What 10 foods should diabetics avoid?

Managing diabetes requires careful attention to diet and lifestyle. While there are plenty of healthy food options for diabetics, there are also some foods that diabetics are better off avoiding. Understanding what foods to limit or avoid can help diabetics better control blood sugar levels and prevent complications.

Why Do Diabetics Need to Avoid Certain Foods?

Diabetics have trouble regulating blood sugar levels. After eating, blood sugar levels rise rapidly. In people without diabetes, the pancreas releases insulin which signals to cells to absorb sugar from the bloodstream. In diabetics, insulin is either not produced or not utilized effectively. This results in prolonged high blood sugar after meals.

Over time, high blood sugar causes damage to tissues and organs throughout the body, leading to complications like heart disease, kidney disease, nerve damage, eye problems and more. Therefore, it’s important for diabetics to avoid foods that can spike blood sugar quickly.

Limiting carbohydrates is key, but the type of carbohydrate matters too. Complex carbs are absorbed more slowly and have less impact on blood sugar. Fiber slows digestion, preventing sugar from entering the bloodstream too quickly. Foods high in fat can also lead to blood sugar spikes.

While all foods can fit into a diabetic diet in moderation, here are 10 foods diabetics should be particularly mindful of limiting or avoiding.

1. White Bread, Pasta and Rice

Refined grains like white bread, white pasta and white rice are grain products which have had the bran and germ removed. This leaves only the starchy endosperm, which causes spikes in blood sugar.

These refined carbs are quickly broken down into sugar, absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream. This can cause blood glucose to rise swiftly after a meal.

Whole grain alternatives like whole wheat bread, brown rice and quinoa are better options. They contain fiber which slows digestion, preventing blood sugar spikes.

2. Flavored Yogurt

Plain yogurt can be a good option for diabetics due to its protein and probiotics. However, flavored yogurts should generally be avoided.

Flavored yogurts are made with added sugar – often high fructose corn syrup or fruit sugars. A 6-ounce container can contain up to 30 grams of sugar.

Rather than choosing flavored yogurts, diabetics can add their own fruit for flavor. This results in less added sugar. Opt for plain Greek yogurt whenever possible, as the higher protein content promotes more stable blood sugar levels.

3. Fruit Juice

Although fruit is generally encouraged as part of a diabetic diet, fruit juice is very high in natural sugars like fructose. Drinking fruit juice can cause blood sugar to skyrocket.

For example, 1 cup of apple juice contains over 24 grams of sugar. Orange juice and grapefruit juice each have over 20 grams of sugar per cup.

Whole fruits have fiber, which slows the absorption of fructose into the bloodstream. However, juicing removes the pulp and skin, concentrating the sugars.

If you have diabetes, avoid drinking fruit juice. Instead, opt for infused water or eat whole fruits – but monitor your portion sizes.

4. Flavored Coffee Drinks

Coffee can be a healthy beverage choice for diabetics. However, sweetened coffee drinks should be avoided.

Popular coffeehouse drinks are often loaded with carbohydrates, added sugars and fat. A 16-ounce flavored latte can pack over 50 grams of carbs and 40 grams of sugar, often with high-fat milk or sugary syrups.

Opt for regular brewed coffee or americanos flavored with small amounts of stevia, cinnamon or cocoa powder. Always check carb counts before ordering specialty coffee drinks.

Better yet, make your coffee at home so you can control what goes into it. Adding heavy cream instead of sweeteners can provide flavor without blood sugar spikes.

5. Packaged Snacks

Packaged snacks like chips, cookies, crackers, granola bars, fruit snacks and candies are often poor choices for diabetics. In addition to added sugars, these foods are highly processed and provide little nutritional value.

Check the nutrition label – packaged snacks are often high in carbs and low in fiber. The ingredients list will reveal sources of added sugar like corn syrup or sucrose.

Rather than packaged snacks, choose nuts, apples with peanut butter, Greek yogurt, cheese, hardboiled eggs or other snacks with protein and fiber. This provides longer lasting energy and prevents crashes in blood sugar.

6. Sweetened Breakfast Cereals

Breakfast cereals are a popular, convenient breakfast choice. However, sweetened cereals with little fiber or protein can cause blood sugar spikes and crashes after breakfast.

Avoid sweetened cereals like Fruit Loops, Honey Smacks and Frosted Flakes. Even “healthy” cereals like Granola can be packed with sugar. Instead, choose unsweetened steel cut oats, bran cereals or cereals with at least 5 grams of fiber and under 10 grams of sugar per serving.

Pairing cereal with milk, nuts or seeds provides protein and fat for more stable blood sugar levels. Avoid juice – opt for coffee or tea instead.

7. Fried Foods

Fried foods like french fries, fried chicken, mozzarella sticks and doughnuts should be limited on a diabetic diet.

