Sugar Busters Diet Basics and Food List

sugar busters diet foods
Illustration by Joshua Seong. © Verywell, 2018.

The Sugar Busters diet focuses on eliminating refined carbohydrates and high glycemic index foods. It was popularized in the bestselling book, "Sugar Busters! Cut Sugar to Trim Fat" by H. Leighton Steward, Sam S. Andrews, Morrison C. Bethea, and Luis A. Balart. Learn the basics of this diet and a list of foods that are either restricted or allowed.

Basics of the Sugar Busters Diet

The "Sugar Busters" authors recommend about 40 percent of calories in the diet come from high fiber, low glycemic carbohydrate, 30 percent from protein, and about 30 percent (but as much as 40 percent) from primarily fat (unsaturated).

On the other hand, they state that people may eat as much as 50 to 55 percent carbohydrate and still stay within the bounds of the diet. However, they don't say where the extra 10 to 15 percent of carbs is supposed to come from, given the protein and fat recommendations.

Carbohydrates: Forbidden vs. Acceptable

The diet has a list of carbohydrate foods that should be avoided, including white bread, white rice, white flour, sugar, products with added sugar, some high glycemic fruit (bananas, raisins, pineapple), most root vegetables (potatoes, beets, parsnips), and corn. Acceptable carbs include legumes, whole grain products, and low-fat dairy products without added sugar. See a fuller list below.

Meats, Fish, and Eggs

The diet advises eating lean meats, removing the skin from poultry and trimming fat from lean beef, lamb, and pork. All fish and seafood allowed, as are whole eggs. However, no breading is allowed.


Unsaturated fat is emphasized, but saturated fat is not as forbidden as it is in the Zone and South Beach diets. Butter is acceptable in moderation, for example. The pantry list has cheese on it. Nonetheless, saturated fat should not comprise more than 10 percent of the diet (but no real guidelines are given by the authors on how to achieve this).

Limiting Alcohol and Caffeine

A glass of an alcoholic beverage with a meal is acceptable, with dry red wine is preferred. Beer is off-limits. Limit caffeine to two to three cups of caffeinated beverage per day, and fewer is better.

Timing of Meals

People can divide their eating between anywhere from three to six meals per day, depending on schedule and what works best for each person. They advise no eating after 8 p.m. Fruits and juices should ideally be eaten separately from other foods, but they are not rigid about this.

Portion Sizes

The books don't give specific measurements for portions, but simply recommend one plate of food, but not overfull. Put reasonable portions on the plate and don’t go back for seconds.

Food Lists for the Sugar Busters Diet

These are lists of foods that are forbidden on the Sugar Busters Diet, as well as foods that are recommended, and others "to be eaten in moderation."

Forbidden Carbohydrate Foods:

  • White bread (includes any bread with white flour in it)
  • Pasta, unless whole grain
  • White rice
  • White flour and products made with it such as cake, cookies, crackers, pretzels, doughnuts, bagels, and muffins
  • Potatoes and potato chips
  • Corn and corn chips
  • Sugar and products with added sugar, e.g. canned fruits in syrup
  • Jams and jellies containing added sugars
  • Ripe bananas (green OK)
  • Raisins
  • Pineapple
  • Beets
  • Parsnips
  • Honey
  • Syrups
  • Salad dressings and sauces with added sugar, such as teriyaki sauce
  • Fruit drinks containing added sugar
  • Sugar-sweetened soft drinks
  • Sugar-cured meats (e.g. ham and bacon are often cured with salt and sugar)
  • Beer

Recommended Carbohydrate Foods:

  • All other vegetables and fruits
  • Whole grains, such as brown rice and oatmeal
  • Whole grain flour
  • Products made with 100 percent whole grain flour (note that “wheat flour” is not whole grain—it has to say 100 percent whole wheat), as long as they have no added sugars
  • Beans
  • Sweet potatoes

Other Recommended Foods:

  • Lean meats (remove skin from poultry, trim lean cuts of beef, pork, and lamb) Nothing sugar-cured.
  • Fish and seafood (not breaded)
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and nut butter
  • Flax seeds
  • Olive and canola oils
  • Low-fat milk and other dairy products (low-fat sour cream, yogurt, etc., with no added sugar)
  • Mayonnaise and other sauces and dressings with no added sugar
  • Artificial sweeteners

Foods to Eat in Moderation:

  • Fruit juices with no added sugar
  • Artificially sweetened colas (clear sodas are recommended instead of colas)
  • Chocolate (at least 60 percent cacao)
  • Pure fruit jams and jellies without added sugar
  • Carrots
  • Butter, cream, and regular cheese
  • Beverages with caffeine
  • Small portions of sugar-free ice cream, “if you have eaten a low glycemic meal that does not contain red meat”

Positives of the Sugar Busters Diet

These are points in favor of the diet:

  • Super-simplicity: This diet could not be simpler. There are no phases, no counting, no measuring, and very little special knowledge needed. To follow the basic diet, you just need to be able to identify a few ingredients and foods to stay away from (to be sure, those foods are everywhere, so it’s not necessarily easy, but it’s simple).
  • High in fiber and phytonutrients: Getting 40 percent of your calories from vegetables, fruits, and whole grains makes it easy to eat a nutrient-rich diet that is high in fiber and phytonutrients.
  • Low in saturated fat: Although "Sugar Busters" doesn’t have the same emphasis on this as a diet such as the Zone or South Beach, the authors of "Sugar Busters" do talk about eating less saturated fat. Though the jury is still out on some of the ins and outs of saturated fats and low carb diets, this is probably a good thing in a moderate-carb diet.

Negatives of the Sugar Busters Diet

Be sure to understand these drawbacks:

  • The book: The book has a lot of good information in it, but it’s not that easy to zero in on the diet. People will generally go to the food and meal lists first. But the text contains many suggestions that contradict the lists, or at least add vital information. Examples: The lists have butter, cream, and cheese in them. Then you read that you should limit saturated fat, but guidelines aren’t given as to how to do this. The lists don’t tell you what fruit to avoid, but it’s in the text.
  • One size fits all: There is no way to adjust for individual variation. This is especially an issue when it comes to carbohydrates, where different people have different tolerances to glucose. However low glycemic the carb sources, it all gets broken down to sugar in the end, and some just can’t deal with much of it. It’s kind of ironic that a diet called Sugar Busters allows fruit juice, which is has a lot of concentrated sugar and tends to raise blood glucose quite a lot.
  • Over-reliance on the glycemic index (GI): First of all, the glycemic index itself is fraught with problems. Second, there is absolutely no evidence that if you eat a lot of lower glycemic food that it won’t add up to a higher blood sugar. Third, even within the index, Sugar Busters does not use it consistently. There are allowed foods whose GI range is close to or overlaps sucrose, which is the big no-no.

    A Word From Verywell

    Sugar Busters has its positives and negatives, which are separate from those of low carb diets in general. It's wise to discuss your diet plans with your healthcare provider, especially if you have a condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease.

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