Types of sugar

There are 2 types of sugar, which include:

  • Complex carbohydrates (also called complex carbs). These are a good source of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Complex carbs are an important part of your healthy diet. Examples of complex carbs include whole grains, brown rice and fruit.
  • Simple carbohydrates (also called simple carbs). Simple carbs give you energy, but very little or no nutrients, like fiber, vitamins or minerals. Limit how often you eat simple carbs. Examples of simple carbs include refined starchy foods (such as some cereals and white rice, pasta and bread).

Ideas to add more complex carbs to your diet

  • Choose whole wheat or whole grain breads and pasta.
  • Use brown rice instead of white or fried rice.
  • Eat the skin of a potato or sweet potato.
  • Use fresh or dried fruit as a side dish to add color and flavor.
  • Instead of sugary sauces, marinate meats with low-fat dressings or preserves.
  • Try barbecue sauce made with plum or prune juice instead of sugar

Did you know…?

Most of the sugar we eat is added to foods, like in cake, candy, cookies, ice cream, breakfast cereals and sodas.

Which foods are better choices?

The lists below show you which foods are higher in sugar (Red light foods) and which foods are lower in sugar (Green light foods). Choose Green light foods more often than Red light foods.

Red light foods

Breakfast, lunch and dinner

  • Cereal, sweetened
  • Open hot turkey dinner
  • Sandwich with white bread
  • Sweet and sour chicken
  • Teriyaki chicken

Sides

  • Biscuits
  • Cornbread
  • Glazed carrots
  • Potato without skin
  • White rice
  • White pasta

Snacks

  • Goldfish®
  • Crackers made with white flour or added flavoring

Drinks

  • Regular soda
  • Juice of any kind
  • Milk with sugary flavorings
  • Coffee or tea with sugar
  • Sports or energy drinks

Sweets and desserts

  • Baked goods (such as cookies, cakes, donuts, muffins and pastries)
  • Marshmallows
  • Milkshakes

Green light foods

Breakfast, lunch and dinner

  • Cereal, high-fiber and whole grain
  • Toast, whole grain or whole wheat, with preserves or ½ teaspoon of honey
  • Baked or grilled chicken in a low-fat marinade or with preserves as a glaze
  • Turkey, sliced
  • Sandwich using whole wheat or multigrain bread, pita or wrap

Sides

  • Raw or steamed carrots
  • Baked potato (red, Russet or Idaho) or sweet potato with skin
  • Brown rice
  • Whole wheat pasta

Snacks

  • Nuts (almonds, pecans, walnuts, peanuts)
  • Whole wheat or multigrain crackers

Drinks

  • Water
  • Fruit juice (diluted with water)
  • Skim or low-fat milk with no or low-sugar flavoring
  • Coffee or tea, decaffeinated and unsweetened
  • Diet soda (preferably only if there are no other healthy options)

Sweets and desserts

  • Angel food cake
  • Bran muffin (preferably low-fat)

Rev. 4/2019. MassGeneral Hospital for Children and Massachusetts General Hospital do not endorse any of the brands listed on this handout. This handout is intended to provide health information so that you can be better informed. It is not a substitute for medical advice and should not be used to treatment of any medical conditions.