What? Foods That Act Like Sugar?

I write a lot about sugar and foods that act like sugar in this blog.

Lately, I’ve been getting  questions about what I mean by “foods that act like sugar,” so here is the explanation and it all start with an understanding of the glycemic index.

Foods that act like sugar

The Glycemic Index

By now, most people have heard of the glycemic index, but I’ll take a moment to explain it.

The way the glycemic index works is that a scientist will measure the blood sugar of a volunteer and then feed that volunteer a single food. After two or three hours, the volunteer’s blood sugar is measured again. What scientists have discovered through this kind of testing is that certain foods increase blood sugar a little, others increase blood sugar moderately, and still other foods increase blood sugar dramatically.

While there are complicated glycemic index charts that show hundreds of foods, here is a typical one:

What you want to notice about this list is that sugars (left-hand column) are mostly in the high top part of the chart. Sucrose (table sugar) and glucose are always found near the top, but, here is the kicker: so are white rice, pancakes, bread, corn flakes, crackers, parsnips, potatoes and many other foods. These are the Foods That Act Like Sugar in your body.

Here is a partial list of foods that act like sugar


  • Brown rice
  • Glutinous rice
  • Instant rice
  • Jasmine rice
  • Long grain rice
  • Parboiled rice
  • Sweet corn
  • White rice
  • Wild rice


  • Breads (all breads)
  • Bagel
  • Baguette, white
  • Blueberry muffin
  • Bran muffin
  • Corn tortilla
  • English Muffin
  • Kaiser bread rolls
  • Rice Pasta
  • White bread
  • Whole Grain bread
  • Wonder Bread™

Breakfast Cereals (almost all)

  • Cheerios™
  • Coco Pops™
  • Corn Chex™
  • Corn Pops™
  • Cornflakes™
  • Crispix™
  • Grapenuts Flakes™
  • Grapenuts™
  • Instant Cream of Wheat
  • Life ™
  • Quick Oatmeal
  • Raisin Bran™
  • Rice Chex™
  • Rice Krispies™
  • Shredded Wheat™
  • Special K™
  • Special K™
  • Total™

Crackers and Chips (almost all)

  • Corn chips
  • Popcorn
  • Potato chips
  • Pretzels
  • Puffed rice cakes
  • Rice cracker
  • Soda Crackers
  • Water crackers

Other Breakfast Foods

  • Croissant
  • Cupcake
  • Doughnut
  • Muffins
  • Oatmeal muffin
  • Pancakes
  • Pop Tarts™
  • Waffles


  • Almost all cakes
  • Angel food cake


  • Carrots, boiled
  • French fries
  • Parsnips
  • Potato: Baked, Instant, Mashed
  • Pumpkin
  • Sweet potato
  • Tapioca


  • Banana
  • Dates, dried
  • Raisins
  • Watermelon

Fruit Products

  • Fruit Roll-Ups®
  • Fruit Juices
  • Jams and Jellies
  • Processed fruit bars, fruit wraps…


  • Most sugary snacks
  • Candy Bars
  • Glucose
  • Honey
  • Jelly beans
  • Sucrose
  • Syrup


  • All fruit juices
  • All sodas
  • Most sport drinks


  • Yoghurt, low fat
  • Ice cream


  • Broad beans
  • Kidney beans


  • Macaroni and Cheese
  • Pizza, cheese
  • Popcorn
  • Soup, green pea
  • Soup, split pea


A Sugar is a Sugar

The take home message from the studies done on glycemic index is that a sugar is a sugar, no matter what the source. To your body, it doesn’t matter if you pick up a tablespoon of sugar and put it in your mouth, or if you pick up a baguette and start munching on it: the results are the same. Up up up goes your blood sugar every time you eat these foods.

If you want to maintain good blood sugar control, I always recommend eating low or below the glycemic index.

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About the Author

I'm Dr. Scott Olson ND. I'm a Naturopathic doctor who specializes in diet, health, nutrition, and alternative medicine. I've written numerous books and articles on health, medicine, and alternative medicine I want to help you get healthy! Take a look at my blog and make sure you join in the conversation!

107 Comments on this article. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Tripp Davis May 26, 2015 at 6:52 pm - Reply

    Wow old antiquated medicine never seems to die. Please read “The art and science of low carb performance.” It is possible to ride competitively at less than 50 carbs a day. It’s called nutritional ketosis. Also read “Grain Brain” by Dr. David Perlmutter.

    • Dr. Scott May 27, 2015 at 6:28 am - Reply

      Hi Tripp,

      Thank you for your comments. I have read both of those books and I run long distances without sugar and suggest that most athletes do the same. Perhaps you should check out the rest of the site.

      Dr. Scott

    • jamie May 27, 2015 at 1:03 pm - Reply

      Tripp: Do you race? Are you training at 40% over your FTP? Do you do climbs that last for 45 minutes to an hour? Are your long rides over 4 hours? I am trying to find competitive athletes who do those types of things (not long distance far from FTP ones). I read Brain Grain and find it interesting, but still can’t find athletes like this. The best athlete that I know doing a very pure diet (fully RAW), lives in VT and is a top cross country and stair runner. However, he certainly is not minimizing his carbs to the degree you mention.

  2. Jamie April 18, 2015 at 1:29 am - Reply

    Hi: I eat very well, juice and such, and am a vegetarian. However, I am also a competitive cyclist (older) and have supplemented my diet on the bike with things like dates, bananas, and when I am lazy (too frequently of course) gels and High 5 Sports Drink (maldextrin…). I have recently been diagnosed with two parasites and yeast. Thus, I am off sugars and following your advice as I start this journey of the next few months. However, is is still possible to train/race on such a diet? I want to get rid of this and I suppose to really do so, I need to go into this 100%. What can one eat on the bike, especially during those longer rides or times when you are expending a great deal of energy like on a long climb? Thanks!

    • Dr. Scott April 18, 2015 at 6:16 am - Reply


      The answer to your question lies in what you mean by competitive. If by competitive you mean that you constantly push yourself to above 80 percent of your maximum for a long period of time (over an hour) then, no you cannot stay away from sugar. I am a runner and can run for a long time (over hours) without sugar, but I’m not pushing myself all that hard.

      While most people think that our bodies run only on sugar, they don’t. We have two different sources of energy in our bodies. The first is sugar (or more specifically: glucose) and the second are ketones (breakdown products of fat). For most people, if you are eating more than 50 grams of carbohydrate a day, then your body is using the first source (glucose). If you are eating below 50 grams, then your body is burning fat. The 30 Sugar Free Days Program does not specify how many grams of carbohydrate you should eat, so most people get more than enough sugars (even when staying away from grains and table sugar) to power through their exercise.

      What you are burning (even when you are eating a lot of sugar) also depends on how long and how strenuous you are working out. If you are exercising for less than an hour, you still probably have enough sugar in your body to complete your exercise. If you are exercising at less than 60% of your maximum (which is working pretty hard, but not super hard) then your muscles are burning mostly fat. If you are exercising at a higher rate then you start to burn sugar more and that is when you have about one hour to burn that sugar. Still, when you get to the end of the hour, your body will switch back to burning fat (it just gets much harder to exercise – this is called “hitting the wall”).

      All I can tell you is to experiment and see how it goes. There is certainly a transition from burning sugar to burning ketones and you can find your performance will drop. A great book to read on this subject is “The art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance”.

      Good luck!

      • jamie margolis April 18, 2015 at 1:05 pm - Reply

        What an amazing answer! I really thank-you for taking the time to answer this fully and I truly find this information helpful.

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