Cut Down on Sugar! practical & healthy snack ideas from a dietitian

Jessica Penner, RDNutrition, Virtual Grocery Store Tour2 Comments

low sugar snack ideas

This post was developed through a sponsored collaboration with KIND healthy snacks.  However, all opinions are mine!

“I know what I should do, I just can’t do it.”

I hear this a lot from my clients.

How about you? You know you probably shouldn’t eat so much sugar, but are you confident that you can eat less? You probably think the problem is your willpower. You’re probably beating yourself up about it.

The good news is that your problem may be more of a knowledge problem than a willpower problem. In a recent survey conducted by Leger and KIND, Canadians shows that many are worried about their sugar intake, but don’t have the practical knowledge to reduce it.

I observe three typical reactions to this scenario:

  1. Let fear reign and try to quit sugar altogether. Ban it from your diet! This type of restriction usually sets people up for failure, because of the nature of “forbidden fruit.” Once a food is forbidden, we just want it more! Restrictive diets often fail, and there isn’t any scientific evidence that cutting out all sugar is a helpful choice for a healthy body.
  2. Just say “screw it” and eat whatever you want. If you can’t stop eating too much anyways, you might as well eat to your heart’s content. YOLO!
  3. Seek the advice of a Registered Dietitian. Going to see a nutritional professional makes sense. We are trained to turn complex nutritional science into practical advice for the everyday person.

Most people choose one of the first two options. The result is that, yes, many Canadians are consuming more sugar than is recommended for optimal health. And they don’t even realize the full extent of the problem.

In this same survey, people estimated “other” foods (eg. convenience snacks and sweetened drinks) supplied 20% of their sugar intake. This guess was off by 15%! Stats Canada results show that sugar from “other” foods is around 35% of total intake.

So Canadians know they’re eating too much sugar, but they don’t know the extent/nature of the problem, or how to fix it.

I’m assuming you’re here for the third option: good advice from a registered dietitian! With some practical tips, you should find it’s not even that hard to reduce sugar intake, without sacrificing taste!

the sugar recommendations

First, let’s examine the sugar recommendations we’re aiming for here. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that no more than 5-10% of our calories come from added sugars. For the average person who eats 2000 calories a day, that’s 25-50g of added sugars. Naturally-occurring sugar from whole fruit and dairy products aren’t counted in this category.

Why is this important?

When we eat sugar that’s been added to food, it’s different than when we eat naturally-occurring sugars. Refined sugar is easy to eat in excess and gets taken up into your bloodstream quickly, where it spikes your blood sugar levels. Naturally-occurring sugar comes in foods that are high in fibre, protein, and/or fat. This slows down digestion, which means your blood sugar levels will rise less quickly.

For this reason, the WHO’s recommendations are the ones I personally recommend. Health Canada’s recommendations overly simplify the situation by lumping both types of sugar together for a 100g daily maximum.

This over-simplification has a downside: it can turn people away from the benefits of eating whole foods. Let’s say I max out my 100g daily limit of sugar by having a can of pop and a piece of cake. Does that mean I should then eat chips instead of an apple, to avoid the sugar in the apple?

The other reason I dislike Health Canada’s recommendations is that everybody’s calorie needs vary. Should the petite old lady have the same recommendation as the young male soccer player? Unlikely.

So, without further ado, here are some important tips for getting your added sugar levels down to the recommended levels.

Chocolate Berry Pavlova

1) save the sugar for dessert

I don’t know about you, but I sure enjoy dessert. On birthday celebrations, my mother-in-law makes an ice cream cake for each of her children, including in-laws (yay for me)! The whole family looks forward to enjoying a slice after a birthday dinner. I want to continue to enjoy special treats like that without eating too much sugar overall. To do that, I focus on keeping my core, everyday foods low in sugar.

For example, I love yogurt, and I love the health benefits of yogurt, but most flavoured yogurt is high in sugar. Probiotic yogurt is a great, healthy everyday food choice, so most people accept all that sugar as a necessary trade-off. This is a great opportunity to cut down on sugar!

On my website you’ll find a few ideas for tasty low-sugar yogurt alternatives, but what I end up doing most often is the simplest option. I buy one sweetened, flavoured container of yogurt, and one natural, unsweetened container. Then I mix them together. This gives me total control over how sweet the yogurt is.

At first you may find that your taste preferences only allow you to mix a little bit of the unsweetened yogurt in.  But, amazingly, your tastebuds will adjust over time, and you should be able to increase the unsweetened ratio gradually. The key here is gradually. Don’t get discouraged because your tastebuds don’t adjust right away. After years of practicing this, I now aim for about 3/4 unsweetened, 1/4 sweetened. 75% less sugar!

low sugar yogurt with bananas, almond butter, and coconut

Because of how tastebuds acclimatize to lower sugar options, making these types of choices every day has some huge benefits for me.

