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11 Foods to Avoid With Diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic disease that has reached epidemic
proportions among adults and children worldwide (1).

Uncontrolled diabetes has many serious consequences, including
heart disease, kidney disease, blindness and other
complications.

Prediabetes has also been linked to these conditions (2).

Importantly, eating the wrong foods can raise your blood sugar
and insulin levels and promote inflammation, which may increase
your risk of disease.

This article lists 11 foods that people with diabetes or
prediabetes should avoid.

White Sugar on a Spoon and Dices That Spell Diabetes

Why Does Carb Intake Matter for People With Diabetes?

Carbs, protein and fat are the macronutrients that provide your
body with energy.

Of these three,
carbs
have the greatest effect on your blood sugar by far.
This is because they are broken down into sugar, or glucose,
and absorbed into your bloodstream.

Carbs include starches,
sugar
and fiber. However, fiber isn’t digested and absorbed
by your body in the same way other carbs are, so it doesn’t
raise your blood sugar.

Subtracting fiber from the total carbs in a food will give you
its digestible or “net” carb content. For instance, if a cup of
mixed vegetables contains 10 grams of carbs and 4 grams of
fiber, its net carb count is 6 grams.

When people with diabetes consume too
many carbs
at a time, their blood sugar levels can rise to
dangerously high levels.

Over time, high levels can damage your body’s nerves and blood
vessels, which may set the stage for heart disease, kidney
disease and other serious health conditions.

Maintaining a low carb intake can help prevent blood sugar
spikes and greatly reduce the risk of diabetes complications.

Therefore, it’s important to avoid the foods listed below.

1. Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

A Variety of Soda Bottles

Sugary beverages are the worst drink choice for someone with
diabetes.

To begin with, they are very high in carbs, with a 12-ounce
(354-ml) can of
soda
providing 38 grams (3).

The same amount of sweetened iced tea and lemonade each contain
36 grams of carbs, exclusively from sugar (4, 5).

In addition, they’re loaded with fructose,
which is strongly linked to
insulin resistance
and diabetes. Indeed, studies suggest
that consuming sugar-sweetened beverages may increase the risk
of diabetes-related conditions like fatty liver (6, 7, 8).

What’s more, the high fructose levels in sugary drinks may lead
to metabolic changes that promote belly fat and potentially
harmful cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

In one study of overweight and obese adults, consuming 25% of
calories from high-fructose beverages on a weight-maintaining
diet led to increased insulin resistance and belly fat, lower
metabolic rate and worse heart health markers (9, 10).

To help control blood sugar levels and prevent
disease risk
, consume water, club soda or unsweetened iced
tea instead of sugary beverages.



Summary: Sodas and sweet drinks are high in
carbs, which increase blood sugar. Also, their high fructose
content has been linked to insulin resistance and an
increased risk of obesity, fatty liver and other diseases.

2. Trans Fats

Margarine and a Knife

Industrial trans
fats
are extremely unhealthy.

They are created by adding hydrogen to unsaturated fatty acids
in order to make them more stable.

Trans fats are found in margarines, peanut butter, spreads,
creamers and frozen dinners. In addition, food manufacturers
often add them to crackers, muffins and other baked goods to
help extend shelf life.

Although trans fats don’t directly raise blood sugar levels,
they’ve been linked to increased inflammation, insulin
resistance and belly fat, as well as lower “good” HDL
cholesterol levels
and impaired arterial function (11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16).

These effects are especially concerning for people with
diabetes, as they are at an increased risk of heart disease.

Fortunately, trans fats have been outlawed in most countries,
and in 2015 the FDA called for their removal from products in
the US market to be completed within three years (17).

Until trans fats are no longer in the food supply, avoid any
product that contains the words “partially hydrogenated” in its
ingredient list.

Summary: Trans fats are unsaturated fats
that have been chemically altered to increase their
stability. They have been linked to inflammation, insulin
resistance, increased belly fat and heart disease.

3. White Bread, Pasta and Rice

Bowl of Steamed Rice

White bread, rice and pasta are high-carb,
processed foods
.

Eating bread, bagels and other refined-flour foods has been
shown to significantly increase blood sugar levels in people
with type 1 and type 2 diabetes (18, 19).

And this response isn’t exclusive to wheat products. In one
study, gluten-free pastas were also shown to raise blood sugar,
with rice-based types having the greatest effect (20).

Another study found that a meal containing a high-carb bagel
not only raised blood sugar but also decreased brain function
in people with type 2 diabetes and mental deficits (21).

