7 Easy Ways To Cut Down On Sugar

Sugar is, well, delicious. And addicting. Let’s face it: It’s hard to tame a sweet tooth when sugar is hidden in almost everything we eat, from bread to ketchup to granola.

While some sugar—the kind that occurs naturally in fruits and dairy products, which also provide important nutrients and fiber—is totally fine, you need to watch out for the sugar that’s added to foods, like cereal and condiments. That added sugar usually equals empty calories, and eating too much of it can increase your risk of diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.

“Most people know that they’re having added sugars when they have a cookie or ice cream,” says nutritionist Kelly Kennedy, M.S., R.D. “But it’s the hidden forms of added sugars that really make it easy for people to overdo it without even realizing it.” Lucky for us, added sugar will be called out on food labels in the next few years (thanks, FDA!), but for now, you’ll have to check a food’s ingredient list to know if it contains the added stuff. You’ll see it as cane juice, corn syrup, agave, dextrose (and really anything ending in ‘-ose’), among other sneaky aliases.

Your move? Check nutrition labels and limit added sugar as much as possible. Guys should stay below nine teaspoons (or 45 grams) of added sugar a day, while women should stay below six teaspoons (or 30 grams), says Kennedy.

We tapped a few nutritionists for their go-to tips for avoiding sugar overload, so you can get your intake in check.

1. Whip Up Your Own Fruit Spreads

Think twice before smearing your usual jelly on your morning toast or PB&J sandwich. Yes, it’s (hopefully) made from real fruit, but it likely also contains an abundance of added sugars. Your favorite strawberry spread can pack up to 12 grams of sugar in just a single tablespoon—and that’s less than you’d probably use for your sammie.

A simple and delicious hack? Just mash up a quarter of a banana (about four grams of sugar) or a handful of strawberries (seven grams per cup) to use as a spread, says Melissa Rifkin, M.S., R.D., of Confessions of a Dietitian. You’ll cut both calories and sugar, and still satisfy your sweet tooth!

2. Ditch Premade Yogurt Parfaits

Yogurt seems like a healthy snack or breakfast option, but not all yogurts are created equal. Flavored yogurts—especially parfaits—can contain a ton of added syrup and sugar, says Rifkin. Two popular culprits: The Chobani Pumpkin Harvest Crisp Flip, which contains 17 grams of sugar and lists evaporated cane sugar, sugar, brown sugar, and rice syrup as ingredients, and the Fage Honey With Glazed Pecans Crossover, which contains 19 grams of sugar and lists honey and cane sugar as ingredients.

Related: What A Day Of Sugar-Free Eating Looks Like

Healthify these creamy eats by making your own parfait. Start with unsweetened, low-fat yogurt and top it with fresh diced fruit, nuts, or even a drizzle of peanut butter.

3. Clean Up Your Condiments

Condiments, sauces, and dressings are notorious for being loaded with sugar (which is added to help preserve them), says Rifkin. Two of the biggest offenders out there? Ketchup and barbecue sauce. Two tablespoons of ketchup—a fraction of what we’d dip our fries in—pack ten grams of sugar, while two tablespoons of BBQ contain five.

Take stock of what’s in your fridge and stay away from anything with more than three grams or more of sugar per serving, she says. And, get creative by blending fresh tomatoes and herbs for pasta sauce or using salsa as salad dressing. “You’ll get added flavor and fiber from the veggies in the salsa,” Rifkin says.

4. Make A Few Swaps When Cooking Or Baking

Whenever a recipe calls for sugar—or a sugar-loaded ingredient—chances are there’s a healthy swap you can use instead.

Let’s start with breakfast foods like pancakes, waffles, or cereal, which are notoriously filled with simple carbs and sugar. If you usually add maple syrup or honey to your favorite breakfast treats, swap it for puréed fresh fruit and a few drops of maple syrup extract, suggests Rifkin. You can also turn to your spice cabinet for other flavoring options you can sprinkle on, like vanilla, cinnamon, or nutmeg, suggests the National Institutes of Health.

Related: Shop a variety of healthy baking ingredients.

