Foods That Raise Diabetes Risk

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Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition in which the body does not make enough insulin or does not use insulin well. This leads to high blood sugar levels, medically known as hyperglycemia.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 37 million Americans have diabetes. Several risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes. One risk factor is a diet high in processed, sugary, and high-fat foods.

Consuming certain foods and drinks can raise a person's risk of developing diabetes. Eliminating these dietary habits can lower the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

This article will cover the different foods and drinks that can increase someone's risk for diabetes.

processed foods

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Highly Processed, Refined Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates, also called carbs, are broken down into glucose, which is a type of sugar. When the body senses the blood sugar increase, it releases insulin to store the sugar for energy later on.

A problem develops when you consume too many processed or refined carbs. These foods raise blood sugar and can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes. A 2018 study revealed a link between both carbohydrate quantity and quality and the incidence of diabetes. Another study showed that refined carbs increased a person's risk for diabetes, and a diet rich in whole grains decreased their risk.

Highly processed and refined carbs have minimal nutritional value and are high in sugar. One way to help identify unhealthy carbs is by using the glycemic index. The glycemic index ranks foods by how fast they cause a blood sugar increase. Breads, muffins, and pastries are all high on the glycemic index. Whereas whole-grain options like oats are lower and do not cause a large increase in blood sugar.

Sugar-Sweetened Drinks

Just like carbohydrates, sugar-sweetened drinks have a high glycemic index and may increase a person's risk for type 2 diabetes.

Several studies support the link between sugary drinks and type 2 diabetes. The Nurses' Health Study II, which investigates risk factors for chronic diseases, found that drinking sugary drinks increased the participants' risks for diabetes and weight gain.

Another study from the Archives of Internal Medicine found type 2 diabetes was higher in women who had two or more sugar-sweetened drinks or fruit drinks per day.

Sugary Drinks and Diabetes

A 2010 study in Diabetes Care revealed that subjects drinking one to two sugary drinks per day increased their risk of type 2 diabetes by 26% when compared to the group drinking the least amount of less than one serving a month.


Alcohol has a unique relationship to type 2 diabetes. Studies have shown mild to moderate alcohol consumption is linked to a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes. However, heavy alcohol consumption is linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

In the study by Diabetes Care, heavy alcohol consumption was described to be 50 grams of alcohol for women and 60 grams of alcohol for men per day. Type 2 diabetes protective consumption was found to be 24 grams of alcohol for women and 22 grams of alcohol for men per day.

As an example, a 12 ounce beer that has 5% alcohol by volume (ABV) will contain 14 grams of alcohol.

The key to alcohol consumption is to keep it in a moderate range. Drinking too much can raise the risk of type 2 diabetes. The Harvard School of Public Health notes that people should not start drinking alcohol to reduce their risk of diabetes. Other lifestyle changes like exercise, weight loss, and dietary changes can have the same benefits.

Saturated and Trans Fats

Polyunsaturated fats are healthier fats than saturated and trans fats. Polyunsaturated fats are found in nuts and seeds and can reduce the risk of diabetes.

Eating polyunsaturated fats from fish has not been shown to decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes, but it does protect against heart disease.

Trans fats, sometimes listed on labels as partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, are found in foods like packaged baked goods and fried foods. Saturated fats are in meat, butter, ice cream, and cheese. These foods may increase the risk of diabetes.

Red and Processed Meats

Red and processed meats may increase the risk of diabetes. It is suspected that red meat's high iron content reduces the effectiveness of insulin or it may harm insulin-producing cells. Processed meat's high sodium and nitrate levels may also play a factor in the increased risk of diabetes.

Eating a plant-based or primarily plant-based diet may decrease a person's risk for type 2 diabetes.

Related: How to Eat a Well-Balanced Vegetarian Diet With Type 2 Diabetes

Red Meat and Diabetes

A 2011 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that one 3-ounce serving per day of red meat—about the size of a deck of cards—increased the risk of type 2 diabetes by 19%.

The study estimated that substituting a serving of low-fat dairy, nuts, or whole grains for one serving of red meat could lower the risk of type 2 diabetes by 16% to 35%.


Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition in which the body does not produce enough insulin or does not effectively use insulin. There are several risk factors for type 2 diabetes including specific diet choices. A diet high in carbohydrates, sugar, alcohol, saturated fat, and red meat can increase someone's risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

A Word From Verywell

Some people have a greater chance of developing type 2 diabetes due to factors out of their control. These include a family history of diabetes, their ethnicity, and their age. Dietary habits, though, are one risk factor that can be changed. Making dietary changes is not easy. Reach out to your healthcare provider for guidance in finding a balanced, sustainable diet that will work for you.

14 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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By Patty Weasler, RN, BSN
Patty is a registered nurse with over a decade of experience in pediatric critical care. Her passion is writing health and wellness content that anyone can understand and use.