20 High-Sugar Foods You Should Avoid

Medically reviewed by Dr. Jill Carnahan, MD, ABFM, ABIHM, IFMCP
by Priyanka Sadhukhan , M.Sc. in Food and Nutrition

High sugar has been linked to diabetes and heart disease and, more importantly, obesity (1). As per the WHO, about 1.9 billion adults around the globe are obese (2). Consuming too many high-sugar foods too many times can make you addicted to sugar. This makes you crave sugar at any time, especially during times of emotional stress (3).

Certain foods that are marketed as containing ‘zero sugar’ or ‘zero calories’ or ‘low-fat’ often have more hidden sugars than normal foods (4). The American Heart Association states that the upper limit of sugar intake should be between 100 to 150 calories per day (5). But most of us tend to consume far higher amounts of sugar.

In this article, we will discuss 20 foods that are high in sugar and could increase the risk of obesity. Avoiding them can go a long way in improving your diet and health.

Foods High In Sugar

1. Low-Fat Yogurt

Yogurt is good for your gut health. It aids the production of good gut bacteria and helps improve digestion (6).

It is a common misconception that low-fat yogurt or milk is better than the full-fat variant. This is not true. Low-fat yogurt contains added sugar and flavor to make it taste as good as full-fat yogurt. Opt for the latter variety to get the benefits (7).

2. BBQ Sauce

BBQ sauce is usually used for marinating meat and veggies. It also is popular as a dip. Unfortunately, it also contains a huge amount of added sugar. Two tablespoons of BBQ sauce can contain as much as 16 g of added sugar (8).

Read the labels before buying these types of sauces. Understand how much sugar they contribute per serving. If you have enough time to cook or are health-conscious, you can make homemade marinades and dips to enjoy your food with.

3. Vitamin Water

Vitamin water is basically water fortified with vitamins and minerals. It has become very popular in the recent past. It looks good, the packaging is smart, and it gives you a sense of consuming a healthy drink.

But you will be surprised to know that one bottle of vitamin water contains 32 grams of added sugar and 120 calories (8).

You can instead drink plain water or make detox water at home and sip on it to hydrate yourself. This way, you can also replenish the vitamin and mineral stores in your body.

4. Sports Drinks

Sports drinks are mostly taken by athletes or those who exercise vigorously. These drinks are specifically meant for elite athletes and marathon runners who need readily available energy in the form of glucose.

But recently, sports drinks are also being marketed among adolescents as a way to fuel up their body. No information, however, is being given that sports drinks are loaded with sugar (9).

Studies showed that intake of sports drinks increases BMI in both males and females (10).

5. Packaged Fruit Juices And Soda

Nothing can beat eating whole fruits to get all the nutrients. Packaged fruit juices are low in fiber, minerals, and vitamins. Moreover, they may contain added sugar and artificial flavors and colors.

A study on fruit juices and drinks revealed that over 40% of products contain 19 g of sugar (11). Sugar sweetened soda or fruit punches contain 150 calories, most of which come from added sugar (12).

Drinking packaged fruit juices and soda invites many lifestyle diseases like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, etc.

Making freshly pressed juice at home could be ideal. You can have it without adding sugar. You can also replace soda with detox drinks or fruit juices.

6. Flavored Green Tea And Coffee

Green tea has amazing health benefits. This low-caffeine and high-antioxidant drink can fight disease and restore your health. Many flavored green teas have also gained popularity due to their unique flavor and sweet taste.

But guess what? They contain added sugar and/or artificial sweeteners, both of which could be harmful.

Coffee is also a much-loved beverage, but adding sugar and cream can make it harmful. Consume pure green tea and black coffee without adding sugar and cream.

7. Iced Tea

Iced tea is nothing but chilled tea sweetened with sugar or any other flavored syrup. It has high calories and increases sugar load, and both of these can lead to an insulin spike.

Moreover, too much consumption of iced tea can lead to oxalate stone formation in the kidneys (13).

If you are a tea lover, choose normal tea and drink it without sugar. You can also prepare iced tea at home using good quality tea, lemon, honey, fruits, and herbs.

8. Sugar-Free Products

We often think that using sugar-free products is a safe way to avoid sugar. But according to the American Heart Association (AHA), limiting calories by using sugar free-products is not a healthy choice. It can lead to several health issues, including weight gain (14).

Sugar-free products contain sugar alcohols, such as sorbitol and mannitol. Though the sugar alcohols cannot be completely absorbed by the body, consuming too much of them can lead to digestive problems, which ultimately slow down metabolism and lead to weight gain (15).

Hence, it is always better limit sugar intake. You can also choose natural sugars from whole fruits that are high in fiber, low in glycemic load, and beneficial for weight loss (16), (17).

9. Cookies And Biscuits

Cookies and biscuits are loaded with sugar that improves their taste and texture. Store-bought cookies and biscuits contain refined flour, added sweeteners, dry fruits, preservatives, and food additives. Though these ingredients make them tastier, they also can cause harm.

You can bake cookies at home or order them from the local baker and give them clear instructions on how much sugar they should add. Replace refined flour with whole wheat flour or oatmeal.

10. Granola Bars

Granola or cereal bars are made of oats. But they are not as healthy as plain rolled oats. These bars contain added free sugar (99.1%) (18) . They also contain honey, nuts, and dried fruits, which can increase your calorie-iintake.

