Low/No Sugar Basics: How to Start a Low Sugar or Sugar Free Diet

Low No Sugar Diet Basics by The Allergy Chef

If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance you’re either curious about your daily sugar consumption, or you’ve been told to consume less sugar. Either way, welcome! I’m not going to sugar coat it (har har), if you’re going from the Standard American Diet (SAD) to a low/no sugar diet, you’ve got some rough days ahead of you. However, I also want to encourage you! This is a great time to take control of your health, lower inflammation, feel better overall, and improve your quality of life.

It’s important to remember that no two people are the same, and variables such as age, gender, and genetics are going to influence how sugar impacts individuals. There’s a lot that we know from science, medicine, and data about sugar. There’s also a lot we can learn from common sense and intuition.

Often times people get caught up in the marketing messages revolving food. Low sugar, low fat, low carb, low sodium, and so on. A few key things to remember. Carbs in moderation are great for most people. They’re a good source of energy, and whole grains will generally be the better choice. Fat is critical for your survival. I’m talking clean, healthy, whole food fats here. That keeps the brain and other organs moving along nicely. Sodium (salt) is also required for your survival, but not in the amounts you find in SAD processed foods.

Sugar… you can absolutely survive without eating another drop of cane sugar. Let that sink in for a moment.

Basic Information on Sugar

Sugar can be defined in so many different ways. What most are familiar with would be white sugar which is also known as cane sugar, table sugar, or refined sugar. Sugar cane is a plant in the grass family and grows in tall stalks. There’s machinery that presses the canes so they release their sweet juices. If you ever have the chance to drink pure sugar cane fresh pressed, it’s a very interesting flavour.

From sugar cane we get molasses, turbinado sugar (sugar in the raw), dark brown sugar, light brown sugar, cane/white/table sugar, cane juice, and glucose.

Also know that anything ending in ‘ose’ refers to a type of sugar (not exclusively cane sugar). Lactose = Milk Sugar. In the case of lactose, it’s a naturally occurring sugar found in milk, the way you’d find natural sugars in carrots and sweet potatoes.

What is Sugar, Officially?

By definition, sugar is a sweet crystalline substance found in various plants, especially in sugar cane and sweet beets. Sucrose is extracted and used to sweeten food and beverages.

We can add to that and say that it’s any class of soluble, crystalline, typically sweet-tasting carbohydrate. If you’ve ever heard that some foods are naturally sweet, this is why. Foods such as apples, sweet potatoes, and dates contain sweet-tasting carbohydrates.

List of Names of Sugar You May Not Have Heard Before

Not everything here is derived from sugar cane or beet. Instead, these are all forms of sugars found in commercial foods. Some of these sugars are naturally occurring whilst others are a processed product.

  • Agave Nectar
  • Apple Syrup
  • Barley Malt
  • Beet Sugar
  • Brown Rice Syrup
  • Brown Sugar
  • Buttered Syrup
  • Cane Juice Crystals
  • Cane Sugar
  • Caramel
  • Carob Syrup
  • Cassava Syrup
  • Castor Sugar
  • Corn Syrup
  • Corn Syrup Solids
  • Confectioner’s Sugar
  • Coconut Nectar
  • Coconut Sugar
  • D-Ribose
  • Date Sugar
  • Demerara Sugar
  • Dextrin
  • Dextrose
  • Diastatic Malt
  • Diastase
  • Ethyl Maltol
  • Fructose
  • Fruit Juice
  • Fruit Juice Concentrate
  • Galactose
  • Glucose
  • Glucose Solids
  • Golden Sugar
  • Grape Sugar
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Honey
  • Icing Sugar
  • Invert Sugar
  • Isomalt
  • Lactose
  • Maltodextrin
  • Maltose
  • Malt Syrup
  • Maple Sugar
  • Maple Syrup
  • Molasses
  • Monk Fruit
  • Muscovado Sugar
  • Piloncillo (also known as Panela or Panocha)
  • Raw Sugar
  • Refiner’s Syrup
  • Rice Syrup
  • Sorbitol
  • Sorghum Syrup
  • Sucanat
  • Sucrose
  • Sugar
  • Table Sugar
  • Tapioca Syrup
  • Treacle
  • Turbinado Sugar
  • Yellow Sugar

