Foods to Avoid When You Have Diabetes

Some Are More Obvious Than Others

If you have diabetes, it is probably not surprising to hear there are foods you should avoid. Certain foods, 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. 

What might be surprising, however, is that some foods you might think are healthy are actually foods you should limit or avoid due to their high carbohydrate content, lack of fiber, and generally limited nutritional value.

Below is a breakdown of some unhealthy foods that are often disguised as healthful:


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.

Eating just one is about the same as eating four to six slices bread. Whole wheat bagels are very carbohydrate-dense, can raise blood sugar quickly and are lacking in filling fiber and protein. Eating foods that are low in fiber and protein often leave people feeling hungry just an hour or two afterward.

There are healthier breakfast options out there that can have a positive impact on your diabetes. Studies suggest a larger, higher-protein, higher-fat breakfast may help to reduce HgbA1c.

If you really want the bagel, you should at least adjust and find a healthier middle ground. You can scoop the bread out from the middle of the bagel and and top it with a few scrambled eggs and a vegetable of your choice.


Dried Fruit

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

It is important to know that dried fruits are not the recommended way to get your fruit intake for the day. The latest U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans notes that adults should consume approximately 2 servings of fruit each day - with an emphasis on whole fruits but with 100% juice also being acceptable.

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 and they may contain more carbohydrates.

In fact, the 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.

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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We dip, pour, and smear condiments and sauces on sandwiches, bread, and other food items, but we often forget to factor them into our carbohydrate and calorie allotment.

Sauces and condiments add flavor to foods, but they tend to contain a large amount of sodium, carbohydrates, fat, and calories even in small portions. This is often due to the fact that flour and sugar are added to add texture or flavor.  

Using condiments and sauces can add up quickly. The best way to keep track of your intake is 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.

Estimated nutrition facts for these popular condiments and sauces:

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

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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, including fresh 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.

While it is always disappointing to hear about the foods you cannot eat, especially if you have diabetes, the good news is there are a plethora of nutritious and delicious foods you can eat.

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12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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