And when it comes to baking breakfast treats, cookies, and cakes yourself, swap refined sugar for sweet, wholesome alternatives. “When I bake, I used banana to sweeten brownies, cookies, and sweat breads, instead of sugar,” says Rifkin. Swapping a banana in for sugar when you make brownies, for example, can save you about nine grams of sugar per chocolatey square.

5. Nix The Latte

Warning: your morning cup of Joe could have more sugar than a candy bar! (Yep, your average caramel macchiato is loaded with 33 grams of sugar.) And since sugar is hidden in even milks and creamers, go as black as possible, says Kennedy. If black coffee just isn’t your style, stick to just a splash of creamer, plain fat-free milk, or unsweetened almond milk, and try adding spices like cinnamon or nutmeg for a little warm flavor.

6. Switch Up Your Hydration Game

There’s nothing quite as satisfying as a glass of cold lemonade or fizzy fountain soda, but they’re notorious for being loaded with sugar. Just one eight-ounce lemonade can pack as much as 28 grams of sugar.

Nix sweetened bevvies from your routine and keep some flavor by squeezing fresh lemon into your water. You can even add herbs like lavender to really keep your taste buds engaged, says Kennedy. Need something sweeter? Slice your favorite fresh fruit and pop it into your water.

7. Find Lower-Sugar Versions Of Your Favorite Treats

Sometimes you just need a few scoops of Ben and Jerry’s most delicious ice cream creations—but sugar and calories add up quick, with 27 grams of sugar in half a cup of our favorite flavor.

To satisfy a sweet tooth without the sugar rush (or waistline woes), try blending a frozen banana with some peanut butter, matcha, cocoa powder, or fresh fruit to make ‘nice cream,’ suggests Kennedy. (Check out eight of our favorite ‘nice cream’ recipes here.) Or, look for lower-sugar treats at the supermarket, like Halo Top ice cream, which contains just five grams of sugar in half a cup. Halo Top, like many of these other lightened-up treats, is sweetened with stevia and erythritol (a sugar alcohol that’s lower in calories) instead of regular sugar. (You can learn more about all the popular sugars here.)

Keep your sugar in the safe zone with this handy infographic: 

What To Know About Fitness & Nutrition Post-Menopause

As much as women who get their periods may dread the monthly cramps and cravings, the hot flashes, mood swings, and weight gain that often come with menopause are equally frustrating.

Most women hit menopause in their 40s or 50s, when their ovaries slow their production of estrogen and progesterone (which regulate menstrual cycles, help the body use calcium, and support healthy cholesterol) and fat cells begin to take over that production. As this happens, their periods become irregular and eventually stop.

The hormonal changes during menopause can spur a decrease in muscle mass and an increase in body fat, which result in a slowed metabolism, along with bone thinning, which can lead to osteoporosis. These changes also increase the threat risk factors for cardiovascular disease like high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

That’s why it’s more important than ever to ramp up your focus on diet and exercise to prevent the weight gain, stress, muscle loss, and other issues that menopause may bring, says Marta Montenegro, M.S., C.S.C.S., certified nutrition and exercise physiologist for IVFMD, South Florida Institute for Reproductive Center.

Update your eats and workouts with this expert advice so you can sail through menopause (and the years beyond) as smoothly as possible.

Your Post-Menopause Diet

It’s hard to reboot decades of eating habits, but as the metabolism slows down during menopause, it’s especially important to monitor calorie intake, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., creator of Better Than Dieting. “Be mindful of portion sizes, since weight issues are often attributed to the quantity of what you eat, not just the quality,” she says. The USDA recommends splitting your plate equally between fruit, vegetables, protein, and grains at each meal. Keep these portion sizes in mind to make sure you take in a balance of nutrients and don’t overeat.

Taub-Dix recommends sticking to whole grains for carbs, healthy sources like avocado or nuts for fat, and lean meats, beans, eggs, tofu, cheese, and almond butter for protein. Aim to eat between 25 and 30 grams of protein per meal, she says. Since one of protein’s many functions is supporting muscle mass, it’s especially important as we age and start to trade that muscle for fat.

