Foods Diabetics Should Avoid

Foods Diabetics Should Avoid


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Foods Diabetics Should Avoid

Not So Sweet

Uncontrolled Type 2 diabetes can bring on kidney failure, heart attack, or stroke, so most diabetics learn quickly that their diet needs a drastic makeover. Knowing the health effects and glycemic index of foods is crucial to controlling blood sugar (adding more daily exercise is a good idea too), but thanks to popular low-carbohydrate lifestyle and a recent surge in low-to-no-sugar recipes, snacks, and other options, eating smart has become easier to manage. Here are foods diabetics should avoid.

31 Foods for Diabetics That Help Keep Blood Sugar Under Control.

Trans Fat-Laden Spreads

Trans Fat-Laden Spreads

Industrial trans fats are created by adding hydrogen to liquid oils to solidify them, which makes them more shelf-stable and affects texture. Think commercially prepared shelf-stable peanut butter, nut spreads, margarine, cheese spreads, creamers, and frozen dinners. In addition, trans fats are added to many crackers, muffins, and other baked goods to extend shelf life. Diabetics should avoid these at all costs, according to the American Diabetes Association

Related: Unhealthy Fast Food Breakfasts — and What to Order Instead

100 Calorie Packs

'100 Calorie' Portioned Snack Packs

Pretzels, small cookies, crackers, and other packaged foods are made with refined flour and fast-digesting carbs that can raise blood sugar, and despite being touted as a diet assist for calorie counters, these snack packs are full of trans fats. A 1-ounce (28 gram) serving of crackers or pretzels has 22 grams of carbohydrates, Dr. Anis Rehman says. Eat whole foods such as nuts or a few low-carb vegetables with a small portion of cheese if you need to graze. 

Related: With These Healthy Recipes, You Won't Miss Packaged Snacks

Juice Cleanse

Expensive Juice Cleanses

Juice cleanses, detox drinks, and anything people drink as a meal substitute are often touted as healthy. But they are really Trojan horses for sugar and lack protein and fiber, which help keep blood sugar steady and are often high in calories as well. "Fruit should be eaten whole," Rehman says. So skip these, save money, eat an orange and, if you need minerals and vitamins added to your diet, take basic supplements. 

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Sugar-Free Candy

'Sugar-Free' Foods

Just avoid these frankenfoods altogether. Commercially made sugar-free items are normally very highly processed foods made with unwanted chemicals and extra trans fat to make them palatable. Eat whole foods, smaller quantities, and try drinking plain water when you think you are hungry between meals. 

Related: 15 Meaningless Nutritional Claims by Some of Your Favorite Foods

Salad Croutons

Salad Toppings and Croutons

These carbohydrate-heavy crunchy toppings might get used without considering the effect they have on blood sugar — but consider it. "If you are dining out, ask to hold the croutons," Rehman says. If you are constructing a salad at the salad bar, add sunflower seeds, carrot strips, sliced radish, or jicama to your salad for texture. 

Related: 26 Tips for Healthy Eating on a Budget

Fish Sticks

Fish Sticks

Sometimes more so than chicken nuggets, fish sticks are coated heavily in breadcrumbs, and deep-fried shrimp and fish can have an extra-thick coating. "Just avoid fried foods in general, especially seafood," Rehman says. 

Related: 20 Recipes and Tips for Grilling Fish


Cereals and Granolas

Loaded with hidden and not-so-hidden sugar, even the healthiest-seeming breakfast cereals are diabetic land mines with a high glycemic index. Granolas seem a healthier option, but they are often equally sugar-laden. According to the American Diabetes Association, the better choice is oatmeal or oat bran, which have a lower GI value — 55 or less. There are many high-protein and low-carb granolas available in grocery stores, too. 

Related: I Switched Out Cereal for Oatmeal for Breakfast — Here's What I Learned

Honey and Agave

Honey and Agave

Seemingly healthy, honey and agave are ingredients diabetics should be careful with. "Some 'hidden' sugars are problematic. Honey, just because it is natural, doesn't mean that more is better. It is still sugar," says registered dietitian and food sensitivity expert Lisa Hugh. Agave is slightly better in the glycemic index but must be portioned carefully.

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Any way you slice them or cook them, potatoes are a high-GI food and should be avoided by diabetics. Mashed potatoes and french fries, for example, each have a GI over 75. Try baked sweet potatoes, which have a lower GI score, or go even lower with mashed cauliflower made from cauliflower rice, easy to find in grocery stores' frozen sections or to make yourself. 

Related: Celebrate Spuds With 27 Tasty Ways to Cook Potatoes

Grains and Rice
Grains and Rice/istockphoto

Grains and Rice

White rice is a high-GI food and should be avoided. Believe it or not, pasta has around a 20-point lower GI score than even brown rice. The best choices for grains and rice replacements are foods such as whole-grain barley, rye berries, and even whole wheat pasta. Many people use cauliflower rice as a rice substitute, too. 

Related: 30 Creative Rice and Bean Dishes From Around the World

Bakery Goods
john shepherd/istockphoto

Bakery Goods

Commercially baked cupcakes, cookies, pies, scones, and muffins are never recommended for diabetics. They are extremely high on the glycemic index. Diabetics can learn to make these treats with healthier swaps for flour and sugar, but still need to watch their portions. 

Related: 50 Delicious Diabetic Dessert Recipes Everyone Will Love

Wine and Beer


"Cocktails and especially wine and beer are to be avoided," says Ysabel Montemayor, the lead registered dietitian at meal delivery service Fresh n' Lean. She recommends that your quality calories and healthier carbs come from whole foods rather than drinks. Occasions sometimes call for a toast, so try and stick to a plain vodka soda or a neat whiskey. 

