Can diabetics use BBQ sauce?

Quick answer

Diabetics can use BBQ sauce in moderation as part of a healthy diet. BBQ sauce tends to be high in sugar, so diabetics need to be mindful of portion sizes. Opting for low-sugar or sugar-free BBQ sauce varieties can help diabetics incorporate BBQ sauce into their meal plan. As with any food, it’s important for diabetics to consider the carbohydrate and sugar content of BBQ sauce in relation to their individualized meal plan and glucose targets.

What is BBQ sauce?

BBQ sauce is a condiment often used to flavor and glaze meats, especially as part of barbecue cuisine. The ingredients in BBQ sauce vary between recipes and brands, but commonly include some combination of tomatoes, vinegar, molasses or brown sugar, spices, and fruit or vegetable purees. This gives BBQ sauce both a sweet and tangy flavor profile.

There are 3 main types of BBQ sauce:

Kansas City-style

Kansas City-style BBQ sauce has a tomato base sweetened with molasses or brown sugar and balanced with vinegar for a tangy-sweet flavor. It tends to be thick and sticky.

North Carolina-style

North Carolina-style BBQ sauce starts with a vinegar base and adds red pepper flakes, black pepper, and sometimes tomato paste for flavor and color. It has a tart, peppery taste.

South Carolina-style

South Carolina-style BBQ sauce is a mix between the ketchup-based sauces typical in the southern U.S. and the vinegar-based sauces in North Carolina. It strikes a balance between sweet, tangy, and spicy.

BBQ Sauce Nutrition Facts

The nutrition facts for BBQ sauce can vary significantly based on the ingredients and recipe. Here are some averages for a typical 2 tablespoon serving of BBQ sauce:

Calories 60
Total fat 0 g
Sodium 240 mg
Total carbs 12 g
Sugar 10 g

The main nutrients diabetics need to watch out for in BBQ sauce are total carbohydrates and sugar. Most commercial BBQ sauces get a large portion of their carbs from sugar. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends limiting added sugars to no more than 24 grams or 6 teaspoons per day for women and 36 grams or 9 teaspoons per day for men. Just 2 tablespoons of BBQ sauce may provide over a third of that.

Are BBQ Sauces OK for Diabetics to Eat?

Diabetics can work small amounts of BBQ sauce into their meal plan, but portion control is key. According to the ADA, the total carbohydrate content of meals and snacks is more important than the source or type.

When considering BBQ sauce, diabetics should be mindful of:

  • The serving size – Stick to 2 tablespoons or less per meal
  • The total carbohydrate content – Opt for lower sugar varieties when possible
  • Pairing it with protein and fiber – This helps control blood sugar spikes
  • How it fits into their overall meal plan for the day

Moderating portions and selecting lower sugar options allows diabetics to incorporate BBQ sauce without significantly impacting blood sugar levels.

Tips for Choosing a Diabetes-Friendly BBQ Sauce

When shopping for BBQ sauce, read nutrition labels and opt for products that:

  • Have less than 5-10 grams of sugar per serving
  • List sugar, not high fructose corn syrup, as a main ingredient
  • Are lower in sodium
  • Don’t have molasses or honey as main ingredients

Some better options include:

  • Sweet Baby Ray’s No Sugar Added BBQ Sauce
  • G Hughes Sugar Free BBQ Sauce
  • Walden Farms BBQ Sauce
  • Stubb’s Tomato-Based Bar-B-Q Sauce

Make your own diabetes-friendly BBQ sauce at home by using ingredients like tomato paste, balsamic vinegar, garlic, and spices for flavor instead of sugar.

How to Fit BBQ Sauce into a Diabetes Diet

With careful portioning, diabetics can reasonably incorporate BBQ sauce into their meal plan 1-2 times per week. Here are some tips:

  • Use BBQ sauce as a condiment or finishing sauce – Drizzle it over chicken, fish, meat, or vegetables instead of cooking with it.
  • Measure out 2 tablespoons or less and use a spoon to control portion size.
  • Opt for grilled or roasted meats and vegetables over fried foods.
  • Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables to balance blood sugar.
  • Always pair BBQ sauce with healthy carb sides like a green salad, roasted veggies, or cauliflower rice instead of white breads, chips, or sugary baked beans.
  • Skip high sugar drinks like juice or soda and choose water or unsweetened iced tea.

It also helps to account for the carbohydrates in BBQ sauce when calculating your insulin needs. Work with your dietitian or diabetes care team to fit it into your meal plan.

Low-Carb BBQ Sauce Marinade Recipe

Here is a diabetes-friendly marinade recipe that harnesses the bold, sweet-tangy flavor of BBQ sauce with far less sugar:


  • 1⁄4 cup tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon molasses
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon each: onion powder, smoked paprika, salt, black pepper


  1. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl or resealable plastic bag.
  2. Add desired type of protein: chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, tempeh, etc.
  3. Marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes up to overnight.
  4. Grill, roast, or pan fry.
  5. Serve with a healthy side and 1-2 tablespoons of regular BBQ sauce if desired.

This marinade packs the taste you crave, adds moisture, and tenderizes meats without weighing down your meal with excess sugar. Make extra to store and use throughout the week.

Sample Meal Plan with BBQ Sauce

Here is a sample one day meal plan for a diabetic using 2 tablespoons of BBQ sauce at dinner:


2 eggs scrambled with 1 cup spinach, 1⁄2 cup black beans, 1⁄2 avocado
1 cup blueberries
1 cup unsweetened almond milk


Turkey and Havarti sandwich on 2 slices whole wheat bread with lettuce, tomato, and mustard
Carrot sticks
Sugar snap peas
1 cup unsweetened iced tea


3 oz. BBQ chicken breast
1⁄2 cup BBQ baked beans
Small garden salad with balsamic vinaigrette
1⁄2 cup roasted broccoli
2 tablespoons BBQ sauce for dipping chicken


1 oz. cheddar cheese
10 whole grain crackers

This provides around 1500 calories with 45% carbs, 30% fat, and 25% protein. The 2 tablespoons of BBQ sauce adds 12g carbs and 10g sugar. When paired with fiber-rich produce, healthy fats, and lean protein, this allows you to satisfy your BBQ cravings within a balanced diabetes diet.

Safety Tips for Diabetics Using BBQ Sauce

To safely incorporate BBQ sauce, diabetics should:

  • Test blood sugar before and 2 hours after eating to see your response.
  • Adjust insulin dosage if needed, especially for high carb barbecue meals.
  • Drink extra fluids to stay hydrated.
  • Check feet and shoes for injuries after walking outside.
  • Manage physical activity around mealtime to prevent lows.
  • Always have a fast-acting carb like glucose tabs on hand.
  • Stick to healthier grilled options over fried food.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol intake.

Work with your healthcare provider to make an individualized diabetes management plan for times you want to enjoy BBQ.

The Bottom Line

Overall, incorporating small amounts of BBQ sauce into your diabetes diet can be done safely with proper portion control, smart food choices, and by accounting for the carbohydrates in your meal planning. Select lower sugar varieties, balance it with non-starchy vegetables and lean proteins, limit other high carb menu items, and pair it with physical activity to allow for the occasional enjoyment of BBQ flavor without blood sugar spikes. Moderation and management are key to harness the benefits of BBQ sauce while minimizing risks associated with its high sugar content.

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