During menopause, declining estrogen levels lower your defenses against the breakdown of bone tissue and increase risk factors for cardiovascular disease, so you’ll want to adjust your diet to support strong bones and a healthy heart. This is where two essential menopause-friendly nutrients come in: calcium and vitamin D.

Calcium builds healthy, strong bones, and vitamin D helps you absorb that calcium. Shoot for 1200 mg of calcium (which can be found in milk, Greek yogurt, cheese, and broccoli) per day, says Taub-Dix. And for vitamin D, you’ll want 600 IU a day between ages 51 and 70, and 800 IU a day beyond 70. Vitamin D can be found in cod liver oil, sockeye salmon, egg yolks, and many fortified milks and cereals.

Two of the main heart-related concerns women have post-menopause are high cholesterol and high blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). To support your heart health, incorporate foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids, which can help to lower blood pressure and decrease triglyceride (bad cholesterol) levels, into your diet, the AHA recommends. You’ll find omega-3s in fatty fish such as salmon and albacore tuna, avocado, walnuts, and flax seeds, says Taub-Dix. To reap the benefits, try to eat two servings of fatty fish (omegas’ most powerful food sources) per week, says the AHA.

Related: Talk to your doc about whether a fish oil supplement is right for you.

Cutting down on or avoiding caffeine, alcohol, excess salt, and cigarettes—which all contribute to high blood pressure—can also support your heart health post-menopause.

Your Workouts Post-Menopause

During and after menopause, your muscle mass decreases, your metabolism slows down, and fatigue hits an all-time high, which makes sticking to a steady fitness routine is more important than ever.

Estrogen appears to influence where the body stores fat, and as it decreases during menopause many women notice they start to carry more weight around the middle (versus around their hips), according to The Mayo Clinic. The downside of having more belly fat goes beyond your clothing not fitting like they used to—it can increase your risk for chronic conditions such as diabetes, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular disease, says Montenegro.

Plus, in addition to the metabolism slow-down that comes with menopause, many women become less active in middle age (fatigue playing a large part in this), which has a huge impact on body fat. To combat the uptrend of body fat—and the downtrend of muscle—your goal is to get moving in any capacity, and to make strength training your new best friend, Montenegro says.

Regular cardio can help ward off heart disease, while strength-training offers a two-for-one combo of other benefits. When you load your body (whether using your own bodyweight, dumbbells, a weighted vest, or a medicine ball), your bones hold onto the minerals they need to stay strong, which can help prevent or lessen the impact of osteoporosis, according to the American Council on Exercise. Plus, strength training also helps you maintain and build muscle mass, which keeps your metabolism stay as revved as possible, makes weight management easier, and preserves your mobility.

Related: 6 Ways To Use A Medicine Ball For A Total Body Workout

If you’re new to strength training, start with bodyweight exercises like pushups, pullups, squats, and lunges, says Montenegro. As you feel comfortable, you can progress to weighted exercises.

She suggests strength training twice a week, doing cardio (like running, swimming, or rowing) twice a week, and participating in a mind-body activity (like yoga) once a week. Even just 30 minutes of activity a day will make a difference, she says.

5 Weight-Loss Trends That Aren’t Worth The Effort

If you live a healthy lifestyle, you know there are a lot of pretty convincing fitness, wellness, and weight loss trends out there. The thing is, not all trends are worth your time—especially the ones that tout “fast” and “easy” weight loss.

It’s hard to resist a supposed shortcut to the body you want, but anything that promises results without much effort on your part is probably a sham, says Diana Mitrea, C.P.T., founder of Stronger With Time. “It took years to look the way you do today, and it’s going to take time to change that,” she says.

The best road to weight loss is a holistic approach that involves a diet based in whole foods, regular exercise, and a healthy mindset, says Mitrea. So forget quick fix-claiming trends—like the five fads we rounded up here:

Trend #1: Going Gluten-Free

Gluten-free menus, recipes, and products have been popping up like crazy over the past few years, and many people are eliminating this protein (which is found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye) hoping it will help them lose weight.

But here’s the truth: Gluten itself isn’t an issue unless you have certain health conditions, like celiac disease, in which gluten causes inflammation in your small intestine, says Melissa Rifkin, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N. And let’s be real: A gluten-free cookie is still a cookie, and a gluten-free diet can still be unhealthy if it’s highly processed.

