A no sugar diet, also known as a sugar-free diet, restricts added sugar. This restriction includes obvious sugary foods like candy and soda but added sugar can also be found hiding in savory foods such as pasta sauce. More extreme versions of a no sugar diet may also limit foods with naturally occurring sugar such as fruits and vegetables, but this is not usually recommended as part of a healthy balanced diet.
When diet and nutrition experts reference “sugary” foods, they are most often referring to foods that contain lots of added sugar—which is any type of caloric sweetener that’s added to foods. (Artificial sweeteners, such as sucralose, are non-caloric.) Sugar provides energy (i.e., calories) but does not offer added nutritional value, which is why calories from sugar are often labeled “empty calories.”
Excess sugar intake is associated with the rise in obesity in the United States. The problem with sugary foods begins with eating or drinking too much of them. Foods with added sugars often don’t have enough vitamins and minerals to make up for all the extra sugar calories, and as a result, consuming too much of them contributes to weight gain and health problems.
The bottom line is that while a little sugar might be OK, a lot of sugar leads to weight gain and chronic disease. Those who follow a no sugar diet avoid added sugars to promote weight loss and improve their overall health.
What Can You Eat?
Since there are several forms and types of sugar, it helps to know what you're looking for. If you see any of these on an ingredients list, the food has added sugars:
- Brown sugar
- Corn sugar
- Corn syrup
- High fructose corn syrup
- Honey (Though a naturally occurring sugar, honey is still considered an added sugar and it contains roughly the same amount of sugar as both high fructose corn syrup and granulated sugar)
- Raw sugar
- Turbinado sugar
Artificial sweeteners can offer an alternative to sugar since they contain little to no calories, but there's a lot of controversy surrounding sugar substitutes. Many health and nutrition experts have raised questions about whether artificial sweeteners are healthy and safe, and whether they are effective for weight loss. Some have also argued that sugar substitutes are so sweet they actually ramp up your taste buds for sweet foods and drinks. On the other hand, some proponents claim that artificial sweeteners can help people transition away from added sugars and cut them out for good.
While there is no one “official” no sugar diet, nutrition experts generally agree that the healthiest version of the eating plan cuts out added sugars by focusing on whole foods rather than simply replacing sugar with no-calorie sweeteners.
What You Need to Know
Following a no sugar diet does not mean you have to adhere to a formal eating plan, so there’s no advice on meal or snack timing or even the makeup for your meals. You may find, however, that if you are just starting to cut out added sugar, it’s best to do it gradually. If you’re still facing sugar cravings, drink water and eat (non-sweetened, nutritious) food regularly, so you don’t add extreme hunger to your sugar craving. Healthy fats are especially helpful for fighting sugar cravings.
To begin, try to limit your added sugar intake to 100 to 200 calories per day (a tablespoon of honey has about 60 calories and a tablespoon of sugar about 50). The 2020-2025 USDA Dietary Guidelines suggest that everyone should limit added sugar intake to 10% of daily calories or less (so, 200 if you're consuming about 2,000 calories a day).
Read more Vegan vs. Vegetarian vs. Plant-Based | What’s the Difference?
Foods With Natural Sugars
Whole foods that naturally contain sugar aren’t off-limits on a balanced no sugar diet. For example, while whole fruits like oranges and pineapple and 100% fruit juices are naturally sweet, they don’t have added sugar. (Some research shows that this is confusing to consumers, and understandably so.)
The exceptions—and likely part of the reason behind the confusion—are products like fruit drinks that do contain added sugar. For example, most cranberry juice beverages are a combination of fruit juices (which naturally contain their own sugars), additional added sugar, and water.
While permitted on a no sugar diet, you may still need to watch the calorie count with the natural sugars like those found in fruit if one of your goals is weight loss. A large of fruit juice can have as many calories as the same size glass of sugary soft drink. But at least the juice also offers vitamins and minerals.
