Reducing added sugars at every meal

Posted on January 11, 2019 by Helen Field

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How much sugar is too much?

In the UK, sugary foods surround us in the street, on the radio, on TV, at home and in the office... there's no escape. The NHS recommends 30g of free sugars a day for adults, no more than 24g for children aged 7-10, and no more than 19g for children aged 4-6. To put this into context, a standard 330ml can of Coke contains 35g of sugar, so even one can pushes adults over the recommended daily amount. 

You don't have to cut sugar out completely. But looking for ways to reduce the amount you consume, to fall within the recommended guidelines, is likely to positively impact your health. And remember that sugar occurs naturally in some foods - fruit, vegetables and milk for example - and you don't have to count these as added 'free sugars'.

Simple is best

The best way of cutting down sugar in your meals is to make them yourself. We're talking from scratch. 'I don't have the time or energy to do this!' I hear you say. But, healthier meals don't have to take long to prepare or include many ingredients. Often, the simplest meals are the best. Here are a few easy low sugar recipes for meals you can make just for yourself, or for the whole family.

Start the day as you mean to go on - easy low sugar breakfast ideas

Scramble some eggs

Try adding wilted spinach, sautéed mushrooms and tomatoes.

Vegetables like mushrooms, broccoli, and spinach contain the lowest amounts of sugar. Sweet potatoes, beetroot, tomatoes, peas and butternut squash are some of the more sugary vegetables.

Bowl of porridge with berriesJazz up your porridge

Adding nuts and seeds to oatmeal porridge or oat bran blended with nut milk is a great way to create flavour without too much sugar. Try adding cinnamon, chia seeds or blueberries if you want a touch more sweetness.

Blue or purple foods contain powerful antioxidants which help protect your cells from damage. See if you can add blackberries, blueberries and blackcurrants to your diet. Try one-cup pancakes with blueberries.

Enjoy a smoothie

Fruit like figs, grapes, and mangos contain the highest levels of sugar, whereas berries, lemons and limes contain the least.

Try Greek yogurt with raspberries, pecans, mixed seeds or honey. Greek yogurt contains nutrients like calcium and vitamin B12, and contains a good dose of protein to make you feel satisfied. It also benefits your digestive function and immune system, as it contains probiotics, or 'good bacteria'.

Avoid Greek-style yogurt as it has fewer health benefits.

Boost your energy with a midday meal - easy low sugar lunch ideas

'Hidden' added sugar in shop-bought bread, ready-meals and sauces are often unnecessary. It supposedly makes processed food taste better, if it's had fat removed. If you're partial to a McDonald's burger, it's useful to know that there's over a teaspoon of sugar in the bun alone. And what about salad creams and ketchups? These could be hiding as much sugar in them as a glazed doughnut.

Bowl of cous cousToo much of one thing can get a bit boring. Keep lunchtimes interesting by swapping sliced bread for pitta, noodles, cous cous, meats, rice, and more. Leftovers from last night's dinner are also a fantastic fast option, which takes barely any preparation.

Check out these recipe ideas

Feeling peckish? Reach for something tasty - easy low sugar snack ideas

Quench that thirst

If you can't get through the day without a coffee or tea, try skipping the sugar. Gradually reducing the amount you put in will make it more palatable. If you usually have a good glug of cow's milk too, try reducing it until you eventually don't need any. Semi-skimmed cow's milk for example is surprisingly sugary, with around 9.6g (roughly just over 2 teaspoons) of sugar per 200ml. If you can't stand not putting any milk in, why not try unsweetened coconut milk? It has 1g (about a quarter of a teaspoon) of natural sugars per 225g.

If you're a fizzy drink fanatic, try swapping your regular beverage for some sparkling water flavoured with fruit juice. You can also try flavouring sparkling water with pieces of fruit or cucumber, ginger or mint etc. If you're partial to fruit juice, try watering it down a little to make it go further with less of a sugar impact. And while no sugar added drinks like diet soda and squash can be a great alternative, remember artificial sweeteners such as aspartame may not be as good for us as we think.

Apples with peanut butterGet over the midday lull

Ever find yourself gazing longingly at a pack of biscuits at 3pm? That mid-afternoon lull is a tough one to get through. To avoid a mid-afternoon sugar rush, try swapping those biscuits for a handful of nuts or berries. Or perhaps get your crunch on with some chopped up carrots and celery dipped in hummus. If you're still craving something sweet, an apple dipped in natural peanut butter is a real pleaser. For a tastier, high protein alternative, try mixing that peanut butter with 1/4 cup of Greek yogurt and dipping in your apple slices. It's delicious!

For more ideas, check out these snack suggestions:

And to finish the day off nicely - easy low sugar evening meal ideas

Home cooked foods in their purest forms are great because you know what's in them and you can add your own flavours. Many fruits and vegetables contain natural sugars anyway, so why would we need to add more? 

Try a simple chicken breast with your own tasty flavourings like herbs and lemon, soy sauce, olive oil and balsamic, lime, or salt and pepper. You can also try flavoured oils like chilli or basil.

Recipes with mushrooms, broccoli or spinach are great for putting together low sugar meals. Here are some others you can try.