If you have diabetes, in many ways your diet is your medicine. As diabetes educators, we help patients understand what food and beverage choices are best to avoid. When foods are high in carbohydrates, fat, and sodium, they increase your risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, weight gain, heart disease, and uncontrolled sugar. Here are the top 10 worst foods for diabetes.
1. Fruit Smoothies
Sure, it seems healthy, but a pulverized, low-fiber smoothie made primarily of fruit tops our list of foods diabetics should avoid. “Smoothies can be large whacks of carbs and sugar, especially if there’s no protein or healthy fat that acts similarly to fiber to slow digestion and prevent blood sugar from spiking,” says Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN.
2. Char-Grilled Meats
“They may be tasty come summer, but char-grilled, burnt meats are high in advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which perpetuate damaged cell receptors and causes insulin resistance,” cautions Miriam Jacobson, MS, RD, CNS, CDN. A little bit of char is inevitable when you’re grilling, but if any parts are extremely blackened, cut them off before digging in, the American Diabetes Association advises.
3. French Fries
It’s not that you can’t eat potatoes, you just have to be cognizant of how they’re prepared and how much you consume. French fries, are the worst foods for diabetes, are a no-go. “Fried foods are high in simple carbs and fat, which is a tough combination for diabetics. It will raise blood sugar quickly and keep it high for a long time because the fat takes a while to digest,” Zanini explains.
4. Sports Drinks
Sports drinks like Gatorade may be helpful for highly active, healthy people, but people with diabetes should steer clear—even if they hit the gym on the reg. “They can be an unnecessary source of calories, added sugars, and sodium, which are all things people with diabetes should avoid,” Newgent warns. Stay hydrated during your workout with cold H2O—it really is your best bet, or with a natural electrolyte-packed, low-calorie sports drink such as HALO Sport.
5. Cinnamon Rolls
Though you likely assumed sugary donuts and muffins weren’t the best way to kick off your day, we bet you didn’t realize just how awful certain pastries can be. “Cinnamon rolls, for example, can contain more saturated fat and added sugars than people with diabetes should have in an entire day,” cautions Newgent. Yikes!
6. Fast Food
Drop that McDonald’s breakfast sausage and Egg McMuffin because you’re on the one-way road to better health! In a 15-year study consisting of 3,000 adults, it was found that those who ate fast food more than twice a week developed insulin resistance at twice the rate than those who didn’t consume fast food. Insulin resistance increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and prediabetes.
7. Mixed Coffee Drinks
Sure, they look awful tempting topped with whipped cream and chocolate sauce, but you’ll want to say “no” to sugary coffee drinks, Zanini advises. “A small ice-blended chocolate coffee drink from a café can easily contain over 44 grams of sugar, which is equal to 11 teaspoons. That’s much more than the American Heart Association’s 6 teaspoon recommendation.”
8. Processed Lunch Meat
Consider this: just two of those thinly-sliced pieces of deli meat can contain more sodium than a bag of pretzels. That’s over 680 milligrams! (And, let’s be honest, who only uses two slices?) A diet high in sodium is especially taxing for patients with diabetes, as it increases your already-heightened risk for high blood pressure (hypertension) and heart disease.
9. Dried Fruit
Don’t be fooled. Yes, these sweet treats are produced by nature, but they sure aren’t innocent. Real fruit contains nutrients like water and fiber, which both help to fill you up. When dried, these sweet and chewy snacks can carry anywhere between 34 and 74 grams of carbs—for raisins and dates, respectively—for one small 1.5-ounce serving.
10. Cereal Bars
They might be the perfect early-morning shortcut, but it’s probably best for you to reconsider your grab-and-go meal if you have diabetes. Granola- and cereal-based bars aren’t just high in refined carbs, but they’re also coated in countless grams of syrups and sugars to keep them bound. Cereal bars, in particular, can serve up nearly 30 grams of carbs and 16 of those are straight up sugar. With only 1 gram of fiber, your blood glucose levels will be hitching a ride on the sugar roller coaster.