What Foods Are High in Refined Sugars?

On average, Americans consume roughly 350 calories of sugar on a daily basis, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Eating high amounts of refined sugar can have negative health consequences. Choose foods that are naturally low in sugar and do not have refined sugars added to them. Many processed foods have sugar added to them for flavor and preservation. Therefore, check the nutrition label and ingredients for added sugars.

Sugar (background image)
A pile of white sugar. (Image: HandmadePictures/iStock/Getty Images)


Things like candy, cake, doughnuts, cookies and other sweets obviously have high amounts of sugar in them. Limit consumption of these foods to treats for special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries or other holidays and not for daily consumption. When craving something sweet, choose a healthier alternative such as fruit. When making baked goods at home, decrease sugar amount by up to half to reduce sugar intake.


Beverages can potentially hide a lot of refined sugar. Fruit flavored-drinks such as fruit cocktail and fruit punch can have added sugar in them and little to no real fruit. Lemonade, soda, flavored lattes and smoothies can contain very high amounts of sugar, too. People often do not know or consider the amount of calories and sugar in beverages. Check the nutrition label before drinking a beverage. Even 100 percent juices contain high amounts of sugar even though it is natural. Harvard School of Public Health recommends limiting fruit juice intake to 4 to 6 ounces a day and choosing water as a first choice for a drink.


Sugary breakfast cereals, mostly geared toward kids, have high amounts of added sugar. However, even some marketed healthy breakfast cereals geared to adults can contain high amounts of added sugar. Choose cereals that have less than 5 grams of sugar. Add fruit to plainer cereals for added sweetness.

Processed Foods

Sugar is hidden in many foods that you may not expect. Condiments like ketchup, barbecue sauce and salad dressing can have added sugars. Each 1-tablespoon serving of ketchup can contain a teaspoon of sugar. Pasta sauces, frozen meals, canned fruits and vegetables also can contain added refined sugar.

Recommended Levels

The American Heart Association recommends Americans limit sugar intake to avoid things like obesity and heart disease. For women, AHA suggests limiting added sugar intake to 24 grams a day, or 6 teaspoons. For men, the AHA suggests limiting added sugar intake to 36 grams a day, or 9 teaspoons. Table sugar, cane sugar, white sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, fructose and glucose are other words for added sugar to watch out for in ingredient lists.

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