What Are Refined Sugars?

Read any health advice on the internet; chances are, avoiding refined sugar will be in there somewhere. 

Too much refined sugar is linked to many health problems, like acne, weight gain, and brain fog. Plus, it can affect you like an addictive drug, causing cravings and withdrawal symptoms that can wreck eating habits, lead to obesity, and affect your blood sugar levels. 

But there are many different types of sugar out there. What makes refined sugars so especially bad for you? Keep reading this guide from Sweetkick to find out, along with tips for kicking refined sugar to the curb. 

What Are Refined Sugars?

Refined sugar is sugar that’s been processed from its natural form, such as sugar derived from the sugarcane plant. 

Refined sugar can take many different forms. Some common examples include: 

  • Table sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • High-fructose corn syrup 
  • Rice syrup
  • Molasses
  • Caramel
  • Cane juice

When checking ingredient labels, these are just some (but not all) of the ingredients to watch out for. Refined sugar may also be listed as cane sugar, glucose, maltose, sucrose, or dextrose. (Check out our guide for a complete breakdown of refined sugars.)

Because they’re taken from their natural source (a plant) and processed into the simplest possible form, refined sugars don’t contain many nutrients. They lack nutritional value and are devoid of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. 

So, not only are refined sugars doing your health zero favors but they’re digested super quickly. This is why white sugar is some of the worst “food” for keeping you full. 

Compare the attributes of refined sugar to natural sugars.

Natural sugars are found in whole foods. This includes fruit (in the form of fructose), starches (in the form of glucose), and dairy products (in the form of lactose). Natural sugars include vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, and antioxidants. 

In moderation, whole, unprocessed foods that contain sugar provide your body with nutrition. Plus, they’re digested slower, which results in a lower blood sugar spike and a higher level of satiety. 

Now, you might be wondering where sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, and date syrup fit here. Well, they’re not technically refined sugars because they’re not processed. In addition, they contain plenty of good-for-you compounds, like antioxidants. But honestly, they’re just slightly better for you than refined sugars and should be consumed in moderation. 

Are Refined Sugars Bad for You?

Refined sugars are not doing you any favors. 

In the first place, they contain zero nutrients. So you’re getting empty calories that do absolutely nothing for your health. Plus, because refined sugars are so easy to consume, it might be easier to eat more of them, leading to increased weight gain. 

Refined sugar is notoriously hard to consume “in moderation” because it can be addictive. When we eat sugar, our brains release a huge source of dopamine, similar to many other addictive drugs. Over time, your brain might release less and less dopamine in response to the same amount of sugar, which may lead you to consume more of the stuff to get the same effect.

Refined sugar may lead to other issues in the body, increasing your risk of various health conditions. Plus, it can speed up the signs of aging and mess with many other aspects of your appearance. These are the main reasons to show refined sugar the door. 

10 Surprising Places You’ll Find Refined Sugars 

1. Marinara Sauce

Your favorite pasta sauce may taste savory but can be loaded with sugar. Some brands have up to 15 grams of sugar per half-cup. Sugar is usually added to balance out the flavor of sour tomatoes — something more common in low-quality brands. Ripe tomatoes grown in their natural climate are naturally sweet, requiring zero added sugar. 

2. Ketchup

Your favorite condiment may have up to 4 grams of refined sugar. The same applies to other sauces, like barbecue, teriyaki, and honey mustard. Just because some brands are listed as sugar-free doesn’t mean they’re much better. 

Artificial sweeteners may be on par with refined sugar regarding their negative health effects

3. Salad Dressing 

You may be trying to do something good for your health by eating salads, but many salad dressing brands pump their products with refined sugar. Plus, they tend to contain other not-so-great ingredients, like industrialized seed oils. 

4. Beef Jerky 

Your beef jerky may contain up to 10 grams of added sugar per serving as a favorite low-carb snack. Unless the nutrition label explicitly states “zero added sugar,” assume that it’s flavored with the sweet stuff. 

5. Peanut Butter 

Plain peanuts aren’t the most exciting foods, which is why many brands add refined sugar to theirs. The same goes for other nut butter, like almond and cashew. 

6. Bread 

Not only is bread already high in carbs, but it may also contain high amounts of refined sugar to enhance its taste.

7. Nut Milk 

Some nut milk brands claim to be all about your health, but their food labels may say otherwise. No matter your drink of choice — almond, cashew, macadamia — make sure you’re getting the zero-sugar-added version. 

8. Protein Powder

Decadent flavors you mix into your smoothies, like cookies-and-cream, creamy chocolate, and strawberry shortcake, come with a cost: added sugar. Your best bet is an unflavored protein powder. 

If you can’t fathom consuming it plain, plenty of “clean” protein powders out there use healthy sugar substitutes, like monk fruit, erythritol, or allulose. 

9. Vitamin Supplements 

As the ultimate betrayal to your health, supplement brands may add tons of sugar to their products to make them taste good. Highly unnecessary, if you ask us. However you get your vitamins — whether it’s a gummy, a syrup, or a chewable tablet — check that ingredient list for added sugar. 

10. Tonic Water 

You’re trying to improve your wellness by going for a gin and tonic instead of a sweet mixed drink. But you’ll be disappointed to know that one glass of tonic water has 8 grams of added sugar. Fortunately, club soda is 100% sugar-free. 

How Can I Limit Refined Sugar Intake? 

1. Scan the Ingredient List

As demonstrated above, refined sugars may show up in some sneaky places. If you’re buying something in a package, like breakfast cereal, just assume that it has sugar added and scrutinize that ingredient list for its sugar content. 

2. Cook at Home

When you order at a restaurant, you have no idea which ingredients are used in your food — and your waiter may not know either. But when you cook at home, you have 100% control of what goes into your body. 

3. Eat Whole Foods

Even if they’re high in sugar, whole foods come with plenty of nutrients to make eating them worthwhile. Of course, as with most things in life, you should consume sweet, whole foods (like fruit) in moderation. 

4. Skip Dessert

Eating dessert after a savory meal is a habit that can contribute to sugar cravings. Instead, have something bitter to finish the meal — such as a hot cup of herbal tea

5. Curb Your Sugar Cravings

If you have constant cravings, cutting out refined sugar may require some serious willpower. Better to address the problem at its source by nipping your sugar cravings in the bud. The Sugar Reset is made to help you kick your sugar habit in just 14 days. 

Kick Sugar to the Curb 

Refined sugars are highly-processed forms of natural sugar. They have zero nutrients, which essentially makes them empty calories. Plus, eating too much of them can be harmful to your health. Check labels on everything from fruit juice to ice cream to soft drinks and processed foods to see if those products are filled with more sugar than you’d like.

Take back control of your health with Sweetkick. Our best-selling products are clinically proven to help curb sugar consumption while helping to build healthy habits. We’ll be here every step of the way to support you. 



Significance of Diet in Treated and Untreated Acne Vulgaris | PMC

Daily Binging on Sugar Repeatedly Releases Dopamine in the Accumbens Shell | NCBI

Intakes and sources of dietary sugars and their association with metabolic and inflammatory markers | PMC

Artificial Sweeteners as a Sugar Substitute: Are They Really Safe? | PMC