11 Tips for Reducing and Replacing Sugar in Your Diet

Yvonne Spence loves to create healthy recipes and believes we don't have to give up enjoyment when we give up refined sugar.

You can still enjoy desserts when reducing sugar in your diet.

You can still enjoy desserts when reducing sugar in your diet.

These days, almost everybody knows that sugar—and by that I mean the white crystals that come in packets, not the sugars found naturally in many foods—isn’t good for us. But knowing something isn’t good for us and feeling able to do something about it don’t always go hand in hand, and so we sometimes just try to ignore uncomfortable feelings and carry on as before.

Or, if you try to force yourself to do without sugar, there’s a sense of deprivation, and so comes the temptation to rebel. I’m no saint, and I have my weak moments (mostly involving chocolate brownies). I do, however, find that satisfying the desire for sweetness with healthy alternatives reduces the temptation to splurge on sugared doughnuts or fairy cakes or whatever your particular indulgence may be.

The Less Refined, the Better

My rule of thumb when considering replacements is: the less refined, the better. So while natural substitutes such as agave syrup and honey are a better option (particularly honey, since it has anti-viral properties), they are still subjected to some refining, so I use them sparingly. For the same reason, the juicer I bought years ago is rarely used: I’d rather have the whole fruit than I would the juice.

Eating foods that contain fibre slows down the speed at which the starch is converted into sugar, and so sugar enters the bloodstream more steadily and provides sustained energy. For this reason, changing to wholefoods such as brown rice, whole-wheat pasta and wholemeal bread is a good starting point if you want to reduce your sugar intake.

You will experience fewer dips in energy and so crave sugar less. I think there’s a tendency to reach for high-sugar snacks when we are tired or busy, and so it’s good to have alternatives that are easily available and quick to prepare.

Fruits are a natural source of sugar.

Fruits are a natural source of sugar.

11 Ways to Reduce Sugar (and Still Enjoy a Little Sweetness in Life)

1. Just Omit It

In recipes for savoury dishes that call for sugar, just omit it. It’s never needed. Sugar doesn’t bring out the taste of tomatoes—it just makes them takes sweeter. Carrots are sweet enough without being caramelized. Even cranberry sauce can be made without sugar: Instead, add some stewed apples.

2. Make Your Own Tomato Sauce

While it’s tempting if you are short of time to use commercial pasta tomato sauces, most contain sugar. It takes very little time to prepare your own. Just chop an onion, brown it in some olive oil, add garlic (remembering to crush or chop it first) and then add a jar of passata (sieved tomatoes) and whichever herbs you enjoy – freshly chopped or dried will do fine.

You can of course use fresh tomatoes, which will take a little longer. You’d need around a pound or 500 grams to serve four. (I don’t recommend canned tomatoes because most cans are coated with a lining that contains the hormone disrupter bisphenol-A, even if the contents are organic. Bisphenol-A has been banned in babies’ bottles in the European Union and Canada.)

3. Cut the Sugar by Half in Recipes

For any sweet recipe, if you don’t feel ready to cut sugar completely, cut it by at least half. I can almost guarantee you won’t notice any lack of sugar!

Dates add sweetness and provide fibre. Cook dates and then puree.

Dates add sweetness and provide fibre. Cook dates and then puree.

4. Substitute Dried Dates

Substitute dried dates for the sugar in your favourite recipe. Here’s how:

  1. Weigh out the same quantity of dates as the recipe states for sugar.
  2. Put the dates in a small pan and pour over boiling water until the dates are just covered. You can either leave the dates to soak for an hour, or you can simmer them for a few minutes.
  3. Puree into a smooth paste and add to your recipe.

If the recipe requires you to cream sugar and butter, beat the butter by itself and then add the dates.

5. Use Whole Grain Flours

Use whole wheat (or other whole grain flour) instead of white when baking. This doesn’t reduce the sugar, but it slows absorption rate. If you’re not used to whole grain start by using half whole grain and half white. You need more liquid with whole grain and it doesn’t rise as readily.

To deal with both these issues you have a few options:

  • Add an extra egg - this gives lift and moisture. (But also calories, so if these matter to you, try one of the other suggestions.)
  • Add a little extra baking powder and some more water.
  • Add a dessert spoon of vinegar or lemon juice along with half a teaspoon of baking soda.
  • Add some yogurt.

