When discussing nutrition, people often reference “good carbs vs bad carbs,” which can be really confusing when you’re trying to decide what carbs you should be eating compared to foods high in carbs to avoid.
However, much in the way that there are “good fats vs bad fats,” there are also nutritious, fibrous carbs that can be great for your health as well as bad carbs that can raise your blood sugar, increase appetite, and potentially lead to weight gain.
But, what are the foods that raise blood sugar the most? Is there a list of foods that raise blood sugar levels? What do foods that raise blood sugar levels have in common?
In this article, we will discuss what causes blood sugar to increase after eating certain foods, and then we will provide you with a list of foods that raise blood sugar levels the most to help you balance your blood sugar levels to prevent blood sugar spikes and crashes.
We will look at:
- What Foods Raise Blood Sugar the Most?
- List of Foods that Raise Blood Sugar Levels
Let’s get going!
What Foods Raise Blood Sugar the Most?
There isn’t a definitive list of carbs to avoid or a list of bad carbs that should be completely eliminated from your diet.
Unfortunately, given the rise in highly processed food products over the past couple of decades, grocery store shelves are lined with foods high in carbs that raise blood sugar that you should avoid or at least minimize if you are trying to lose weight, reduce your risk of lifestyle diseases, and promote overall health and wellness.
When most people think of the high-carb foods on an “unhealthy carbs list,” they think of some of the highly-processed, high-carb foods like cookies, pastries, sugary breakfast cereals, and bagels.
Although you will see those types of foods on this “list of worst carbs to eat,“ there are plenty of foods that are high in unhealthy carbs and sugar that we often don’t even categorize as “high-carb foods.”Foods that raise blood sugar the most are fast-digesting carbs, also called fast-acting carbs.
The worst foods that spike blood sugar are, therefore, almost always simple sugars, or carbohydrates that are primarily composed of simple sugars rather than complex carbs with fiber, or foods with a balanced mix of other macronutrients (fats and proteins).
Essentially, what you will notice about everything on a list of foods that raise blood sugar levels is that they are high-glycemic foods, which means that they have a high glycemic index score or high GI food score.
All carbohydrates are made of sugar molecules.
Refined carbs and simple sugars, which are those found in the foods that spike blood sugar levels the most, contain very small molecules of sugar called monosaccharides and disaccharides, or simple sugars rather than long chains of sugar molecules connected together to form polysaccharides.
Simple sugars are smaller sugar molecules, such as the monosaccharides glucose, galactose, and fructose, or disaccharides, such as sucrose and lactose.
When these smaller monosaccharides and disaccharides link together and form polysaccharides, such as in starches, it takes longer to break down the molecules.
Carbohydrate digestion is also slowed significantly if the carbohydrate contains cellulose, inulin, or other forms of fiber because fiber also takes much longer to break down and digest.
Complex carbohydrates are those that have long polysaccharides and fiber instead of just small monosaccharides and disaccharides, which are these “simple sugars” or “simple carbs.”
The size and complexity of the molecules in complex carbs or fibrous carbs take longer to break down, causing a slower release of glucose into the bloodstream.
In contrast, simple sugars, or carbs on the “foods that raise blood sugar list,” are already nearly in the state ready to be absorbed into the bloodstream with little breakdown required.
This concept is essentially what is encapsulated by the glycemic index.
The glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how fast your body converts carbs into sugars that can be absorbed into your bloodstream.
The glycemic index score of a food ranges from 0 to 100, with the categories of “low glycemic foods“ having a glycemic index value of 55 or less, “medium glycemic index foods“ having a score of 56 to 69, and “high glycemic index foods” having a glycemic index value of 70 to 100.
Thus, the list of foods that raise blood sugar levels the most are those classified as high-glycemic foods or foods that have a high glycemic index score.
The higher the glycemic index value of a carbohydrate, the quicker the carb is broken down by the body, so the food will raise blood sugar and insulin quickly and significantly.
