Trying to cut down on sugar but still craving something sweet?

Trying to cut down on sugar but still craving something sweet?

Author -  Allie Towgood / Jenna Walker

Cutting down on sugar can be a difficult task, especially for those with a sweet-tooth. So what does this mean for those of us trying to cut back on sugar? How about considering tea time – there may still be a way to get the sweet taste we love, without all the added sugar and energy....sound good?

More on that later!  

New Zealanders currently get around 45% of our carbohydrate intake from sugar [1].

The New Zealand Food and Nutrition Guidelines suggest that we should get around 50% of our total energy from carbohydrate [2]. . As a healthy guide, of the carbohydrate we consume, around 10-20% of this should come from sugar [2].

The 2008/09 Adult Nutrition Survey showed the daily carbohydrate intake of Kiwis was:

  • Men: 278g of Total Carbohydrate and around 120g (43%) from sugar [1].
  • Women: 207g Total Carbohydrate with around 96g (46%) from sugar [1].

As you can see, as a nation we are consuming at least twice the percentage of sugar that is recommended.   

So what is sugar and where does it come from?  

Sugars are the building blocks of carbohydrate foods – this means all carbohydrates will be broken down by the body to sugar. Sugar is also found in foods and drinks and can be either naturally occurring, or added. Sugar is our body’s preferred source of fuel - we need sugar from carbohydrate foods to fuel our body and our brain.  The important difference between eating carbohydrate foods as a part of a healthy balanced diet, and eating or drinking high-sugar treat items, is how our body responds to these different sources.  The types of carbohydrate containing foods we choose, and the amount of food and drinks with added sugar we consume are the main areas we can look at to help reduce our sugar intake.

Types of Carbohydrates and Sources: 

Carbohydrate foods which are high in fibre, or are naturally built in a complex way, take the longest time for our body to digest. This is a good thing because it provides us with a steady supply of energy. If we eat these types of carbohydrate foods throughout the day, this slow and steady supply of energy will help to provide us with sustained energy levels. The fibre naturally present in these foods also slows the breakdown and supply of sugar to our body and can help us to feel fuller for longer.

Examples of complex carbohydrates: brown rice, wholegrain and wholemeal bread products, wholegrain oats, wholegrain pasta, kumara, pumpkin, high-fibre low-starch vegetables, and less sweet tasting fruits.

Carbohydrate foods which are lower in fibre or are built in a simple way will take less time for our body to break down. This means the sugar making up these foods tends to be released into our body faster.

Examples of these types of carbohydrates: pasta, short-grain white rice, noodles, white bread, potatoes, dried fruit, and sweet tasting fruits.

Our body can only use so much energy at once. Once the energy from our foods has been digested and used our energy levels may dip or we may feel tired. This can be a time we feel hungry and sometimes we can't resist that sweet treat or reaching for a sugar-laden drink.

Tips to reduce your sugar

The nutrition information panel on products is the best place to start – it will tell you how much sugar is in a product from the total carbohydrate amount listed. You can compare the nutrition information panel on similar products to find one that is lower in sugar to make the best choice possible. Once you are familiar with reading nutrition labels you will find you can make healthier food choices overall.

  • Keep energy dense, nutrient poor foods such as chocolate, lollies and cakes for treats or special occasions.
  • Choose foods and drinks lower in sugar to avoid excess energy intake.
  • Keep concentrated sugar foods such as sweets, fruit preserves, dried fruit and honey for when you require the energy.
  • Eat whole fruits rather than drinking fruit juice as these will be more filling, take longer for your body to digest, and will have less overall energy per serve. 


  1. Ministry of Health. A focus on nutrition key findings of the2008/09 New Zealand Adult Nutrition Survey, Wellington.
  2. Ministry of Health, 2003. Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Adults: A background paper, Wellington.