Amounts would apply to a cake with around 180 grams or 6 ounces of flour. Do experiment with different quantities because flours vary.

6. Replace Jam With Mashed Banana

Instead of jam or marmalade on white toast for breakfast, try sliced or mashed banana on wholemeal toast. For extra protein first spread your toast with a nut butter or soft cheese.

7. Add Flavours Like Vanilla When Reducing the Sugar in Recipes

Add vanilla or cinnamon to recipes and you’ll find you can make do with less or no sugar. Take care when buying vanilla essence though, because many contain - guess what - sugar. You can buy vanilla powder from some health food stores or online.

8. Buy Good Quality Chocolate

If you really, really must have some chocolate, and you can’t get hold of a sugar-free brand, then buy good quality chocolate. It’s far easier to eat one square of chocolate made from of 70% cocoa solids than it is eat one bite of cheap chocolate, which has far more sugar in it and will have you craving more.

Or make your own chocolate with this very easy and delicious recipe!

9. Eat Slowly

Slow down to really taste food you eat. If people feel guilty about eating sweet things they often eat quickly, barely noticing the taste, and so want more. If you’re eating it anyway you might as well enjoy it! Someone I know allows herself one square of good quality chocolate a day and lets it slowly melt in her mouth, savouring it for longer than it used to take to eat a whole bar.

10. Follow the 80/20 Rule

Keep in mind the 80/20 rule. Basically this just means that most of your ‘bad’ eating comes from a few minor habits, so change will take far less effort than you think. If, for instance, you always reach for the cookie jar when you get in from work so hungry that you can’t possibly wait till you’ve prepared the evening meal, sit down and have banana on toast before you start cooking - or something similar.

Another way of applying this rule is to eat healthily 80% of time, and whatever you want the other 20% . As with the first 80/20 method, this makes it feel more manageable, and if something feels easy you are more likely to stick to it.

11. Buy Healthier Alternatives

You may not always have time to cook and puree dates, and some much healthier natural sweeteners have come available recently.

  • Lacuma Powder: This powder is made from the Peruvian lacuma fruit and because the entire fruit is dried and powdered, it contains fiber and nutrients. It is a powerful source of anti-oxidants and B vitamins, and I find it very tasty. (Not everyone agrees, so it’s down to individual taste.)
  • Baobab Powder: This is very similar to lacuma powder and is made from the Africa baobab fruit. Both baobab and lacuma powders are quite expensive, so use them sparingly!
  • Rapadura Sugar: This is the juice of whole cane - evaporated and either sold as a block or ground into crystals. It is more readily available than the fruit powders and much cheaper. It is also known as "jaggery" and sometimes a “whole cane sugar.” Although Rapadura is considerably better for you than refined sugar, since it is made from juice is it still more refined that lacuma, baobab or dates, so use it sparingly.


Linda on June 01, 2018:

Let me start by saying that I agree with the theory about empty calories. Based on what I read I think empty calories is a bad thing and bad for our health. However I think we are making a bad call by saying sugar is bad for us no if's an's or buts. That sounds like what Ansel Keys did to fat about 50 years ago. Sweet snacks packed with nutritients is not a concern. The same thing with Saturated Fats. The studies used hydrogenated fats not real fats in real food such as butter, lard, tallow, coconut oil etc. Try reading this article.


The other thing that makes me suspicious about their sugar theory is the fact that the Hadza diet contains 30% of their daily calories in honey which is a sugar. They have been studied extensively & are considered to not have any signs of any metabolic disease, The one thing that seems to make a difference is the fact that the food they eat has lots of nutritients. Therefore as far as I'm concerned I will eat sweets in moderate amounts, made at home with real food ingredients and get some nutritients into my body at the same time.

Jill Spencer from United States on February 13, 2018:

Thanks for these tips, especially regarding the dates. A very useful article and a good one to bookmark.

Yvonne Spence (author) from UK on May 13, 2012:

Hi cottageindustry,

I’m not surprised the your favourite Chinese restaurant uses sugar - so many do. You are right that it pay to watch out for hidden sugar - it is in many savoury foods. Pasta sauces are another example.

Thanks very much for your comment.

cottageindustry on May 13, 2012:

Just discovered my favorite Chinese restaurant use sugar in preparing the food. You presented the information clearly, but the readers must also pay attention to hidden sugars in most packaged foods.