Related: Best Cheap Whiskeys


Sweetened Fruit Cups

Sweetened Fruit Cups

Often packaged and sold as healthy snacks for kids, these syrup-drenched fruit pieces are not for a diabetic to consume. Whole fruits are absolutely okay to eat in moderation, but the more processed, the more dangerous. Even fruit juices are recommended to drink on a limited basis. Low-glycemic fruits include peaches, apples, cherries, and strawberries. 

Related: The 20 Least Unhealthy Junk Foods

Sweet Iced Tea

Sweet Iced Tea

Southern-style sweet iced tea is a disaster for a diabetic and akin to sugary sodas. Unsweetened ice tea, unsweetened black coffee, and whole milk are good choices, but keep sweet iced tea on the no-go list. There is promising research that supports daily coffee and green tea consumption as having a positive effect on Type 2 diabetes. 

Fatty Cured Meats

Fatty Cured Meats

Cured meats and charcuterie are full of preservatives, salt, and fat, and some have sugar used in the curing process, too — none of which a diabetic should be indulging in. For a deli craving, go for the roasted and leaner cuts of meat. Sliced roasted chicken or turkey are smart plays.

Char-Grilled Meats

Char-Grilled Meats

Recent research has connected well-done or charred red meat and chicken cooked directly on a grill to an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes. Though the connection is unclear, some of the chemicals that may play a role include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, heterocyclic aromatic amines, and nitrosamines (the latter is added to meats as a preservative), all formed during charbroiled high-heat cooking. These same meats that are only "lightly browned" showed a significantly decreased risk.

Restaurant Entree

Restaurant Entrees

Deceiving in calories, portion sizes, and ingredients, and often served with potatoes in some form, restaurant entrees are ticking GI time bombs for a diabetic. If you are at a restaurant, opt for the grilled or steamed proteins and fresh vegetable sides, and skip salad dressings, beer, cocktails, fried appetizers, and breads.

19 Places Where Diabetics Can Safely Eat Out

Energy and Protein Bars

Energy and Protein Bars

Many energy and protein bars have high-calorie counts, corn syrup as a binder, or sneakier sugars such as brown rice syrup or malt syrup. This is where a diabetic's detective skills are needed: Read the labels, opt for no-added-sugar bars, and look at the carb and protein counts. Also, make sure the calorie count is under 300. There are many being sold that fit that bill. 

Related: 18 Lunch-Box Staples That Are Surprisingly Bad for Your Kids

Energy Drinks
Twin Design/shutterstock

Energy Drinks

These are high in sugar and can cause dangerous spikes in insulin levels. Energy drinks' high caffeine amounts combined with bad carbohydrates are not really good for anyone, much less diabetics. For a swap, learn to appreciate unsweetened ice tea, green tea, or black coffee for a caffeinated midday boost.

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Sodas and Flavored Waters

Sugary sodas, diet sodas, and so-called "vitamin" waters are all on the "no" list for diabetics. They are full of sugar, bad carbs, and chemicals that have been shown to wreak havoc with blood sugar levels. Need a fizzy swap? Make your own seltzer and squeeze a bit of citrus to add flavor.

Fruit Juice

Fruit Juice

Most fruit juices that are sold in the grocery store are loaded with sugars and not suitable for a diabetic. Freshly squeezed fruit juices such as grapefruit or orange are better, but diabetics should limit themselves to a 4-ounce portion each day.

Skip Fancy Coffee Drinks

Coffee Drinks

Coffee in its unsweetened black form is perfectly fine to drink, but many of the items on a coffeehouse menu are off-limits. That includes sweet chai tea lattes made from syrup bases and anything that has a squirt of flavoring or a dollop of whipped topping. 

Related: How to Satisfy Your $5 Starbucks Habit at Home

Fruit Leather and Roll Ups

Fruit Leather and Roll-Ups

Packaged fruit leathers and dried fruits are too sugar-dense a treat for a diabetic. Fruit should always be eaten whole. Occasionally, a small amount of fresh natural juice is okay. Or try one of the homemade methods to make diabetic-friendly fruit snacks that are a good substitute.

Frozen Yogurt

Frozen Yogurt

Frozen yogurt is presented as a healthier option than ice cream, but it is a terrible option for a diabetic. The sugar counts and GI index for frozen yogurt treats and their toppings are off the charts. That also goes for frozen yogurt treats sold in grocery stores. But you can learn to make your own healthy yogurt treat at home with Greek plain yogurt, spices, and pieces of fresh fruit instead. 

Related: 10 Diet Foods That Actually Make It Harder to Lose Weight

Yogurt Cups

Yogurt Cups

These are absolutely not for a diabetic, as they have plenty of added sugar, especially the ones with syrupy fruit at the bottom. If you need an easy-to-grab-and-go snack, buy Greek-style, higher-protein yogurt unsweetened and add a bit of nut topping and safe natural sweeteners such as stevia, erythritol, or monk fruit crystals.


Fruit Smoothies

Touted as health drinks, fruit-based smoothies are usually yogurt-based with add-ins and not good for a diabetic, despite the healthy-sounding ingredients. Smoothies sold in grocery stores are far too sugary for a diabetic, too, but there are healthier swaps. Opt for juiced vegetables with no added sugars flavored with fresh ginger. There are many recipes to make diabetic-friendly smoothies at home as well.

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Watch Out for Sauces

Ketchup and Sweet Relish

Many condiments are sugar-filled foods that diabetics need to avoid to manage blood sugar. Ketchup and prepared sweet relishes can be swapped out with fresh salsas, hot sauce, mustard, and plain, yogurt-based toppings flavored with a bit of citrus such as lime.

Soy Sauce, Barbecue Sauce, and Hoisin Sauce