List of Foods That Raise Blood Sugar Levels
Although it would not be very practical to try to come up with a complete list of foods that raise blood sugar quickly, here is a partial list of carbs that spike blood sugar to give you an idea of the types of carbs that are digested and absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream:
- Fruit juice, fruit punch, sweet tea (sweet iced tea), lemonade
- Gatorade and sports drinks, energy drinks
- Slushies and Jamba juice-type smoothies
- Soda pop
- Yoohoo, and chocolate milk
- Sugary coffee drinks with syrups and sweeteners like frappuccinos and coolattas
- Sugary cocktails and alcoholic beverages like piña coladas, margaritas, and daiquiris
- Hot chocolate
- White bread, white pasta, white rice
- French bread, baguettes, Naan, Kaiser rolls
- Gluten-free bread
- Rice pilaf and ready-to-eat rice dishes that come prepackaged
- Filo dough, puff pastry
- Pizza dough
- Bagel chips, cinnamon sugar pita chips
- Cornstarch, corn syrup
- Instant mashed potatoes
- Fried dough, churros
- Cinnamon buns, cinnamon swirl bread
- Cotton candy
- Caramel apples, candied apples
- Glazed donuts, basic cake donuts, donut holes
- Muffins other than bran muffins or those baked with whole wheat flour, oats, and nuts
- Banana bread
- Pop-tarts and toaster pastries
- Rice cakes, especially sweetened rice cakes like caramel rice cakes
- White bagels, cinnamon sugar bagels, cinnamon raisin bagels, blueberry bagels, and most bagels other than whole wheat or brand bagels, particularly if there is no topping on the bagel, English muffins
- Grits, instant rice cereal
- Quick oats oatmeal, especially sweetened varieties like maple and brown sugar oatmeal
- Sugary breakfast cereals such as Lucky Charms, Frosted Flakes, Fruit Loops, Kix, Trix, Coco Pops
- Boxed mix pancakes made with white flour or diner-style pancakes, frozen waffles, and refined waffles
- Ready-made biscuits like Pillsbury biscuits
- Saltines and refined crackers
- Hamburger buns and hot dog rolls
- Croissants, danishes, pastries, cookies, cakes
- Pie, fruit pies like blueberry pie, apple pie, sweet potato pie, cherry pie
- Rice pudding
- Flan, crème brûlée
- Honey, maple syrup, chocolate syrup, pancake syrup
- Hot fudge, strawberry syrup
- Sugar, powdered sugar
- Maple candy
- Breakfast bars with jam in the middle
- Meringue cookies
- Angel food cake
- Rice crispy treats
- Granola bars like Quaker Chewy granola bars
- Jelly, jam, preserves, canned cranberry sauce, canned pie filling
- Fruit cups with fruit in syrup
- Canned fruit, like canned fruit cocktail
- Canned yams
- Cooked carrots, cooked parsnips, beets
- Sweet potato casserole with marshmallows
- Graham crackers, animal crackers, and teddy grahams, 100-calorie snack pack cookies and crackers
- M&Ms, chocolate bars that are not dark chocolate, chocolate chips, white chocolate, etc.
- Caramel and butterscotch
- Sherbert, frozen yogurt, most ice cream, low-fat ice cream, popsicles and fudgsicles, ice cream novelties, and snow cones
- Marshmallows, fluff
- Gum drops, lollipops jolly ranchers, skittles
- Banana chips, dried fruit, dried dates
- Pineapple, mango, watermelon
- Baby food fruit pouches like plum purée, banana purée, apple purée
- Energy gels
- Fruit roll-ups and fruit snacks, Gushers, Lifesavers, gumdrops and gummy fruit candies, jelly beans, Tootsie Rolls, Swedish fish, Sour Patch Kids
- Yogurt-covered raisins
- Sugar-sweetened yogurt, especially if they are fat-free and non-Greek yogurts, Go-Gurt
Overall, it is best to avoid things found on this list of foods that raise blood sugar because studies have also found that diets high in high glycemic foods increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Studies have also found that limiting high-glycemic carbs can help reduce blood sugar levels in those with diabetes and can help reduce hemoglobin A1C, which is a marker of long-term blood sugar levels.
However, there are instances where eating foods on this list of foods that raise blood sugar can be helpful, particularly during exercise.
To learn more about ideal carbohydrates to help fuel endurance exercise, check out our guide to natural alternatives to energy gels here.