Alternative Sweeteners Used to Sweeten Your Foods

But wait! There’s more! In addition to that very long list of sweeteners above, there are more ingredients you’ll see on labels that indicate its a sweetener. Many of these fall under the category of sugar alcohols.

  • Allulose
  • Erythritol
  • Ethylene Glycol
  • Mannitol
  • Ribitol
  • Sorbitol
  • Stevia
  • Xylitol

Refined Sugar vs Unrefined Sugar

You’ll hear the term Refined Sugar Free around here quite a bit. Here’s the thing about sugar: it’s not ALL bad for you, especially in moderation. Refined, highly refined, or highly processed sugar, that’s where most people get into trouble. The more white a product is, that’s generally an indicator that it’s been stripped of nutrients etc.

Additionally, the further from its natural state a product is, the more refined it is. The least refined sweeteners include:

  • Applesauce
  • Coconut Sugar
  • Dates
  • Honey
  • Maple Sugar/Syrup

I’m sure you noticed it’s a pretty short list. You might be wondering why something like stevia isn’t on the list. Let me ask you: is the plant white? Because the powder they use in your food certainly is.

It’s also important to note that not everyone will be able to tolerate these particular sweeteners and will rely on something more processed. It’s not the end of the world, especially in moderation. Where possible, eliminate highly refined sugars and ones that we KNOW are bad for you. Looking at you high fructose corn syrup.

Our Personal Sugar Preference

Our personal preference in our home is honey, date sugar, and maple. These three are closest to their original form with the least amount of processing. I’m personally not ok when you take a green plant and sell it as a white powder.

When I’m wanting to use something derived from cane sugar, I use organic white sugar, organic light brown sugar, and organic dark brown sugar. I’ve been known to use caster sugar from time to time, which is a very fine grain form of cane sugar. I also use organic powdered sugar.

I’m sure you noticed it’s all organic. The deeper you go in food, the more you learn, and the cleaner you’ll want to eat. You won’t make this switch overnight. I also have the added pressure of having a Kid Three to feed. He requires very special food.

The Story of Kid Three by The Allergy Chef

Artificial Sweeteners vs Alternative Sweeteners

These days the market has been flooded with alternative and artificial sweeteners, and it’s important to know the difference between the two.

Artificial sweeteners have been shown to cause SO MANY problems health-wise. We have a friend that has seizures when served artificial sweeteners. Yes, you can absolutely have an extreme response to some of the ingredients used in foods.

Artificial sweeteners you’ve heard of may include:

  • Acesulfame Potassium
  • Aspartame
  • Lactitol
  • Neotame
  • Saccharin

This is by no means an exhaustive list. In fact, this website has a comprehensive list of artificial sweeteners that also includes safety data. If only this kind of information were printed on food labels. I can dream, right?

Alternative sweeteners, on the other hand come from plants, are generally heavily processed (which is why we personally avoid so many), and are sold commercially. These include ingredients such as allulose, monk fruit, and stevia.

Why Are You Going Low/No Sugar?

There are several reasons a person might choose to adopt a low/no sugar diet. The WHY is rather important because it determines what kind of foods you’ll need to eliminate. The most common reasons to adopt a low/no sugar diet include:

  • Newly Diagnosed Diabetic
  • Fructose Intolerant
  • Sugar Cane Allergy or Intolerance
  • Grass Family Cross Reactive
  • GI/Candida Issues
  • Special Diet (Paleo, GAPs, AIP, SCD, Whole 30)
  • Other Health Reasons

From there, you can make the best choices for you. For some of you, you’ll need to look at the glycemic (GI) scale of each sweetener and use what’s right for you. For others, you’ll need to use what’s legal/allowed on the diet you’re following. For some, none of the options in this article will be an option due to your condition.

