What Foods to Avoid with Diabetes

September 28,2023 |
man cutting fruit

Diabetes management requires a lot of vigilance, and, at times, it can be an uphill battle. To stay healthy and avoid spikes in your blood glucose levels, learning what foods to avoid with diabetes is crucial. In fact, one of the most effective tools for diabetes is a well-balanced and mindful diet. To help you better understand how to stabilize blood glucose levels through your diet, consider some of the most important foods to avoid with diabetes.


13 Foods to Avoid if You Have Diabetes

Several foods can be a part of a diabetes-friendly diet, and you don’t necessarily need to follow a strict meal plan. However, certain foods should be avoided—or at least limited—when living with diabetes. To help you make healthier choices, here are 13 foods to avoid with diabetes.


1. Full-Fat Dairy

Full-fat dairy products include rich cheese, cream, and whole milk. While these are okay to consume in moderation, they often have a high percentage of saturated fat. Consuming too much saturated fat can increase your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, further increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Moreover, some studies suggest that saturated fat may be linked to increased insulin resistance over time, which is a hallmark of type 2 diabetes. Any behaviors that negatively impact insulin resistance should be avoided to reduce the degree of medication dependency. Instead of full-fat dairy options, take the time to learn how to read your nutritional labels and choose healthier alternatives. Just make sure you don’t choose an option that has added sugar to replace the lost fat.


2. Trans Fat

Trans fat is another food to avoid if you have diabetes. Like saturated fats, trans fats have been linked to insulin resistance and increased levels of bad cholesterol. Trans fat can also lead to weight gain, which further intensifies the seriousness of diabetes. Finally, trans fat has been shown to have an inflammatory effect, which can increase your risk of diabetes-related complications. Due to its effect on blood vessels, trans fat can contribute to high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.


3. White Carbohydrates

White carbohydrates, commonly called “simple” carbs, have almost no nutritional value. These refined carbs have had the fiber removed, which makes them easier to break down in the body. While this might sound promising, the fast breakdown can lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar levels without giving your body any benefits. Carb counting can help you manage your blood glucose levels, but white carbohydrates are a food to avoid with diabetes. Instead, incorporate whole grains into your diet, which take longer to break down, provide long-lasting energy, and have a smaller impact on blood sugar.


4. Fried Foods

Fried foods are cooked in huge amounts of oil. This oil is almost entirely made up of saturated fat, which we already know is bad for diabetes management. Unfortunately, the process of deep frying anything can also reduce its nutritional value and lead to empty calories. Depending on the type of fried food you’re eating (i.e., French fries), you may also be consuming excessive amounts of sodium. While a few bites here and there aren’t going to derail your blood glucose levels, it's best to limit or avoid fried food with diabetes.


5. Alcohol

Alcohol negatively impacts diabetes. While you can still drink occasionally, you should only drink in moderation. You should also avoid having so many drinks that you can’t properly manage your diabetes, and remember that you can still have a great time without alcohol. If you struggle to control your drinking, talk to your doctor about seeking professional help.


6. Processed Meats

Processed meats are a type of meat that has added preservatives to increase their longevity. These tend to include things like hot dogs, bacon, deli meats, and sausages. Although convenient, processed meats are generally extremely high in sodium, which can increase blood pressure. Since diabetes raises your risk of heart disease, sodium should be controlled to further reduce your risk. Processed meats are also low in nutrients yet calorically dense, making them what many people refer to as “empty calories.” They don’t offer direct health benefits, so it’s best to avoid them.


7. High-Fat Cuts of Meat

Additionally, meats with higher fat content should be avoided with diabetes. This includes pork or beef ribs, beef brisket, and different types of steak. Red meat is also associated with an increased risk of heart disease and cancer, which is already problematic for individuals with diabetes. Instead, try to eat primarily lean proteins or at least lower-fat cuts of red meat such as sirloin steak.


8. Packaged Cookies and Pastries

Foods that come in packages are highly processed and have a ton of additives in them. This is especially true for packaged cakes, cookies, and other pastries. While these foods tend to have high-fat content, they also use primarily simple carbohydrates. Unfortunately, simple carbohydrates can cause rapid, dangerous spikes in blood sugar levels. If you’re craving a cookie or pastry when living with diabetes, finding a diabetes-friendly recipe online is best. To help you satisfy your sweet tooth, check out these diabetes-friendly desserts.


9. High Sodium Foods

Sodium doesn’t directly affect blood sugar levels, but it can increase blood pressure. When living with diabetes, this can increase your risk for several diabetes-related complications. Therefore, it’s best to try and avoid high-sodium foods when living with diabetes. You should also schedule regular doctor’s appointments to monitor your blood pressure and ensure that you’re doing what you can to minimize unnecessary risks.


10. Certain Breakfast Cereals

Not all breakfast cereals are created equal. Some are truly healthy and offer a ton of morning fiber, but others have nothing but sugar and refined carbs in their contents. In fact, if you look at the nutritional label for some of your favorite childhood cereals, you’ll likely find that sugar is the second or third ingredient. This is not good for diabetes management. When you begin your morning with tons of added sugar, you’ll start your day with elevated insulin levels and a spike in blood sugar. This can increase your reliance on medications and set you up for a day of highs and lows. Plus, consuming too much sugar can increase your risk of obesity, which further negatively impacts diabetes management.


11. Dried Fruits

While dried fruits might sound healthy, they should be avoided with diabetes. Dried fruit tends to have all the sugar of a full piece of fruit, but they’re in bite-size pieces. This makes it easy to quickly eat the same amount of sugar that’s in a few pieces of fruit without even thinking about it. Instead, stick to fresh fruits that help you satisfy your sweet tooth and give you plenty of fiber.


12. Foods with Added Sugar

While sugar doesn’t directly cause type 2 diabetes, it can create dangerous spikes in blood sugar levels. Unfortunately, several products have hidden sugar added to enhance flavors. Always take the time to read the nutrition labels and try to avoid foods with added sugar. This includes things like fruit juices, fat-free alternatives, and anything processed. You’d be surprised to learn how many packaged things are filled with added sugar.


13. Soda and Energy Drinks

Finally, almost all types of soda or energy drinks will have sugar in them. While some “diet” drinks may use sugar alternatives, these aren’t necessarily safer than natural sugars. It’s best to avoid these foods with diabetes and instead stick to flavored seltzer water or water infused with fresh herbs and citrus.


Living with diabetes requires ongoing attention to what you eat, your activity levels, and your blood sugar. While it can be tiring, it doesn’t have to be completely restrictive. Yes, there are several foods to avoid with diabetes, but if you live an active, healthy lifestyle, you can still enjoy your favorite treats in moderation. To help you maintain an effective diabetes management plan, always work with your doctor. Byram Healthcare carries a range of continuous blood glucose monitors to help with ongoing diabetes management and care. We also offer diabetes support and educational materials to give you everything you need for comprehensive care.