The best trick for cutting down on sugar

a teaspoon of sugar
CC BY 2.0 Michael Mol

Maybe your sweetheart loves you so much, they give you fruit to celebrate your special relationship. But more likely, you will finish Valentine's day sharing one or more boxes of delicious, irresistible chocolates or candies with friends and family.

Now, everyone knows that special treats like Valentine's chocolates don't count. (Admit it, you feel more loved following tradition, even if a healthier gift might logically offer better proof of "true love.")

But if you are like me, after the binge you will bring new fervor and commitment to the promise you made yourself to eat less sugar. So, at the risk of spoiling a bit of the frenzy of the festive occasion, I want to share the best trick I have found yet for managing sugar consumption.

If you are like me, you are also the veteran of several campaigns to eat healthier. You've read many tips on kicking the sugar habit. The rational part of your brain knows the price your health pays for eating too much sugar, but the sweet tooth can still get the better of you.

So here is what finally works for me: the numbers 4 and 6. If you are a guy, you need to remember 4 and 9.


Four is the number to convert the grams of sugar on food labels to teaspoons. Just find the number of grams of sugar and divide by four.

Six and Nine

Six is the maximum recommended teaspoons of sugar per day for a woman. Men can be sweeter, with up to nine teaspoons a day.

Easy examples:

  • 14 grams of sugar in a portion of flavored yogurt: 14/4 = 3.5. Do I really want to consume three and a half teaspoons of sugar in my "healthy" breakfast?
  • 10 grams of sugar in half a cup of spaghetti sauce: 10/4 = 2.5. Imagine sprinkling more than two teaspoons of sugar on your dinner. Maybe I'll make it from scratch.
  • 40 grams of sugar in the honey raisin bran muffin? 40/4 = 10! Gee, even the guys can't eat that!
Maybe this works because it is easier to visualize teaspoons than grams, and put it into context. Maybe it works because it is so easy to understand that 3 teaspoons is half my daily allotment, and to think about whether the temptation in front of me is where I want to spend my "sugar budget." It definitely helps me leave that can of soda or muffin on the shelf when I can quickly calculate that it will blow my whole day. At any rate, it's so easy, it just works.

New sugar labels due out in 2018 will help to differentiate added sugar from sugars naturally in the ingredients contained in foods - but remember that the more processed the food, the more those "natural" sugars should still be counted in your healthy avoidance of simple sugars separated from the fiber and host of nutrients in their original sources.

So don't wait for new labels: start using 4 and 6 or 9 today. Or maybe tomorrow ;). Happy Valentine's day!

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