  1. Since I’m not used to overly sweetened yogurt, it’s not a sacrifice for me to choose a low-sugar yogurt option. I enjoy it fully!
  2. When I do have dessert, I only need a small amount to be satisfied. If my core diet was high in sugar, my tastebuds would be somewhat “deadened” to the sugar and would seek a higher amount.

2) focus on afternoon snacking

People often reach for a high-sugar snack in the afternoon. This is a great time of day to focus on reducing sugar intake.

If you eat lunch at noon, work until five, commute home, then make supper… you might not be eating until 6:30 or 7:00. That’s a long time to go without eating!

Most people will fill that time with a snack. If you make sure your snack is A) well-timed, and B) well-planned, you can make that snack work for you.

  • A) Well-timed. You want to eat at a time that leaves you with a good appetite for a nutritious dinner. If you eat your snack too early, it might leave you vulnerable to the drive-thru temptation on the drive home. The optimal timing will vary from person to person, but a good snack time is probably 2-3 hours before supper.
  • B) Well-planned. Planning ahead helps you avoid high sugar options that appeal to you in your moment of hunger. The donut store snack will only spike your sugars and send you crashing back into hunger an hour later. Plan what food you’ll have for snack in advance, when you’re not hungry. This makes it easier to choose the low-sugar option. When snack-planning is a regular habit, you’ll be able to cut down on that daily sugar consumption.

In order to plan in advance, you’ll need to have some tasty options for low-sugar snacks. Try out some of these yummy ideas!

low sugar snack ideas

ricotta toast with cherry tomatoes and basil = 192 calories, 12g protein, 3g sugar, 3g fibre

  • 1/4 cup ricotta = 90 calories, 7g protein, 0g sugar, 0g fibre
  • 5 cherry tomatoes = 15 calories, 1g protein, 2g sugar (naturally occurring), 1g fibre
  • 1 slice whole grain toast = 87 calories, 4g protein, 1g sugar, 2g fibre

Ricotta is a fresh cheese that’s high in protein and has no sugar. Spread it on toast and flavour with toppings such as cherry tomatoes, avocadoes, or fresh fruit.

low sugar afternoon snacks

40g almond sea salt & dark chocolate KIND bar = 200 calories, 6g protein, 5g sugar, 7g fibre

Compare this to the leading competitive energy & nutrition bar, which has 23g of sugar! Many nutrition bars are not much better than a chocolate bar, which has about 27g sugar! The ingredient lists are short and to the point: you’ll only find all natural, great tasting ingredients and flavourings in KIND snack bars. The fibre and protein content will keep you satiated until dinner. Keep KIND bars in your purse or desk drawer for a filling, flavourful afternoon snack!

low sugar afternoon snacks

flavoured tuna in celery sticks = 122 calories, 19g protein, 2g sugar, 1g fibre

  • 1 (85g) can lemon pepper tuna = 110 calories, 18g protein, 1g sugar, 0g fibre
  • 2 medium stalks celery = 12 calories, 1g protein, 1g sugar (naturally occurring), 1g fibre

Celery sticks are great vehicles for adding low sugar fillings such as flavoured tuna, almond butter, or hummus.

low sugar snacks

½ cup (shelled) edamame beans = 134 calories, 12g protein, 2g sugar, 4g fibre

Edamame beans are young, green soybeans. They are available in snack size steam bags that you can pop into the microwave. Lightly sprinkle with salt or nutritional yeast for an easy, filling snack!

low sugar afternoon snacks

strawberries with cottage cheese = 115 cals, 16g protein, 7g sugar, 2g fibre

  • ½ cup sliced strawberries = 29 cals, 1g protein, 4g sugar (naturally occurring), 2g fibre
  • ½ cup cottage cheese = 86 cals, 15g protein, 3g sugar (naturally occurring), 0g fibre

Although they taste sweet berries are lower in sugar than most other fruit. Balance the sweet taste of strawberries with protein-packed cottage cheese and you’ll have a filling afternoon snack that will bridge you over to supper time!

low sugar afternoon snacks

unflavoured iced latte

  • 12 oz iced latte (made with 2% milk)  = 100 calories, 8g protein, 11g sugar (naturally occurring), 0g fibre
  • 12 oz iced latte (made with soy beverage)  = 80 calories, 5g protein, 4g sugar, 1g fibre

An unsweetened latte from a coffee shop is a great choice if (ahem) you forgot to pack a snack. Most coffee shops also sell fresh fruit, so you can pair your latte with an apple for a source of fibre.

low sugar afternoon snacks

low sugar snacks

low sugar snack ideas for the afternoon

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