Soda, lemonade, sweetened iced tea, and many sports and energy drinks contain added sugars and as a result, aren't permitted on a no sugar diet. Proponents of no sugar diets encourage drinking plain or carbonated water, unsweetened tea or coffee, and 100% fruit juice (in moderation).
Foods With Added Sugar
Pastries, cookies, candy bars, syrups, jams, jellies, and pre-sweetened breakfast cereals are all obvious sources of added sugars. But other foods such as salad dressings, sauces, condiments, flavored yogurts, instant oatmeal, and fruit smoothies can also contain added sugars.
For cereal, look for brands that have less than 5 grams of sugar per serving, and choose the ones with the most fiber. Or make your own oatmeal or plain unsweetened cereal and add fruits and berries. Similarly, buy plain yogurt and add fresh fruit.
In general, choose whole foods whenever you can. Processed foods tend to have added sugar, salt, and/or fat. Similarly, simple carbohydrates (such as white flour, white rice, and pasta) don’t contain added sugar, but they do break down into sugar quickly in the body. So opt for complex carbohydrates, like whole grains, more often.
Sample Shopping List
A no sugar diet emphasizes whole fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains, and eliminates foods containing added sugars. While what you eat on this plan is up to you, the following shopping list offers suggestions for getting started. Note that this is not a definitive shopping list and there may be other foods that you prefer.
- Lean protein (chicken, cuts of beef, ground beef, salmon, halibut, shrimp)
- Dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, Swiss chard, arugula)
- Veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, bell peppers, eggplant, carrots)
- Whole fruits (grapefruit, oranges, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries)
- Whole grains (quinoa, barley, amaranth, brown rice, couscous)
- Legumes (black beans, lentils, chickpeas, soybeans)
- Healthy fats (avocados, walnuts, almonds, cashews, chia seeds, flaxseeds, olive oil)
- Dairy products (milk, feta cheese, parmesan, unsweetened yogurt, cottage cheese)
Sample Meal Plan
What you eat on a no sugar diet can depend on whether you have a health condition or have specific weight loss goals. For instance, those on low-carb diets such as keto may avoid most fruits and many complex carbohydrates, which can still be included in other variations of a no sugar eating plan.
The following three-day meal plan is not all-inclusive but should give you a general sense of what a few days on a well-balanced low sugar diet could look like. Note that if you do choose to follow this diet, there may be other meals that work better for you.
Read more Fertility foods: What to eat when trying to conceive
- Breakfast: California summer vegetable omelet; 1 serving spinach and kale green juice; 1/2 cup blackberries
- Lunch: 1 1/2 cups citrus, kale, and quinoa salad
- Dinner: 4-ounce serving pan-seared salmon with Mediterranean quinoa; 1/2 cup roasted broccoli
- Breakfast: Spinach and feta oatmeal bowl; 1/2 grapefruit
- Lunch: Tuna wrap; 1 cup red curry lentil soup with kale
- Dinner: Quinoa stuffed chicken roll-up; 3 ounces spring mix greens with olive oil
- Breakfast: 1 cup breakfast quinoa topped with fresh mixed berries and almonds
- Lunch: 3/4 cup avocado chicken salad; 1 cup rainbow vegetable soup
- Dinner: 1 serving grilled Mediterranean shrimp and veggie skewers; 1 cup brown rice or couscous
Pros and Cons
In addition to health and weight loss benefits, there are other great reasons to reduce the amount of added sugars in your diet. Review the pros and cons to help you decide whether a no sugar diet is right for you.
Practical and Realistic
Many diets, particularly those touting weight-loss claims, are not always realistic in practice. Some diets make bold claims of rapid weight loss in a short period of time. But more often than not, these plans end up backfiring and any weight loss experienced is likely to be regained once regular eating habits are resumed.
A no sugar diet focused on whole foods teaches healthy lifestyle habits since cutting out added sugar means you're also cutting out many packaged, processed foods containing artificial ingredients. It is a practical lifestyle to adhere to for not just weight loss but long-term weight management and overall health.