It is always better to consume a homemade granola bar or make a granola bowl with added fruits and limited amounts of chopped nuts and seeds.

11. Dried And Canned Fruits

Dried and canned fruits are delicious. However, canned fruits are preserved in sugar syrup through a process called osmotic dehydration (19). This process not only destroys the fiber and vitamins but also increases the calorie count. Consume fresh fruits instead of dried or canned variants. This minimizes your sugar intake and reduces the calorie load.

12. Cakes, Pastries, And Donuts

These sugary delights improve your mood as they give you a sugar high. Cakes, pastries, and donuts not only contain extra sugar but are also made of refined flour and high-fat ingredients that are not good for your health (20).

Limit your intake of these sugary foods. Try baking at home and use less sugar. Replace the flour with grated carrot, gourd, pumpkin, etc.

13. Bagels And Churros

These favorite American and French foods have no match. But they contain are high in sugar and calories (21).

You can avoid grabbing a bagel on your way to work if you get up in the morning and make a delicious breakfast. Avoid churros by consuming green tea and a saltine cracker in the evening.

14. Breakfast Cereals

Breakfast cereals are many people’s go-to option because they are quick, easy, available, portable, crunchy, and tasty. However, avoid any breakfast cereal that contains added flavors and too much sugar.

Sweetened breakfast cereals contain high-fructose corn syrup. In studies, HFCS in sweetened breakfast cereals was found to increase adipose tissue and abdominal fat in rats (22). Consume plain corn flakes, Rice Krispies, and any cereal that has no added sugar.

15. Ketchup

Ketchup is one of the popular condiments worldwide, but it is loaded with sugar and salt. These two major ingredients are balanced in a calculated manner to keep the customers wanting for more.

A tablespoon of ketchup contains 3 grams of added sugar (23). If you are on a weight loss mission or want to improve your health, stop consuming ketchup. Make yogurt dips, mint dips, coriander dips, hummus, etc. at home.

16. Salad Dressing

Packaged salad dressings are a convenient option if you lead a busy life. But relying on them completely can make you consume more sugar than you normally would.

Two tablespoons of salad dressing contain 5 grams of added sugar (24). Plus, there are other additives and taste enhancers that are added to packaged salad dressings.

Make a homemade salad dressing by mixing olive oil, Dijon mustard, chili flakes, salt, herbs, honey, and lime juice. You can even use fresh fruit juice in your salad dressing.

17. Bottled Spaghetti Sauce

Like ketchup, bottled spaghetti sauce is also high in sugar. Therefore, instead of buying pasta sauce from the supermarket, make it at home. It is pretty simple, and the recipe is easily available online.

18. Frozen Pizza

Frozen foods, including frozen pizza, contain a shocking amount of sugar, preservatives, and added colors and flavors.

As they are readymade meals made with refined flour, they contribute to obesity (especially central obesity) (25). The pizza dough is made with flour, which is a refined carbohydrate.

Pizza sauce also contains a good amount of sugar to enhance the taste. Hence, look for better low-sugar options, like homemade flatbread pizza or a lettuce wrap.

19. Bread

A soft and straight-out-of-the-oven loaf of bread is one of the most popular breakfast options worldwide. Bread is made of refined flour, sugar, and yeast.

Consuming too many bread slices can lead to a spike in the blood glucose and insulin levels. Plain bread also has a high glycemic index and glycemic load when compared to the multigrain variety (26).

Consume multigrain bread to add complex carbs to your diet. You can also replace plain bread with oat bran, egg omelet, or veggies.

20. Ready-To-Eat Soups

Ready-to-eat soups are so convenient. All you have to do is add them to hot water, and your dinner is ready!

However, the thick or cream-based soups contain corn flour and are high in calories. You can instead make a quick soup by tossing all the veggies and your choice of protein (mushroom, chicken, etc.) into a soup pot and slow cooking it.

Conclusion

These foods are high in sugar, and we suggest you reduce (or even stop) their intake. But not all sugars are necessarily bad. Sugars that you get from fruits, veggies, and other natural sources are good for you. The added sugars, however, can harm your health. Check the labels before you buy any bottled or packaged food. Go ahead and live a sugar-free life. Cheers!

Frequently Asked Questions

What sugars should you avoid?

Avoid added sugars. Foods with added sugars are loaded with calories and may cause obesity. Choose natural sugars from whole fruits, honey, or jaggery. But limit your portions, as nothing in excess is good for your health.

What happens when I stop eating sugar?

Your body needs sugar to convert to fuel. If you totally avoid sugar, you may feel low on energy. Hence, you can add limited sugar, but make sure you choose healthier options. For example, you may choose jaggery over cane sugar. Try to limit your daily sugar intake to less than 10 grams.

Will I lose weight if I cut out sugar?

Cutting down on sugar lowers your calories, but there are other steps you need to consider. Opt for a healthy lifestyle, along with a balanced dietary approach, and proper sleep. These can contribute to a healthy weight loss.

26 sources

Stylecraze has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.

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Priyanka Sadhukhan

Priyanka has over 8 years of experience in nutrition and dietetics with a strong research background. She is passionate and obsessed about science and how it can be applied to daily lifestyle. According to her, food is the best medicine and proper nutrition is key to achieving good health. She has also written a book on PCOS and its management for doctors and patients. When she is not working, she loves spending quality time with family and friends. She loves creating innovative, healthy recipes and endorses healthier alternatives to junk foods to promote good health.
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