Foods That List Sugar as the First Ingredient

Then there are products that list sugar as the very first ingredient—which of course means that by weight, there’s more sweetener than any other ingredient.

It’s what you’d expect from a bag of gummy bears, sure, but sugar in barbecue sauce? Not all brands are guilty of “sweetening up” their offerings with more sugar than real-food ingredients but be aware and check ingredients lists before you buy.

Thick BBQ sauce on 'wings'

Have you got a craving for candy-coated chicken? Because if you brush your chicken with some of the big-name barbecue sauces, you’ll get just that.

Barbecue sauce

More specifically, you’ll get a finger-lickin’ blend of: high fructose corn syrup, distilled vinegar, tomato paste, modified food starch, and less than 2% salt, pineapple juice concentrate, natural smoke flavour, spices, caramel color, sodium benzoate, molasses, corn syrup, dried garlic, sugar, tamarind, natural flavour.

Hot cocoa

Hot chocolate drink

While hot chocolate is clearly no health food, it does a one-cup return to childhood on a brutally cold day! ingredients, the first two of which are sugar and corn syrup?

Energy bars

Check the label on those seemingly innocent bars you’ve been pulling out of your backpack for years. If the first ingredient is brown rice syrup, that’s just deceptive packaged food speak for sugar.

Milk chocolate–covered nuts.

We’ve all been there – craving chocolate but ridden with too much guilt to pick up a candy bar. So, we go for something like chocolate-covered almonds or peanuts. While there’s some protein and fiber , and only a light coating of chocolate, in reality, there’s usually more milk chocolate than nuts, and the first ingredient in milk chocolate? You guessed it – sugar.


Matcha, a particular variety of green tea, is marketed as even healthier than other types. This Green Tea boasts a mile-long list of health benefits, but not all matcha is created equal.

Cup of dark green tea- Matcha

By nature, the stuff is earthy and smooth, but not very sweet. So some brands—including the matcha powder used at America’s most beloved coffee chain—come pre-sweetened. When that’s the case, you’re stirring more sugar than tea into your drink.

Fat-free salad dressing

Take out fat, add sugar (and salt). That’s the rationale behind many big-name low- or no-fat bottled dressings. We recently plucked a gourmet-sounding sun-dried tomato vinaigrette from a grocery store shelf only to discover that there was hardly any tomato-y goodness inside the bottle.

Instead, the ingredients list read: high fructose corn syrup, cider vinegar, distilled vinegar, maltodextrin, water, tomato paste, and less than 2% of sun-dried tomato, salt, xanthan gum, paprika, potassium sorbate, calcium disodium EDTA, spice, and natural flavour.

Lemon-flavored iced tea mix

Iced tea in a glass with ice

The ingredients: sugar, citric acid (to preserve tartness), instant tea powder (?), silicon dioxide (to prevent caking), natural flavour (?) and artificial colour (red #40). It’s no surprise that one glass packs more than 4 teaspoons of sugar.

Chocolate-hazelnut spread

Hazelnuts, skim milk, cocoa—it’s all in there, but it all comes after sugar.

Kid’s breakfast cereal

Cherio-type breakfast cereal

Most candy, cookie- or cinnamon-bun-inspired cereals at least charm us with using corn as a first ingredient, but a recent stroll down the breakfast foods aisle revealed that several character-clad boxes actually list sugar as the very first ingredient.

Gluten-free brownie mix

You know that warm and fuzzy feeling you get when you realize an easy-to-find-anywhere brand finally cares about your gluten-free sweet tooth (and therefore, your health?

Picture of brownies

The ingredients list – sugar, semi-sweet chocolate chips (sugar, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla), cocoa processed with alkali, rice flour, potato starch, corn starch, xanthan gum, and salt.

Stephen Bray

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