Foods High in Sugar

Medically Reviewed by Mahammad Juber, MD on November 29, 2022
4 min read

Sugar comes in many forms and is found in a wide variety of foods. All forms of sugar are simple carbohydrates that our bodies use for energy. Although naturally occurring sugars in foods like fruit and dairy can be part of a healthy diet, too much added sugar can be harmful to health, especially for people with diabetes

According to the American Heart Association, healthy adults should aim for less than 36 grams of sugar per day for men and less than 25 grams per day for women.

Added sugars contribute additional calories to food without also contributing nutrients. As a result, people trying to lose weight may want to avoid foods high in sugar. People with conditions that affect blood sugar control, like diabetes, should also avoid sugary foods. 

Sugar has an effect on many body systems, including:

Weight Management

Adding sugar to foods and beverages increases their caloric density without also increasing their nutritional value. Sweetening foods also makes them easier to overeat. This may make it difficult to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. 


Added sugars in the diet are associated with a higher risk of developing type II diabetes. For adults with diabetes, consuming too much sugar can also interfere with blood sugar control. 

Oral Health

All forms of sugar allow bacteria to multiply and grow, promoting tooth decay. Consuming foods and beverages with either natural or added sugars increases the chances that you will develop cavities, especially if you don’t practice good oral hygiene. 

Sugar comes in a variety of forms, from naturally occurring sugars to sweeteners like cane sugar and corn syrup. These eight foods are some of the most concentrated sources of sugar. 

1. Cane Sugar

Cane sugar is the most popular form of sugar found in packaged foods, baked goods, and some soft drinks. Cane sugar is derived from the sugar cane plant and contains sucrose, which is broken down into glucose and fructose in the body, thereby evoking an insulin response.

2. Honey

Honey is often considered a healthier alternative to cane sugar because it is harvesting naturally from bee hives and has some nutritional value. Fructose, which is sweeter than sucrose or glucose, is the main sugar found in honey. Although honey may have some health benefits, it should still be enjoyed in moderation. 

3. Agave

Some people have begun replacing cane sugar with agave syrup because it is purportedly lower on the glycemic index and therefore less likely to spike insulin. However, this has not been well supported by the research. Like honey, agave contains a higher percentage of fructose than cane sugar. 

4. Corn Syrup

Corn syrup, especially high-fructose corn syrup, has been implicated in the rise of obesity in the United States. This may be because the fructose in corn syrup doesn’t signal satiety the way that an equal number of calories would when consumed in a different form.

5. Brown Rice Syrup

Brown rice syrup or malt syrup is derived by breaking down the starches in cooked rice. Very little research has been done on the health effects of brown rice syrup, but it is sometimes used as an alternative to corn syrup in baking and packaged foods. 

6. Dairy

Lactose is the naturally occurring form of sugar in dairy products. Many adults have a lactose intolerance, making dairy sugars difficult to digest. 

7. Fruit

All fruits contain some amount of naturally occurring sugars, or fructose. Some fruits, like bananas, are higher in sugar than others, like berries. Because the fructose in fruit is accompanied by fiber, it slows down your body’s insulin response, making it a healthier alternative to added sugars.

8. Coconut Sugar

Coconut sugar, or palm sugar, is a sweetener derived from the sap of the palm tree. It has recently gained in popularity as a believed healthier alternative to cane sugar, although there is not enough research yet to support this claim. Like all sugars, coconut sugar should be used in moderation. 

If you’d like to reduce your sugar intake, look for “no sugar added” on food packages. These products may still contain natural sugar in the foods used to make them, but they won’t contain sugar added for taste. The following foods are great options for a low or no sugar diet:

1. Vegetables

Compared to fruits, most vegetables contain less sugar. The amount of sugar in different types of vegetables vary. Mushrooms, spinach, kale, soybean sprouts, celery, broccoli, cucumber, cauliflower, radishes, and asparagus are among the vegetables with the lowest sugar content available.

2. Meat

Seafood, pork, beef, and chicken are all sugar-free. They’re also an important source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids.

3. Beans, Nuts, Lentils

If you don’t eat meat, soybeans, lentils, beans, nuts, and seeds are great sugar-free, high-protein foods.

4. Grains

Brown rice, quinoa, and oats are tasty, low-sugar foods that will help you meet your daily recommended fiber intake.