The Sugar Lover’s Guide to Heart Health

You notice that visits to the doctor have been riddled with tests and questions about your eating habits; namely, your intake of fat, sugar and salt. Perhaps your physician has advised monitoring added sugar consumption -- which, according to the experts at the Institute of Medicine, should be no more than 25 percent of your total daily calories -- and there’s good reason.

You likely know that lowering your sugar intake is one component that may help reduce high blood sugar levels and your risk of type 2 diabetes. And according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, these two factors, over time, have an impact on heart health.

It’s understandable, though, if the thought of reducing your sugar intake may seem daunting or impossible. Fortunately, it’s possible to reduce your sugar consumption without falling into a ho-hum diet. Here, registered dietitian Jenny Champion offers five small ways to reduce sugar in your meals and still get a big, flavorful payoff:

1. Go frozen.
Love the sweet taste of canned fruit with your breakfast? “Swap it with no-sugar-added frozen fruit,” says Champion. You’ll cut the sugar and still enjoy a dose of fruity sweetness.

2. Make a better trail mix.
Calling all trail mix lovers: Reduce the sugar in this tasty treat by replacing chocolate candy bits with crunchy cereal (say, 1 cup), suggests Champion. Swapping this amount can actually reduce the amount of sugar by upward of 60 percent, providing a unique texture that satisfies the need for sweetness and crunch.

3. Rethink barbecue sauce.
We’re often heavy-handed with sauces during barbecue season, and unfortunately, “barbecue sauce is high in sugar,” says Champion. Instead of packaged solutions, zero out added sugar by coating food in healthy oil (such as olive oil) and rubbing on a mixture of cumin, chili powder and other spices. “I recommend these healthy fats (in moderation) and spices over non-nutritive barbecue sauces with sugar,” she says.

4. Make this DIY topping.
Speaking of condiments, you may be hard-pressed to guess which one is one of the top sugar-containing culprits. The answer: Ketchup. “It’s loaded with both sodium and sugar,” says Champion. Consider buying a reduced-sugar or sugar-free option, or opting for a DIY version with chopped, fresh tomatoes instead.

5. Eat healthier dessert.
It may seem obvious, but choosing fruit instead of cake or brownies can help cut down on sugar, says Champion. Yes, some “fruit still has sugar, but it also has the potential to provide filling fiber and healthy vitamins and nutrients,” she adds.