Simple to Follow
A no sugar diet does not have any timelines, guidelines, rules, or restrictions (aside from cutting out added sugars). There are no books to buy (unless you want to learn more) or products or supplements to subscribe to, nor is it promoted by a single celebrity or public figure. All you have to do is avoid added sugar by eating whole, unprocessed foods whenever possible, making this an easy-to-follow plan.
Flexible and Adaptable
Because there are no hard and fast rules on a no sugar diet, what you eat is up to your personal preferences and budget, and the plan is adaptable to suit your lifestyle. In addition, as you slowly wean yourself off sugar and your body starts to naturally crave more nutritious foods, a no sugar diet can encourage mindful, intuitive eating. In time, adhering to the no sugar lifestyle can become like second nature rather than a temporary fix or short-term diet.
It's healthy and safe to eat this way indefinitely, and sugar cravings should fade over time. As long as you stick with whole foods and read labels carefully, you may find it easy to stick to this diet for the long term.
No Guidelines to Follow
Since it’s not a formal plan, a no sugar diet has few guidelines other than cutting out added sugars as completely as possible. There’s no calorie or carb counting here, or even recommendations for portion control. While this can be a benefit to those seeking a less regimented eating plan to follow, some people may need more structure and parameters in order to meet their weight loss and health goals. For instance, without any calorie requirements to meet, it’s still possible to overeat on this plan.
Setting aside the common American taste for sugar, there is sugar hiding in many foods (some of them quite unexpected). Distinguishing added sugars from natural sugars can be difficult. As a rule of thumb, your best bet is to stick with real, whole foods and limit many packaged convenience foods. Always read labels carefully to look for added sugars.
Read more The Right Way to Do OMAD (One Meal a Day)
While following a no-sugar lifestyle is undeniably healthy, keep in mind that you will have to do a lot more meal prep, planning, and cooking. For those who may not have that kind of time, a no sugar diet may not be the most realistic choice.
Is the No Sugar Diet a Healthy Choice for You?
Many low-carb eating plans also limit sugar, so those plans can resemble a no sugar diet in some ways. And cutting sugar also aligns with government advice on healthy eating. The USDA’s dietary guidelines suggest a balanced mix of fruits, grains, vegetables, protein, and dairy products. There’s no space for added sugars, but they’re also not strictly prohibited.
If weight loss is one of your goals, you may need to count calories in addition to cutting back on added sugars. Avoiding those sugars will likely result in consuming fewer calories altogether, but to know for sure, use this tool to calculate a daily calorie goal, and then an app or journal to track your progress meeting that goal.
Many weight loss plans restrict sugar since it’s an effective way to cut out empty (non-nutritious) calories. Doing that should help you lose weight. And whole, nutrient-dense foods tend to be more filling, so it’s possible to eat less of them and still feel full.
A no sugar diet can also help people avoid other health risks that go along with high sugar intake. For example, one research review listed three studies that showed consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages was associated with increased blood pressure, inflammatory markers, total cholesterol, and visceral (belly) fat.
Mounting evidence continues to show a number of positive health outcomes from cutting back on added sugars, including a reduction in the risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
In addition, too much sugar can increase your risk of dental problems. So a no-sugar diet should help lower your risk of dental decay.
While there are no common health risks associated with a diet low in added sugar, restrictive eating plans can sometimes lead to unhealthy eating habits or an extreme obsession with healthy eating. To that end, it’s important to make sure you’re still getting enough calories each day from nutrient-dense foods to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
A Word From Verywell
If you are looking to lose weight or simply improve your health, cutting added sugars could be a smart and fairly simple choice. For weight loss, you might also consider adding more fiber. But remember that weight loss is a complex process that should also include exercise, stress management, and other lifestyle factors. Discuss your plans with your physician to help create a plan that meets your needs.
Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, budget, and goals.
If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.