the...

    In a bid to reduce the intake of processed foods many food manufacturers are modifying their products to meet new food guidelines particularly regarding salt. Find out if you are still getting too much? Read more »

  • What’s to drink?

    As concern, regarding the sugar and energy content of carbonated drinks and fruit juice, gathers momentum many people are looking for alternative drinks to have. Read more »

  • Is going “Gluten Free” a healthy...

    As the popularity of gluten- free diets grow we need to question whether in fact it is a healthy option for any of us and if not how can we make it so? Read more »

  • 8 Healthy tips when making ‘real food’...

    If we choose a lifestyle where others grow and process our food can we be sure that it is still safe to eat? Find out more. Read more »

  • Does your diet tick all the boxes?

    Is dieting still fun if it ages you? Find out if your diet ticks all the boxes for your better health and performance. Read more »

  • Organic food markets are gaining traction

    Organic foods are more expensive but as more farms convert to organic food production the costs do come down and the savings to the environment by reducing pollution and conserving water and soil quality may, in the long-term, be money well spent Read more »

  • Fish and mercury contamination

    While fish can also contain some mercury it is still possible to enjoy the health benefits of eating fish and keep the exposure to mercury within safe limits. Read more »

  • Juice diets – are they as healthy as...

    For busy people, who might rather drink than chew their fruits and vegetables, the juicing trend sounds like a "gods send". What possible disadvantages could there be to health? Find out the pros and cons of this new diet craze. Read more »

  • Taste is important to fluid consumption

    Taste is an important factor affecting fluid choice and level of consumption and therefore is an important consideration to overall sporting performance Read more »

  • Feeling full is the secret to weight loss

    Gaining an understanding of the many factors contributing to a sense of fullness can provide some very powerful tools for those seeking to lose or control body weight and find more energy for life! Read more »

  • Milk matters

    How safe is cow’s milk in the raw and homogenised state? When can cow’s milk be given to infants and how can we protect children against developing allergies to cow’s milk? These are just some of the questions that have come up in the media lately and are in need of some clarification Read more »

  • Muesli and sports bars can aid performance

    Muesli and sports bars are designed to provide a convenient source of energy to be thrown into a lunchbox, gym bag or pocket and eaten “on the run”. However if eaten daily as a “lolly” or relied on as a meal replacement they can lead to unnecessary weight gain. If used wisely during training and competition they can provide athletes with a measured source of carbohydrate vital to performance. Read more »

  • Healthy meals for one

    Coming home to a nutritious cooked family meal was once the norm for many of us. Recent social change however is now seeing more people living in single dwellings many of whom are turning to meals “on the run” that are quick and easy to prepare Read more »

  • Can coconut improve our health?

    Coconut oil was once associated with tanning. Something young people coated themselves with before lying out in the sun “to bake”. Today coconut products are being heralded by many as the new “wonder food" that can cure many ailments. We take a look at some of these claims. Read more »

  • Food planning is important for hiking safety

    Research does show more injuries occur in the mid-late afternoon in open country than other times of day. This is often when people become dehydrated, their muscle levels of energy (glycogen) can become depleted and blood glucose levels may be falling, all factors which lead to fatigue Read more »

  • Sugar control is essential for better health

    After years of encouraging a low fat diet with some success (a decline in heart disease and some forms of cancer) attention is now focusing on sugar as a possible reason for our weight and diabetic problems. Read more »

  • Boosting fibre intake offers health benefits

    Research shows that a diet high in fibre can reduce the risk of developing diseases such as type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, bowel and breast cancer, gallstones, diverticular disease and weight gain. It also seems that some fibres are better than others. Read more »

  • How to increase the ‘Good’ fats...

    If you are thinking of cutting fat out of your diet stop right now. Fat is important for nerve and cellular function but choosing the right “type” of fat is what matters most to our long term health. Read more »

  • Can a high fat diet improve sports performance?

    Fat carries more energy than other macro nutrients (9kcals/37kJ/g compared to 7kcal/29kJ/g for alcohol and 4kcal/17kJ/g for protein and carbohydrate respectively). So with so much energy to offer does eating more improve performance? Read more »

  • How much food do you waste every day?

