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!

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

  1. T. January 7, 2015 at 10:12 am - Reply

    I am vegan and have been doing well for myself since 1998 I would have occasional swelling in my feet and could never figure out why Three days ago I cut out all forms of sugar. The swelling went away after the third day and my sense of awareness was heightened. I am striving for 30 days or a lifetime without sugar. Thanks for this excellent read.

    • Dr. Scott January 7, 2015 at 2:51 pm - Reply

      Sounds like you are headed in the right direction! Best of luck!

      Dr. Scott

  2. tricia December 13, 2014 at 3:03 pm - Reply

    im just curious why i have a scar in my body and it turns blackish color and it was so itchy. is that diabetes sign??? hope you understand me. hope to get some feedback on you

    • Dr. Scott December 14, 2014 at 7:48 am - Reply

      Hi Tricia,

      No, it is not a sign of diabetes. When you damage skin it often becomes more sensitive, so things like exposure to light or even irritation can increase melatonin production (the pigment in our skin). No one knows why our scars itch, I’ve always thought it had to do with helping to bring more blood to the area and help remove debris. I see itching as a good sign the wound is healing. If the itching is unbearable or excessive, you should have it checked out by a health professional.

      Dr. Scott

  3. Diane November 30, 2014 at 11:13 am - Reply

    What are your thoughts about the recently touted quinoa and grains like couscous? And will a banana a day or an occasional sweet potato be that detrimental to blood sugar levels? The diabetes organization provides non-sugar “dessert” recipes that list bananas and dates as an ingredient – so this is somewhat frustrating and confusing to me. I appreciate any clarification you can provide! Thank you!

    • Dr. Scott December 1, 2014 at 6:15 am - Reply


      What you are going to find out is that the diabetes organization and I don’t agree, the reasons for this are many and I apologize for the confusion. When you test your blood sugar, you are testing the molecule known as glucose, but glucose is not the only sugar in the world and fructose can cause just as many (if not more) problems to your health. So when the diabetes organization says that bananas and dates don’t change your blood sugar much, they are right – but they are forgetting about fructose.

      All of these foods you mention: quinoa, couscous, banana, sweet potato, dates, can all act like sugar in your body. How they affect your body, though, has to do with how much you are eating of those foods, other foods you are eating them with, and how often. My advice is to eat them in moderation as close as you can to a meal that contains a good protein and plenty of vegetables.

      Hope that helps,

      Dr. Scott

  4. Donna October 30, 2014 at 1:08 pm - Reply

    How can I cut out all sugars without getting headaches? I think the reason that I seem to fail at cutting out sugars is that I get migranes every time I cut out sugars. I cannot have artificial sweeteners either. I would love to eat more healthy, but don’t know where to start.
    Thank you!

    • Dr. Scott October 31, 2014 at 7:35 am - Reply


      What you are experiencing are the symptoms of detox and the headaches eventually go away. You have to think about it the way you would any addiction: the process of getting over the addiction is not easy, but the end results are well worth it.

      Best of luck!

      Dr. Scott

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