These processed foods contain little fiber,
which helps slow down the absorption of sugar into the
bloodstream.

In another study, replacing white bread with high-fiber bread
was shown to significantly reduce blood sugar levels in people
with diabetes. In addition, they experienced reductions in
cholesterol and blood pressure (22).

Summary: White bread, pasta and rice are
high in carbs yet low in fiber. This combination can result
in high blood sugar levels. Alternatively, choosing
high-fiber, whole foods may help reduce blood sugar response.

4. Fruit-Flavored Yogurt

Strawberry Yogurt in a Plastic Container

Plain yogurt can
be a good option for people with diabetes. However,
fruit-flavored varieties are a very different story.

Flavored yogurts are typically made from non-fat or low-fat
milk and loaded with carbs and sugar.

In fact, a one-cup (245-gram) serving of fruit-flavored yogurt
may contain 47 grams of sugar, meaning nearly 81% of its
calories come from sugar (23).

Many people consider frozen
yogurt
to be a healthy alternative to ice cream. However,
it can contain just as much or even more sugar than ice cream
(24, 25).

Rather than choosing high-sugar yogurts that can spike your
blood sugar and insulin, opt for plain, whole-milk yogurt that
contains no sugar and may be beneficial for your appetite,
weight control and gut health (26, 27).

Summary: Fruit-flavored yogurts are usually
low in fat but high in sugar, which can lead to higher blood
sugar and insulin levels. Plain, whole-milk yogurt is a
better choice for diabetes control and overall health.

5. Sweetened Breakfast Cereals

Chocolate Cereal

Eating cereal is one of the worst ways to start your day if you
have diabetes.

Despite the health claims on their boxes, most cereals are
highly processed and contain far more carbs than many people
realize.

In addition, they provide very little protein,
a nutrient that can help you feel full and satisfied while
keeping your blood sugar levels stable during the day (28).

Even “healthy” breakfast cereals aren’t good choices for those
with diabetes.

For instance, just a half-cup serving (55 grams) of granola
cereal contains 30 grams of digestible carbs, and Grape Nuts
contain 41 grams. What’s more, each provides only 7 grams of
protein per serving (29, 30).

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To keep blood sugar and hunger under control, skip the cereal
and choose a protein-based
low-carb breakfast
instead.

Summary: Breakfast cereals are high in carbs
but low in protein. A high-protein, low-carb breakfast is the
best option for diabetes and appetite control.

6. Flavored Coffee Drinks

Ice Coffee Drink

Coffee has been linked to
several health benefits
, including a reduced risk of
diabetes (31, 32, 33).

However, flavored coffee drinks should be viewed as a liquid
dessert, rather than a healthy beverage.

Studies have shown your brain doesn’t process liquid and solid
foods similarly. When you drink calories, you don’t compensate
by eating less later, potentially leading to weight gain
(34, 35).

Flavored coffee drinks are also loaded with carbs. Even “light”
versions contain enough carbs to significantly raise your blood
sugar levels.

For instance, a 16-ounce (454-ml) caramel frappuccino from
Starbucks contains 67 grams of carbs, and the same size caramel
light frappuccino contains 30 grams of carbs (36, 37).

To keep your blood sugar under control and prevent weight gain,

choose plain coffee
or espresso with a tablespoon of heavy
cream or half and half.

Summary: Flavored coffee drinks are very
high in liquid carbs, which can raise blood sugar levels and
fail to satisfy your hunger.

7. Honey, Agave Nectar and Maple Syrup

Open Jar of Honey

People with diabetes often try to minimize their intake of
white table sugar, as well as treats like candy, cookies and
pie.

However, other forms of sugar can also cause blood sugar
spikes. These include brown sugar and “natural” sugars like
honey,

agave nectar
and maple syrup.

Although these sweeteners aren’t highly processed, they contain
at least as many carbs as white sugar. In fact, most contain
even more.

Below are the carb counts of a one-tablespoon serving of
popular sweeteners:

  • White sugar: 12.6 grams (38)
  • Agave nectar: 16 grams (39)
  • Honey: 17 grams (40)
  • Maple syrup: 13 grams (41)

In one study, people with prediabetes experienced similar
increases in blood sugar, insulin and inflammatory markers
regardless of whether they consumed 1.7 ounces (50 grams) of
white sugar or honey (42).

Your best strategy is to avoid all forms of sugar and use
natural
low-carb sweeteners
instead.