What’s the RDA/RDI for sugar?

At the end of the day, you need to do what’s right for you. The RDA here in the US is 50/g a day for added sugar based on the new changes. It has also been stated in the past as no more than 10% of your daily calories should come from added sugars.

It’s important to note that the new government guidelines are the recommendations for ADDED sugars. Anything not in the food naturally is added. For example, a glass of whole milk has 9g of sugar from naturally occurring lactose. Those 9 grams don’t count against you per-say. Once you add your favorite chocolate syrup with 15g – 40g of sugar per serving, that’s where the counting starts.

In the UK the RDA is 90/g per day for adults, and this number INCLUDES sugars from milk, fruit, vegetables, and added sugars.

By no means, in my personal opinion, should anyone be aiming for those numbers in the US or UK. When we look at the 10% statement (which is no longer the norm) if you eat 2,000 calories per day, one could technically consume 200 calories of sugar. Let’s put that in perspective: 200 calories from sugar is roughly 54 grams, or almost 2 ounces. It may not seem like much, but it’s easier than you think to go over that number.

Even when sticking to government recommendations, if you’re not careful, you’ll hit your RDA before lunch time, especially if you eat like an average American on the SAD. Additionally, if you consume the “allowed” amount of added sugars PLUS loads of natural sugars, I promise, there’s a very good chance you’re eating too much sugar.

How To Go Low Sugar

There are some basic steps to take if you want to go low sugar. Honestly, the easiest method is to eliminate all pre-made processed foods and make everything at home. With this method, you know exactly what went into your food. However, let’s be honest, most people aren’t ready to do that.

What you’ll need to do is start by shopping the perimeter of your grocery store. This is usually where produce, meat, and dairy ingredients are found. The added sugars are mostly found in the middle of the store.

Next, you need to start reading food labels. Look for how much added sugar is in a product if that’s your main concern. For some, it’s going to be all sugar, even naturally occurring sugars. Know what your daily limit is and purchase products that will help you stay under the limit.

From there, start cooking and baking at home. If you’re not a baker, see if you can find Keto or Paleo treats in your area. These are generally going to contain either alternative sweeteners or whole food sweeteners.

How Can I Eat Low Sugar

Eating low sugar, in my humble opinion, starts at home. This is especially true if you’re on a budget. If you have money to burn, find high end restaurants that focus on farm-to-table, or fine dining. They generally use a lot less sugar than the typical American restaurant.

You can eat low sugar by eating real food. Need a snack? Get some celery and nut/seed butter. Want breakfast? Heat up oatmeal and stir in a little cinnamon and a chopped date. It’s small choices like these that are going to create a low/no sugar eating plan for you.

If you’re stuck on HOW to start, download our 3 Day Meal Plan: Refined Sugar Free, Gluten Free, Top 8 Allergy Free. That will absolutely get you started with ideas. Alternatively, look into the Whole 30 Diet which is an easy-ish transition for a lot of people. Above, in the article, I also list other diet types that are naturally low/no sugar, and you could adopt one of those diet types.

I will say this however: be careful when adopting special diets. Several were created to treat medical conditions (AIP, GAPs, Keto, SCD) and were not intended for long-term use by healthy individuals. These diets are HIGHLY restrictive and for good reason: the people who need them must eliminate specific foods to heal/recover.

What is a low sugar diet in grams?

This is going to vary by person. In general, I’d say anything that’s 30% or less of the standard RDA, in grams, would be a low sugar diet. However, there are days when I can get Kid Three down to no more than FOUR GRAMS of added sugar for the entire day.

How many grams of natural sugar per day can I have?

Again, it’s going to vary by person. Personally, I can tolerate about 10 grams of natural sugars these days. It’s really not that much. We’re talking a couple of teaspoons.