People should start reading food labels as one of the best way to substantially reduce the intake of sugar which by the way is the most critical ingredient in weight gain.

Yvonne Spence (author) from UK on May 12, 2012:

Hi Sunshine625,

Yes, I think unnecessary sugar is the biggest factor in obesity. So many supposedly ‘low fat’ foods are full of sugar, and these are empty calories because there are no nutrients. Thanks for your comment.

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on May 12, 2012:

All of your ideas are excellent ways to omit or cut back on sugar! Sugar is supposedly the leading cause of obesity so the more we avoid it the better. UP and Awesome!

Yvonne Spence (author) from UK on May 12, 2012:

Hi phdast7,

I agree the evidence against sugar is growing. It makes you wonder who ever thought of refining healthy foods in the first place. We humans do do some bizarre things.

Thanks very much for your kind comment.

Yvonne Spence (author) from UK on May 12, 2012:

Hi RTalloni,

I think you are right that the knowledge to know what to do is important, as it makes it seem possible that way.

I was glad to link to your hub and thanks for linking to mine! Thanks too for your comment.

Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on May 12, 2012:

Excellent, excellent article with terrific suggestions. Every day a new article comes out indicating that refined sugars in our diets cause untold damage and health problems. Thanks for this Hub.

RTalloni on May 12, 2012:

You've got great advice here that should help many people take solid steps toward reducing and replacing sugar in recipes. It's so important to do it, so it is important to have knowledge that will help us do it!

As I was reading this smart post I was thinking that I needed to link it to mine on agave, then I saw that you had linked it here. Thanks very much! The favor will be returned in just a few clicks. :)

Yvonne Spence (author) from UK on May 12, 2012:

Thanks rebecca, we love blueberries too and it’s great they are now back in season. Not many grow here in the UK, but we’ve got some great fat Spanish ones just now.

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on May 12, 2012:

I like these tips, Melovey. I like making fruit desserts with blueberries because they are so naturally sweet!

Yvonne Spence (author) from UK on May 12, 2012:

Hi Jools99,

The aim is to enjoy food without sugar rather than to feel deprived and these tips should help you do that. If you are a sugar fan then remembering the 80/20 guide is a good way to keep balance.

Thanks for your comment and good luck with cutting down.

Jools Hogg from North-East UK on May 12, 2012:

Melovy, this was an interesting hub. Unfortunately, I am a sugar fan but I will certainly give some of these tips a try. I'm getting ready to start cutting down soon in time for my Summer holidays so, this has been a timely find.

Voted up and shared!

Yvonne Spence (author) from UK on March 12, 2012:

HI Debbie,

Glad you found this useful and thanks for your comment and vote up!

Deborah Brooks Langford from Brownsville,TX on March 11, 2012:

Great hub.. great info.. thanks for sharing

voted up


Yvonne Spence (author) from UK on March 11, 2012:

Hi Jamie Brock,

Glad you found it helpful. Small changes can lead to big changes and I’m so glad the tips feel do-able to you. That makes such a difference.

Thanks very much for your comment and vote!

Jamie Brock from Texas on March 11, 2012:

This is a very helpful hub, Melovy. I have an addiction to sugary carbs and I crave so much!!!! I am glad that you have shared these tips.. they are actually do-able. I'm bookmarking and voting up!!

Yvonne Spence (author) from UK on February 27, 2012:

Hi Sally’s Trove,

That’s a great suggestion. I will try that salad dressing - it sounds very tasty. Thanks so much for adding to the hub, and I’m glad you found it useful. Thanks for voting up!

Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on February 27, 2012:

These are excellent suggestions for reducing or eliminating sugar from your diet. I'd like to add that some nuts, such as raw cashews, add a slightly sweet flavor all their own. I use cashews when making oil-free vinaigrette salad dressing. When blended with the dressing ingredients, cashews add some thickness and creaminess in addition to a pleasant and mild sweetness. Voted up and useful!

Yvonne Spence (author) from UK on February 26, 2012:

Thanks very much for your comment alocsin, and you are right reducing gradually is a good idea.

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on February 25, 2012:

A gradual reduction is best -- but I'm sure your suggestion to cut it by half works just as well. I'm not a big sugarholic, so cutting it is no big difficulty for me. Voting this Up and Useful.

Yvonne Spence (author) from UK on December 14, 2011:

Hi vocalcoach,

Thanks very much for your comment. I’m glad you found the hub helpful - always my aim!