For most people, ditching gluten is not only an ineffective weight-loss strategy. Actually, it can hinder overall nutrition, since gluten-containing grains contain micronutrients (like fiber and calcium) our bodies need for daily function, Rifkin says.

Related: 5 Healthier Noodles (That Aren’t Zoodles) For When You’re Craving Pasta

While going gluten-free won’t directly lead to weight loss, cutting back on processed wheat products like pasta and bread can support your efforts. “Reducing your wheat consumption and replacing those foods with whole foods like fruits and vegetables can reduce your overall calorie intake,” Rifkin says. (A cup of zucchini noodles contains more than 100 fewer calories than a cup of regular pasta, after all.) And cutting back on calories is a huge factor in dropping pounds.

Trend #2: Botox Injections

People are no longer using Botox just to smooth wrinkles—some have gotten injections of it in an attempt to lose weight.

The theory is that injecting Botox into the stomach can slow digestion and increase feelings of fullness. And while an initial study suggested it might be effective, a recent study published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology found that 24 weeks of gastric Botox injections did not affect weight loss in obese participants, even though it did delay the emptying of their stomachs after eating. In an American Gastroenterological Association press release, the study’s lead author Mark Topazian, M.D., recommended against using Botox for weight-loss purposes—so this trend is out.

Trend #3: Crystals

Could rubbing your lucky crystals each night help you wake up a few pounds lighter? Some folks—particularly those interested in new-age spirituality—are turning to these rock formations to power up and rejuvenate their bodies for better focus, motivation, and even weight loss.

For example, amethyst has been said to help its users overcome bad habits or addictions, like overeating, while apatite has been said to help—yep, you guessed it—suppress your appetite. Some crystal therapy experts recommend carrying the stones around with you, holding them for a moment before each meal, and placing them over your belly after eating.

While using a crystal as a symbol of willpower, self-reflection, and intention may be powerful for some people, there’s no scientific research to support the idea that crystals can help you slim down. “At the end of the day, weight loss is about creating a calorie deficit,” says Rifkin. It’s all about eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise.

Trend #4: The Sirtfood Diet

The Sirtfood Diet, which hit the diet trend scene hard a few years ago, is popular because it allows two typically non-diet-y things: chocolate and red wine.

The diet is all about eating foods high in certain plant compounds (called polyphenols) that activate genes known as sirtuins, which may support anti-aging, increase metabolism, and boost fat loss, according to research out of MIT. While many of these sirtuin-activating foods are nutrient-dense—such as green apples, parsley, and kale—the Sirtfood Diet gets a little loopy by claiming you can lose seven pounds in seven days by eating them (and only them).

“People are intrigued by the sirtfood diet because of its scientific sound, and though there is science behind sirtuins, be wary of getting swept away by the diet trend,” says Rifkin. Because of their high nutrient content and cell-protecting properties, many ‘sirtfoods’ have a place in a healthy diet and can aid in weight loss, says Rifkin. But instead of eating all sirtuins all the time, focus on incorporating them into a healthy diet that also includes non-‘sirt’ (but still nutritious) foods like whole grains and lean protein.

Trend #5: Cryotherapy

Would you step into a freezing cold chamber to drop a few pounds? Cryotherapy, a three-minute treatment that involves standing in a chamber ranging from -200 to -300 degrees, has been touted for its sport and fitness-related recovery benefits—but it’s recently taken on a new M.O.

Now people are flocking to these ice chambers to “chill off” the weight—and understandably so, considering some cryotherapy providers claim the treatment revs your metabolism, reduces cellulite, and can help you lose inches from your waist.

Cold stimulation is an effective recovery method for athletes, according to a study published in Sports Medicine. The research on cryotherapy and weight loss, though? Lacking. According to the FDA, the effects cold temperatures have on metabolism, blood pressure, and heart rate are simply unknown. So while you may benefit from cryotherapy if you’re dealing with minor pain or swelling from exercise, there’s little evidence to support the treatment as a solution for weight management, says Mitrea.

Related: Shop recovery supplements to give your body a boost after tough workouts.