Foods to Avoid When You Have Diabetes

Some Are More Obvious Than Others

There's nothing worse than hearing what you should not eat, especially when you have diabetes. The good news is that there are a plethora of nutritious and delicious foods that you can eat. Still, certain food choices, particularly those rich in carbohydrates, can cause blood sugars to rise quickly. This can make you feel sluggish, cause high blood sugar, and even pack on weight. 

Some of these foods are obvious because they contain added sugars—for example candies, cookies, soda, and so on. Other foods, even those you may think are healthy, may also be foods you want to limit due to their high carbohydrate content, lack of fiber, and limited nutritional value. This doesn't mean you should never eat these foods, but it's best to avoid them regularly and, when you do indulge, to watch your portion and be aware of their carbohydrate counts. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends 45% of total daily caloric intake be from carbohydrate sources. 


Whole-Wheat Bagels and Pretzels

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Whole-Wheat Bagels

Don't be fooled - choosing a whole wheat bagel does not translate to fewer carbohydrates when compared to its white counterpart. One bagel is equivalent to eating about 4–6 slices of bread, which means it is very carbohydrate-dense and can raise blood sugar. Bagels are also lacking in filling fiber and protein. Therefore, you are likely to be hungry an hour or two after eating one, which can negatively impact your blood sugar and weight.

  • To make this a healthier choice, decide to eat half a bagel (scooped out) and top it with a few scrambled egg whites and a vegetable of your choice. My favorite combination is 3 egg whites with 1/3 avocado and 1/2 cup spinach. This adds protein, fiber, and healthy fat.
  • Some studies suggest a larger, higher-protein, higher-fat breakfast may help to reduce HgbA1c.

Whole-Wheat Pretzels

Whole-wheat pretzels may seem like a good choice because they are whole wheat, but pretzels are rich in sodium and lack nutritional value. One serving of honey wheat pretzels will cost you around 110 calories, 1 g fat, 20 mg sodium, and 24 g carbohydrate with just 1 g fiber and 3 g protein.

Pretzels also have a high glycemic index, which can affect blood sugar control. The ADA suggests that substituting low-glycemic-index foods for high-glycemic-index foods may improve blood sugar control.


Dried Fruit (Even Unsweetened)

bowl dried fruit
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Dried fruit, especially dried fruit that is covered with yogurt, chocolate, or otherwise sweetened, is loaded with sugar even in very small portions. Because dried fruit is condensed, the serving is very small. One serving of raisins is only 2 tablespoons.

  • When possible, it's best to eat whole fresh fruit, limiting your portions to about 2–3 maximum per day.
  • Learn how to incorporate fruit into your meal plan: Can I Eat Fruit if I Have Diabetes? 

Margarine and Trans Fats

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Not all margarine is created equal. The intent of margarine is to reduce saturated fat and calories. However, some margarine spreads are made with partially hydrogenated oil (trans fat). Avoid trans fat, because it acts similarly to saturated fat.

  • When choosing a margarine, be sure to read the label. If the label lists "hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil," you should avoid it. Aim to spread whole-grain bread with heart-healthy fat alternatives like hummus, avocado, or nut butter.

Fat-Free Salad Dressing and Low-Fat Peanut Butter

lemon salad dressing
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Thinking about purchasing low-fat peanut butter or fat-free salad dressing? You might want to think again. Often, fat is replaced with sugar in these products.

Kristy Del Coro, culinary nutritionist, says, "When you take out the fat, fillers, often in the form of sugar, are added in its place to achieve mouth feel and add flavor." Replacing fat, especially heart-healthy fat, is probably not a good idea, not only for blood sugars but for heart health. In fact, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans state that reducing total fat (replacing total fat with overall carbohydrates) does not lower cardiovascular disease risk, whereas strong and consistent evidence shows that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat reduces the risk of cardiovascular events and coronary mortality.

Fat-free and certain low-fat food items (this does not include low-fat dairy), such as low-fat peanut butter, may contain more carbohydrates. Instead of purchasing the low-fat version, eat the full-fat version and keep your portions controlled.

Foods that contain heart-healthy fat like nut butters and oil-based dressing are good for you in moderation and can have favorable effects on cholesterol.

