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5 Foods to Limit if You Have Diabetes or Prediabetes

If you’re living with diabetes or prediabetes, there are some foods that may worsen your condition. Many carbohydrate foods can have a negative impact on your blood sugar levels. Limiting alcohol, fried foods, heavy carbohydrates, and other foods may help you maintain steady blood sugar levels.

Key takeaways:

If you have prediabetes or diabetes, there are a few things to keep in mind when choosing what to eat. The most important thing to think about is whether food might cause your blood sugar level to spike. It’s especially important to watch your carbohydrate intake because carbs are broken down into glucose in the body, and that has a direct impact on your blood sugar. Consistent blood sugar spikes over time increase the risk of worsening diabetes symptoms, possibly leading to diabetic complications.

Foods to avoid with diabetes

More than 420 million people worldwide have diabetes. Lately, high-quality scientific studies have shown that diabetes can be improved or even reversed on a low-carbohydrate diet. A 2021 systematic review and meta-analysis published in the British Medical Journal looked at twenty-three low-carb and very-low-carb randomized controlled trials. They found that for people with diabetes, adhering to a low carbohydrate diet resulted in weight loss, lower triglycerides, less dependence on insulin, and even remission of diabetes in some cases.

With that in mind, here are five foods to limit if you have been diagnosed with diabetes or prediabetes.

1. Sweets

These include sugary foods, such as ice cream, cookies, candy, sweet bread, and other desserts. Foods with added sugar are one of the best things to limit or avoid if you have diabetes, due to the fact that they can cause your blood sugar levels to rise rapidly. A spike in blood sugar happens when too much sugar, or glucose, builds up in your blood. Sugar molecules are sharp and can cause damage to blood vessels, organs, and other body tissues over time.

It’s important to remember that sweeteners like honey and maple syrup may be natural, but they can still cause a blood sugar spike. Most people don’t want to give up sweets entirely, so instead, choose sweeteners wisely. You can make your own desserts at home using sugar-free sweeteners, such as Monk fruit or Stevia. Most grocery stores carry a variety of natural and artificial sweeteners that contain no sugar.

2. Fried foods

Fried foods include French fries, fried chicken, donuts, corn dogs, egg rolls, onion rings, and other foods. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), studies show that including fried foods in your diet can reduce the richness of your gut microbiota. Some studies show eating more fried foods leads to weight gain, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol — all things that can lead to or worsen type 2 diabetes.

There are also concerns about the super-heated oils in restaurant deep fryers being used over and over again throughout the day. The ADA warns that when vegetable oils are used this way, the oils may deteriorate and degrade through the process of oxidation. This may create harmful substances that scientists have not fully tested yet. Your best bet is to avoid or limit fried foods if you have diabetes.

3. Sugary beverages, including juice

Beverages with added sugar, cane sugar, or high fructose corn syrup can raise blood sugar levels very quickly. Soda, energy drinks, sports beverages, and even fruit juice have little to no nutrition but have high levels of sugar. Because they’re liquids and don't need to be broken down by the stomach as food does, sugary beverages hit the bloodstream faster, causing a spike in blood sugar.

Cutting out all caloric beverages is a good way to go. Instead of regular soda or sports beverages, try their zero-calorie counterparts. If you are craving fruit juice, the better choice is to eat the whole fruit, which contains the fiber that will slow down digestion and thus blood sugar spikes. If you are used to sugar in your coffee, try a sugar-free sweetener instead.

4. Refined carbohydrates

Refined carbohydrates, like white bread, white rice, and pasta have been stripped of most of their fiber and nutrients and left with just the starch, which has few nutrients. Because of the lack of nutrients and fiber, refined carbohydrates raise blood sugar levels more rapidly than complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates, like whole wheat bread, brown rice, and beans still affect blood sugar levels, though not as markedly as refined carbs.

Studies show that eating a lot of refined carbohydrates can lead to or worsen type 2 diabetes. The American Diabetes Association warns that processed, refined carbohydrate foods impact your blood sugar more quickly and are often lower in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

5. Alcohol

We know that alcohol can be full of empty calories and not provide any nutrition, but if you are living with diabetes or prediabetes, there are other things to consider. According to the American Diabetes Association, drinking alcohol while you’re on medications like insulin and sulfonylureas can result in hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

Drinking on an empty stomach can make the situation worse. The ADA says that drinking when you haven’t eaten causes the liver to metabolize alcohol instead of helping to maintain blood sugar levels, so the risk of hypoglycemia increases.

Another problem with drinking alcohol if you have diabetes or prediabetes is that symptoms of hypoglycemia are similar to symptoms of being drunk. These symptoms include drowsiness, slurred speech, difficulty walking, and mental confusion. It can be difficult to tell them apart, which may result in your blood sugar dropping to dangerously low levels.

Some people have hypoglycemia unawareness — a condition where they have trouble recognizing the feeling of blood sugar dropping. This can be a dangerous mix. Your best bet is to severely limit or avoid alcohol if you have been diagnosed with diabetes.

Living with diabetes or prediabetes can be challenging, but avoiding or limiting certain foods can help ensure that you are taking the best care of yourself that is possible. Stick to whole foods, especially foods with healthy fats and protein, and take it easy on the carbs. This can help your blood sugar levels stay stable and can reduce your risk of diabetes complications in the future.



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