Others can tolerate a LOT. The best way to find out what works for you is to keep a detailed food journal.

Do natural sugars count towards daily sugar intake?

For some people, yes. Most people reading this article won’t need to worry about natural sugars in moderation. For example, if you’re eating 35 dates a day, you should be concerned. That’s a lot of natural sugar to consume. In fact, there’s a lady on Instagram (Glucose Goddess) that has an account dedicated to showing you how natural, artificial, and added sugars ALL spike your blood levels.

She also shows you how meal ordering and exercise can alter the amount of spike. Now, will everyone respond to food identically? Of course not. However, it’s really neat to see the information readout from her blood sugar monitor.

In the case of Kid Three, too many natural sugars on an empty stomach is a terrible idea. Think, 2 glasses of milk on an empty stomach.

For me, natural sweeteners count against me, and I can’t tolerate very many.

Can you have too much natural sugar?

This is another individualized question. Generally, the answer is going to be yes. However, most people would stop eating naturally from fullness before eating excessive amounts of natural sugar. It’s kind of like apple and orange juice versus eating apples and oranges.

You’d have to eat 5 – 10 apples to get the same amount of juice you’d drink in one sitting. Do you really have it in you to eat that many apples in one go? It’s similar with oranges. I know I couldn’t eat that many at once.

Now, milk on the other hand, that’s a lot easier to over-consume and have quite a few natural sugars hit you all at once.

Once again, I’ll say that a food journal is one of the best tools to employ to help you understand what your limits are.

How to reduce sugar intake in my diet?

The process of reducing your sugar intake can vary in length depending on what you’re comfortable with. If you want to go all in, a Whole 30 diet for 30 days is a great way to start.

If you’re looking to make long term changes to the everyday things you purchase, start reading labels and then purchase the better-for-you versions of foods. You can find excessive sugar in most pantry goods including nut/seed butters, jellies & jams, cereal, packaged snacks, pasta sauce, condiments, and even bread.

Changing out these kinds of ingredients will automatically reduce your sugar intake. From there, start eating less of foods with added sugars and more of foods with little to no natural sugars. Swap your morning cereal for oatmeal. Instead of cookies at lunch time as a snack, eat carrots instead. These types of swaps will continue to reduce your sugar intake.

Over time, lots of small changes will make a HUGE impact.

List of Snack Foods Without Sugar

As you continue on your low/no sugar journey, here’s a list of snacks to keep on hand. These snacks generally contain little to no added sugars, or only have naturally occurring sugars (in some case nearly zero).

  • Crackers
  • Homemade Granola
  • Nuts
  • Popped Sorghum
  • Puffed Rice
  • Puffed Sweet Potato
  • Rice Cakes
  • Seaweed
  • Seeds
  • Vegetables (many people enjoy bell pepper, broccoli, carrots, celery, cucumber, and zucchini for snacking)

How can I satisfy my sweet tooth without sugar?

If you’re able to tolerate starchy vegetables (sweet potatoes, carrots, etc.) and whole food sweeteners such as dates and applesauce, that would be the way to go. For example, you could pit a date, add a Brazil nut, and sprinkle on salt. It’s the quick and raw version of a Snickers bar.

Power balls made at home are an energy and nutrient dense snack that usually satisfies a sweet tooth. Homemade sweet potato pie using unrefined sweeteners is a fantastic dessert. In fact, RAISE has a whole category of refined sugar free desserts. If you have additional dietary restrictions, use our Advanced Recipe Search which has more than 85 filters to choose from.

Dried fruits are going to be a real sweet treat as well. The “trick” is that the water has been removed and the sugars are essentially concentrated. However, remember to eat all sweet things in moderation. Loading up on dried fruits is not ideal if you’re eliminating sugar for health reasons.

Further Resources

I hope you found this information helpful. If you need more low/no sugar resources, here are several I think you’d enjoy.


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