  • Fat-free salad dressing: About 7 g carbohydrate in 2 tablespoons 
  • Low-fat peanut butter: About 8 g carbohydrate in 1 Tablespoon

Sauces and Condiments

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Sauces and condiments add flavor to foods, but they also may contain a large amount of carbohydrates, fat, and calories even in a small portion. 


Many sauces and gravies contain flour or sugar for added flavor and texture. Make sure to always read the label when choosing these products. When possible, avoid packaged or canned sauces or gravies, since these foods tend to be high in sodium, which can increase blood pressure.

  • Gravy: About 6 g of carbohydrates in 1/2 cup serving


Condiments are a very popular way to make the food we eat taste better. We dip, pour, and smear condiments on sandwiches, bread, and other food items, but we often forget to factor them into our carbohydrate and calorie allotment.

When used in moderation, condiments are fine. But if you don't pay careful attention to portion and serving size, the calories, sugar, and carbohydrates can add up quickly. Be sure to measure your condiments and label-read for accurate carbohydrate counts.

  • Barbecue sauce: About 9 g of carbohydrate in 2 tablespoons
  • Ketchup: About 4 g of carbohydrate in 1 tablespoon
  • Salsa: About 3 g of carbohydrate in 1 tablespoon
  • Tomato sauce: About 7 g carbohydrate in 1/2 cup 

Sugar-Free or No-Added-Sugar Foods

 Jodi Jacobson/Editorial RF/Getty Images 

Many people assume that sugar-free and no-sugar-added food items will not affect their blood sugar. This isn't always the case. Sugar-free and no-sugar-added foods can still contain carbohydrates, especially sweets that are made with milk or flour. Make sure to always read the labels and consume these foods in moderation.

  • Sugar-free pudding snack: About 13 g carbohydrate 
  • Sugar-free maple syrup: About 12 g carbohydrate in 1/4 cup
  • Sugar-free jelly: About 5 g carbohydrate in 1 tablespoon
  • Sugar-free candy bar (chocolate): About 18 g carbohydrate depending on bar (look at the label to determine accurate carbohydrate count)
  • No-sugar-added ice cream: About 13 g carbohydrate in 1/2 cup

Battered and Fried Foods

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Fried food items such as chicken nuggets, eggplant Parmesan, and chicken wings, to name a few, are breaded or dipped in flour before cooking. Flour and breading are considered starches and contain added carbohydrates. You can indulge from time to time, but note the carbohydrate content of those foods and aim to keep your portions manageable. Also keep in mind that these types of foods are rich in calories and saturated fat, which can cause weight gain and elevated cholesterol.  

  • Breaded chicken cutlet: About 10 g carbohydrate in one 3-oz piece 

Sweetened Beverages

Fruit Juice
Westend61/Getty Images.

This one may seem like a no-brainer, but sweetened beverages, like juice, soda, and flavored coffees, can increase blood sugars quickly.

For people with diabetes, sweetened beverages can serve a purpose when blood sugar is low. But on a daily basis, these types of beverages should be avoided.

One of the simplest ways to lose weight, improve blood sugar control, and reduce triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood) is to avoid these types of beverages. It's also a good idea to read labels of other caloric beverages, such as flavored milk alternatives and coffee drinks. Some beverages may contain hidden carbohydrates from added sweeteners. Here a few to watch out for:

  • Low-fat latte: About 15 g carbohydrate in 12 oz
  • Vanilla soy milk: About 10 g carbohydrate in 1 cup 
  • Coconut water: About 9 g carbohydrate in 8 oz

White Bread, Rice, and Pasta

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Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, white pasta, and white rice, are starches that have undergone processing which removes the bran and germ of the grain, stripping them of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. These foods can cause big blood sugar spikes yet yield little to no nutritional value.

Instead of choosing refined grains, it is better to choose whole grains. In fact, research has shown that choosing whole grains instead of refined grains can reduce the risk of heart disease, decrease blood pressure, and aid in weight loss. The fiber found in whole grains slows down the speed at which blood sugars rise. Whole grains also contain more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

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Article Sources
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