Stevia is great, but unfortunately it’s not available here in the UK. I got curious why and looked it up and apparently it’s banned in the EU because of insufficient data on it! (Though France has recently allowed it.) I have brought back many boxes after trips to the States but from what I’ve just been reading perhaps I shouldn’t mention that! I’ve also just read that some big manufacturers produce ‘Stevia' that actually contains very little Stevia and has not so great ingredients such as maltodextrin, so it pays to check packaging.

As for Bisphenol-A - I did think about writing a hub about it, and might yet, though I think Llama’s hub is excellent.

Thanks for the vote up, and for reading one of my older hubs.

Audrey Hunt from Idyllwild Ca. on December 13, 2011:

A very helpful hub! Thanks so much for your very good tips. I use stevia when I want a little sugar. Because it is an herb it can be found in most health food stores.

Really appreciate the warning against Bisphenol-A. I didn't know about this. You should write a hub for us. :)

I will read Steve Marks hubs on sugar as well as the hub by Llama on Bisphenol-A. I am bookmarking this to refer to from time to time as you have provided so many great tips. Thank you and voted UP and awesome!


Yvonne Spence (author) from UK on August 07, 2011:

Thank you Jacqui, glad you found the tips useful. I’d also recommend Steve Marks hubs on sugar as he has some very useful information on how to reduce cravings.

And thanks for following me! I will look up your hubs too.

jacqui2011 from Norfolk, UK on August 05, 2011:

Hi Melovy, very interesting hub with some useful tips. Thanks for sharing them. I definitely need to cut down on my sugar. I have such a sweet tooth. can't wait to read more of your hubs now I'm one of your followers!

Yvonne Spence (author) from UK on June 30, 2011:

Hi Jlbowden,

Thanks for your reading and commenting, and for the welcome to Hubpages. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

James Bowden from Long Island, New York on June 29, 2011:

Hello Melovy:

Enjoyed your article about ways to cut back or reduce sugar intake. You really included some great information, which I voted useful and that people who are addicted to sugar will really benefit from. I myself have a problem staying away from Iced Coffee and love to put 2 splendors in it. Thanks again for sharing and welcome to Hubpages-I look forward to reading more of your work.


Yvonne Spence (author) from UK on June 26, 2011:

Hi Sun-girl, thanks for reading. Glad you found it useful.

Sun-Girl from Nigeria on June 25, 2011:

Nice and well shared tips which i enjoyed reading from.

Yvonne Spence (author) from UK on June 20, 2011:

Hi Troy, thanks for reading and glad you found it interesting.

TroyM on June 19, 2011:


Its very interesting tips, cool. Keep it up.:)

Yvonne Spence (author) from UK on June 14, 2011:

@ Ashlea, I am really sorry, I meant to write ‘Hello’ in my reply to you. I don’t normally greet people in such an offhand way! :-)

Yvonne Spence (author) from UK on June 14, 2011:

Hello Spirit Whisperer and Sister Mary,

Thanks for your comments and glad you found this useful. With regards to the coating in cans - I found out about it a few years ago when WWF were petitioning the EU, and as they said ‘most’ cans have this bisphenol-a in the linings I expected that organic foods would be in those that didn’t have it. But I wrote to several manufacturers and each one confirmed they did use it, so I stopped using cans. I was really pleased to hear bisphenol had been banned in baby bottles.

I might write a hub about this one day soon.

Sister Mary from Isle of Man on June 14, 2011:

Thanks for the great tips ... off now to replace tin of tomatoes with fresh ones for pasta dish! I also love the idea of dates instead of sugar ... will also buy extra loo roll today!!!! lol

Xavier Nathan from Isle of Man on June 14, 2011:

This is a great hub with advice that anyone can follow. I love your practical tips and will certainly be taking your advice. I didn't know about the coating in cans and have used canned chopped tomatoes with many recipes. That must now stop! Thank you.

Yvonne Spence (author) from UK on June 14, 2011:

Hell Ashlea, Thanks for your comment - and for following me. Glad you found the tips useful. If you find it hard to give up sugar, do remember the last tip, which really just means be easy on yourself.

I’m still finding my way around this site so I’ll take a look at your hubs now.

Ashlea B on June 13, 2011:

Thanks for the info. Very interesting. Sugar is a hard one to give up, so these tips can be helpful. I do a few, but I have a long way to go!

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