    In New Zealand around 258,886 tons of food waste is dumped in landfill each year. This equates to around 64kg of food waste per person/year in NZ compared to 82kg /person/ year in the USA. Read more »

  • Healthy ideas for family takeaway meals

    Did you know that in 2012 around 21% of New Zealander’s weekly food expenditure was spent on eating out and takeaways? Read more »

  • Are you a “sneaky snacker”?

    Some people find it hard to control snacking and are continuously thinking about food. They may find themselves constantly picking, stock piling foods in drawers and cupboards at home and work. Read more »

  • Give healthier gifts this Christmas

    If you want to enjoy the company of friends and family when you get older then if is important that you look after their health, as well as your own, as you age. Read more »

  • “Free foods” for hungry children

    Free foods", while bulky, are very low in energy and filling. So their cost in terms of calories is much lower than most other dietary components, hence the term "free". As these foods are also naturally fat free they make ideal snacks for anyone trying to control body weight Read more »

  • Party plans for children

    Birthday parties should be fun and the chance to celebrate a child’s special day with a minimum of work and cost for busy parents. If the party can be timed to fit around a normal meal time then “junk” foods can be kept to a minimum. Read more »

  • Care for “the carers” during family...

    When family members are sick or hospitalised it can be very challenging to find the time to exercise and maintain a healthy diet for yourself. Particularly if you are working, caring for children, or trying to complete a course of study. Read more »

  • What are our children drinking?

    In 2015 New Zealanders consumed a total of 518 million liters of carbonated drinks. Outside of the drinking of milk and water there is real concern about the energy content of some of these beverages because of our rising incidence of diabetes and obesity. Read more »

  • Drink milk for better health

    Fonterra’s announcement that it will sponsor free milk in schools is good news for the future health of young New Zealanders. Milk is promoted on the basis of bone health but there are many other health benefits that should be promoted. Read more »

  • Make healthy decisions this Christmas!

    We all like to think that we call the shots regarding what we eat and drink. But who really has the last say over what we swallow? Read more »

  • Marvellous mushrooms

    Did you know? New Zealanders consume 2.7kg of mushrooms per person each year. Mushrooms rank as the third most popular vegetable in this country in 2010. White button mushrooms are the most commonly eaten type of mushroom in New Zealand. Mushrooms do not need light to grow. They obtain all their goodness and nutrients from … Read more »

  • Brace yourself for the brassicas

    With Winter now upon us its time to eat more Brassica vegetables. What are they? Broccoli – 7th most popular vegetable in New Zealand Cauliflower – 13th most popular Cabbage (all types) – 12th most popular Brussel Sprouts Broccolini – consumption rocketing! Swedes Turnips Why are they so good? Brassicas contain: Antioxidants, from the following … Read more »

  • Navigating Christmas without weight gain

    Measurement is an important evaluation tool at any time of the year, it is only human nature to want some means of measuring progress; however can we rely solely upon any particular measure and expect to obtain a reliable result? For each aspect of life we require some measure to determine our successes or failures, … Read more »

  • Alcohol and type 2 diabetes

    The protective role of alcohol in protecting against heart disease has been reported throughout various media sources in previous years, however only recently has it also been shown in people with Type 2 Diabetes. Epidemiological evidence suggests that a light to moderate alcohol intake may have a protective role against the development of Diabetes in … Read more »

Would you like to subscribe to our fantastic FREE monthly newsletter?

Each month we'll keep you up-to-date with the latest nutritional articles and healthy recipes from You are free to opt out at any time, but we think you'll enjoy what we've got in-store for you.

Plus as a bonus offer — subscribe today and receive FREE weight loss tips for two weeks! Learn how a number of foods, many one would consider 'healthy', may in fact be slowing your progress.


Yes please, it sounds great! (and it's FREE after all).



No thanks, I'm not interested (or I'm already a subscriber and really enjoying these fantastic newsletters!).