Updated: March 18, 2020
Not everything about sugar is quite so sweet. Despite years of knowing sugar isn’t healthy, people are consuming more and more of it.1 The typical American diet is loaded with excessive amounts of added sugars. Added sugar is everywhere — most products on grocery store shelves have it (just check the back of the food label!).
On the road to healthier eating habits, one notable indulgence to ditch from your diet is empty calorie foods and drinks, which are typically high in sugar and lack nutritional value. Sweetened drinks, doughnuts and candies — we’re looking at you! When consumed in excess, empty calories can contribute to weight gain — and being overweight can lead to health issues such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.2
There are two types of sugars: naturally occurring and added sugars.
- Naturally occurring sugars can be found in fruit and milk.
- Added sugars can usually be found in packaged foods.
Natural occurring sugars typically aren’t the problem when it comes to most people’s diet — it’s added sugars.
Added sugars found in packaged foods are one of the biggest culprits of empty calories. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans advises limiting added sugars to less than 10% of total calories.3
To help you work toward your weight loss goals while enjoying your favorite foods, we’ve rounded up seven of the most sugary foods to avoid and healthier alternatives to enjoy.
1. Avoid these: sweetened cereals & yogurts
Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash
Despite sounding healthy, many cereals, flavored instant oatmeal, breakfast bars and flavored yogurts can be as high in sugar as a cookie. Starting your day with a sugary breakfast isn’t the best way to fuel your body — and may even lead to a sugar crash before lunch.
Enjoy these: Unsweetened versions of cereals, oatmeal and yogurt. Sweeten them with a little honey, or better yet, fresh fruit and spices. You’d be surprised how well a diced apple sprinkled with cinnamon, nutmeg or cardamom pairs with plain nonfat Greek yogurt or oatmeal.
2. Avoid these: energy bars
Did you know that some energy bars can contain as many calories and added sugars as a typical candy bar? Don’t be fooled by a list of healthy ingredients like oats, nuts and grains. Make sure to take a look at all of the added ingredients.
Enjoy these: Get natural energy from whole foods. Non-starchy vegetables, protein-rich foods and fruit are all great snack options that are high in fiber and low in sugar content. String cheese and fruit or a piece of whole-grain toast with two tablespoons of mashed avocado are quick and easy foods to satisfy your hunger. You can also make deviled eggs out of one hard-boiled egg and use a little mashed avocado or Dijon mustard with the yolk instead of mayonnaise and top it with smoked paprika for a snack that’s rich in nutrients.
3. Avoid these: specialty coffee drinks and smoothies
Photo by Sebastian Coman Photography
If you want to reduce your sugar consumption, your morning routine is the first place to start. A small frozen mocha coffee can contain more grams of sugar than a bowl of ice cream!5,6
Enjoy these: Create a specialty drink yourself! Pre-make flavored ice by pouring cooled coffee into ice cube trays. Combine 3-4 coffee ice cubes in a blender with ½ of a frozen banana, one scoop of protein powder or a Jenny Craig shake mix, and about ½ cup low-fat milk or plain, unsweetened yogurt. If you’re using a milk alternative, such as almond milk, opt for an unsweetened version. Make it a little more decadent by adding a teaspoon of cacao powder or instant espresso powder.
If you want more of a fruit flavor, replace the banana with ½ cup frozen fruit of your choice. Top it off with a splash of coconut water and blend. For a well-balanced diet, make sure to measure the fruit since typical smoothies can contain over the recommended two fruit servings a day. Remember, ½ to 1 cup of fresh/frozen fruit counts as one fruit choice.
Even quicker: Jenny Craig shake mixes featuring probiotics. They contain perfectly portable protein, fiber and nearly half the amount of sugar and calories of a typical shake or smoothie.7
4. Avoid these: cookies, cakes & candies
While avoiding treats loaded with simple carbohydrates might seem like a no-brainer, they sometimes can be tricky to spot. Labels like “gluten-free” and “all-natural” can lead you to believe that certain snacks are healthier than they actually are.
Enjoy these: Instead of a calorie-dense and sugar-packed dessert, try one of these six healthy low-sugar desserts, featuring yogurt and fresh fruit.
Even quicker: Jenny Craig’s Chocolate Lava Cake is sure to satisfy your sweet tooth while keeping you on track! Garnish with a few raspberries or sliced strawberries and enjoy every bite.
5. Avoid these: sugar-sweetened beverages
Photo by Julia Zolotova on Pexels
Soda isn’t the only drink loaded with added sugar. Sugar-sweetened ice teas, sports drinks and energy drinks can contain upwards of 50 grams of sugar per serving!8
Enjoy these: Reach for seltzer water with a splash of no-sugar-added juice. Even better: Try infusing water with cucumber and crushed mint, lemon and chopped basil, or slices of mixed citrus.
6. Avoid these: specialty cocktails
You know the usual suspects: margaritas, mimosas, mojitos and more. They’re all specialty cocktails that are loaded with sugar. Many of these drinks include sugary-mixes on top of the empty calories that alcohol already provides.
Enjoy these: If you’re trying to lose weight, we recommend avoiding cocktails altogether. However, if you do imbibe, try to keep the ingredient list simple. For example, instead of ordering the house margarita, order a drink made with tequila, fresh lime juice and soda water. If you like it spicy, ask for a jalapeño-infused one, which will make you sip it even slower. If mimosas are more your thing, try and avoid premixed varieties, which are typically half champagne and half orange juice. Ask for plain champagne with a small glass of fruit juice on the side to control how much juice you add. A tablespoon should be enough! Always consume in moderation.
Better yet, order a nonalcoholic drink. Soda water with lime, unsweetened iced tea or water with lemon slices are all great options. Focus on enjoying your company during happy hour and we bet you’ll still have a great time! Cheers!
7. Avoid this: Premade tomato sauce
Photo by Misky on Unsplash
Just a cup of premade tomato sauce can contain almost nine grams of sugar, which is surprising for a savory condiment.9 Add that to a cup of spaghetti, and you’ll reach 10 grams of sugar very quickly.10
Enjoy this: Make your own sauce with fresh tomatoes, garlic and a little water. Simmer for a few minutes until the tomatoes have broken down and season with pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and fresh herbs, like basil and parsley. Cook the tomatoes with chopped onions and peppers for extra flavor.
The bottom line
You don’t have to eliminate sweets entirely from your diet to reach your weight loss goals, but scaling back on your sugar consumption is a great place to start. Use the tips above to make healthy swaps and get on the path to living a healthier lifestyle.
Want some assistance when it comes to making smart meal choices? Jenny Craig can help. Contact us today for a free 15-minute consultation to get started.
Elisa is a content marketing manager for Jenny Craig with over ten years of experience working in the health and fitness industry. She loves sharing her passion for living a balanced and healthy lifestyle. A San Diego native and an endurance sports enthusiast, you can usually find her swimming, biking along the coast highway or running by the beach in her free time. Elisa holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University, Chico.
Favorite healthy snack: mozzarella string cheese with a Pink Lady apple
Briana is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, California. She is passionate about utilizing food as functional and preventative medicine. Guided by a simplistic and optimistic approach, Briana’s philosophy is to help people improve their health and achieve their goals through the development of sustainable habits to live a healthy life. In her free time, you can find her strength training, indoor cycling, coffee tasting, and at local eateries with her husband and two dogs.
Favorite healthy snack: peanut butter with celery alongside a grapefruit-flavored sparkling water (so refreshing!)
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and was written by an experienced health and lifestyle contributor and reviewed by certified professionals.
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