Summary: Honey, agave nectar and maple syrup
are not as processed as white table sugar, but they may have
similar effects on blood sugar, insulin and inflammatory
markers.

8. Dried Fruit

Dried Fruit Pile


Fruit
is a great source of several important vitamins and
minerals, including vitamin C and potassium.

When fruit
is dried
, the process results in a loss of water that leads
to even higher concentrations of these nutrients.

Unfortunately, its sugar content becomes more concentrated as
well.

One cup of grapes contains 27 grams of carbs, including 1 gram
of fiber. By contrast, one cup of raisins contains 115 grams of
carbs, 5 of which come from fiber (43, 44).

Therefore, raisins contain more than three times as many carbs
as grapes do. Other types of dried fruit are similarly higher
in carbs when compared to fresh fruit.

If you have diabetes, you don’t have to give up fruit
altogether. Sticking with low-sugar fruits like fresh berries
or a small
apple
can provide health benefits while keeping your blood
sugar in the target range.

Summary: Dried fruits become more
concentrated in sugar and may contain more than three times
as many carbs as fresh fruits do. Avoid dried fruit and
choose fruits low in sugar for optimal blood sugar control.

9. Packaged Snack Foods

Crackers

Pretzels, crackers and other packaged foods aren’t good snack
choices.

They’re typically made with refined flour and provide few
nutrients, although they have plenty of fast-digesting carbs
that can rapidly raise blood sugar.

Here are the carb counts for a one-ounce (28-gram) serving of
some popular snacks:

  • Saltine crackers: 21 grams of carbs,
    including 1 gram of fiber (45)
  • Pretzels: 22 grams of carbs, including 1
    gram of fiber (46)
  • Graham crackers: 21 grams of carbs,
    including 1 gram of fiber (47)

In fact, some of these foods may contain even more carbs than
stated on their nutrition label. One study found that snack
foods provide 7.7% more carbs, on average, than the label
states (48).

If you get hungry in between meals, it’s better to eat nuts
or a few low-carb vegetables with an ounce of cheese.

Summary: Packaged snacks are typically
highly processed foods made from refined flour that can
quickly raise your blood sugar levels.

10. Fruit Juice

Small Glass of Orange Juice

Although
fruit juice
is often considered a healthy beverage, its
effects on blood sugar are actually similar to those of sodas
and other sugary drinks.

This goes for unsweetened 100% fruit juice, as well as types
that contain
added sugar
. In some cases, fruit juice is even
higher in sugar and carbs than soda.

For example, 8 ounces (250 ml) of unsweetened apple juice and
soda contain 24 grams of sugar each. An equivalent serving of
grape juice provides 32 grams of sugar (49, 50, 51).

Like sugar-sweetened beverages, fruit juice is loaded with
fructose, the type of sugar that drives insulin resistance,
obesity and heart disease (52).

A much better alternative is to enjoy water with a wedge of
lemon, which provides less than 1 gram of carbs and is
virtually calorie-free (53).

Summary: Unsweetened fruit juice contains at
least as much sugar as sodas do. Its high fructose content
can worsen insulin resistance, promote weight gain and
increase the risk of heart disease.

11. French Fries

French Fries on a Plate

French fries are a food to steer clear of, especially if you
have diabetes.

Potatoes
themselves are relatively high in carbs. One medium potato with
the skin on contains 37 grams of carbs, 4 of which come from
fiber (54).

However, once they’ve been peeled and fried in vegetable oil,
potatoes may do more than spike your blood sugar.

Deep-frying foods has been shown to produce high amounts of
toxic compounds like AGEs and aldehydes, which may promote inflammation and
increase the risk of disease (55, 56).

Indeed, several studies have linked frequently consuming french
fries and other fried foods to heart disease and cancer
(57, 58, 59, 60).

If you don’t want to avoid potatoes altogether, eating a small
amount of sweet potatoes is your best option.

Summary: In addition to being high in carbs
that raise blood sugar levels, french fries are fried in
unhealthy oils that may promote inflammation and increase the
risk of heart disease and cancer.

The Bottom Line

Knowing which foods to avoid when you have diabetes can
sometimes seem tough. However, following a few guidelines can
make it easier.

Your main goals should include staying away from unhealthy
fats, liquid sugars, processed grains and other foods that
contain refined carbs.

Avoiding foods that increase your blood sugar levels and drive
insulin resistance can help keep you healthy now and reduce
your risk of future diabetes complications.

To learn about the best foods to eat if you have diabetes,
check out this
article
.

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