Frying replaces water with fat, increasing the fat and calorie amounts. Fried foods often contain little fiber and are rapidly absorbed, leading to spikes and crashes in blood glucose.

Additionally, fried foods contain trans fats, which promote inflammation. Chronic inflammation worsens insulin resistance.

Grilled, baked, roasted or broiled foods are healthier alternatives. Watch your portions of even healthy fats like olive oil and avocado.

8. Alcohol

Moderate alcohol consumption may be safe for some diabetics. However, alcohol can dangerously reduce blood sugar for up to 24 hours. Alcohol also impairs judgement, which can impact your ability to manage diabetes well.

Beer, mixed drinks and sweet wines contain carbohydrates, affecting blood sugar as well. If you choose to drink, limit intake to one drink daily for women and two for men. Always check blood glucose before, during and after drinking. Eat carbohydrates if blood sugar drops too low.

9. Dried Fruit

Dried fruits contain concentrated amounts of natural sugars with little fiber or water content. Eating more than a small portion can cause blood sugar spikes.

For example, just two dates contain 36 grams of sugar – almost as much as a can of soda. Other dried fruits like raisins, prunes, figs and apricots are similarly high in sugar.

Enjoy dried fruits sparingly as a special treat. Opt for fresh fruits like berries or a small apple to satisfy your sweet tooth instead. Be sure to drink plenty of water as well to stay hydrated.

10. Sweetened Non-Dairy Milks

Non-dairy milks like almond, coconut and oat milk are lower in carbohydrates than cow’s milk. However, many contain added sugar. Just 1 cup of sweetened almond milk can have over 15 grams of sugar.

Flavored non-dairy milks also often contain syrups, saturated fats or stabilizers that are harmful for diabetics.

Stick to unsweetened, plain varieties and watch your portion sizes. Make your own non-dairy milk at home by blending soaked almonds or oats with water for the healthiest choice.

Making Healthier Choices as a Diabetic

Managing diabetes requires an awareness of how foods affect your blood sugar. While many foods can be enjoyed in moderation, limiting or avoiding the foods listed above can promote better blood sugar control.

Focus your diet on non-starchy vegetables, fiber-rich fruit, legumes, whole grains, lean protein, healthy fats and dairy. Read nutrition labels to make informed choices.

Work with a registered dietitian knowledgeable in diabetes management. A nutrition professional can help design the right diabetic meal plan for your needs and preferences.

Tips for Avoiding Diabetes-Unfriendly Foods

Here are some tips to help avoid potentially dangerous foods for diabetics:

  • Shop the perimeter of the grocery store where whole foods like produce, meat and dairy are located.
  • Cook at home so you can control ingredients and portions.
  • Meal prep healthy options to have on hand for busy days.
  • Keep fruits, veggies and nuts readily available for quick snacks.
  • Limit eating out to 1-2 times per week.
  • Research nutrition info and choose lower carb options when eating out.
  • Ask for sauces, dressings and toppings on the side.
  • Avoid buffets and unlimited food options.
  • Scan ingredient labels – watch for added sugars.
  • Limit alcohol or avoid completely.

Supplements for Diabetes

Certain supplements may help diabetics manage blood sugar levels or reduce complications associated with diabetes. Always consult your doctor before taking supplements. Potentially beneficial supplements include:

  • Chromium – May help improve insulin sensitivity and lower blood sugar.
  • Cinnamon – Can reduce blood sugar spikes after meals.
  • Alpha-Lipoic Acid – Powerful antioxidant that may protect against nerve damage and kidney disease.
  • Curcumin – Anti-inflammatory compound in turmeric that may improve insulin resistance and heart health.
  • Berberine – Found in plants like barberry, berberine may help lower blood sugar and promote healthy cholesterol.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Found in fish oil, omega-3s provide anti-inflammatory effects and support heart health.

Always monitor blood sugar closely when starting a new supplement to assess its effects. Work with a knowledgeable practitioner to determine which supplements are right for your individual health needs.

Sample Menu for a Diabetic Diet

Planning nutritious meals and snacks will help manage diabetes. Here is a sample menu that limits diabetes-unfriendly foods and focuses on nutrient-dense whole foods:

Meal Foods
Breakfast Scrambled eggs with spinach and tomatoes
Snack Small apple with 1 Tbsp. peanut butter
Lunch Turkey and avocado lettuce wraps with fruit salad
Snack 1 oz. nuts (almonds, walnuts or pecans)
Dinner Grilled salmon with broccoli and brown rice
Snack Greek yogurt with cinnamon and chopped walnuts


Controlling blood sugar by avoiding diabetes-unfriendly foods, getting regular exercise and taking medications as prescribed can help diabetics manage their condition and prevent complications. Work closely with your healthcare team to find the right diet and lifestyle strategies for healthy blood sugar control. Consistent carb counting, blood sugar monitoring and education on nutrition and diabetes management are key.

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