Swap out these foods for healthier versions to help keep your diabetes under control.
Foods to Avoid with Diabetes

Sugar isn't the only thing to limit if you have diabetes. Too much fat, sodium, carbohydrates and calories can increase your risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, uncontrolled blood sugar and weight gain. Here's a list of the worst offenders, and what to choose instead.

If you see some of your favorite foods on this list, don't despair: You don't have to avoid them altogether. Just consume them less often. We've also picked healthier options for you to choose from that still taste great without causing your blood sugar to spike as rapidly.

1. Nachos

mini nacho cups

Pictured Recipe: Mini Nacho Cups

You walk into a restaurant and you're starving. A quick scan of the menu and there they are: nachos, one of your favorites. You order them as an appetizer and then order a meal. Unfortunately, most restaurant nacho orders equate to and often exceed an entire meal's worth of calories, carbs and fat. For example, a regular order of Chili's Classic Nachos has 1,230 calories, 85 grams of fat and 56 grams of carbohydrates. That's an entire day's worth of calories for some people.

But don't fret-you don't have to give up nachos entirely. If you're out to eat, make them your meal, not your appetizer. Or split them with someone. You can also make a healthier version at home. Check out our Mini Nacho Cups recipe, which uses reduced-fat cheese and baked tortilla chips.

Chili's Classic Nachos (regular order)

1,230 calories

85 g total fat

48 g saturated fat

2,640 mg sodium

56 g carbohydrate

EatingWell Mini Nacho Cups (per serving)

132 calories

6 g total fat

2 g saturated fat

229 mg sodium

15 g carbohydrate

2. Coffee drinks

A simple cup of Joe with a little milk or even half-and-half can be a low-calorie beverage that's perfect for a person with diabetes. But many coffee-shop drinks rival decadent desserts for their high calorie, carb and fat contents. For example, a 16-ounce Starbucks White Chocolate Mocha (with whipped cream and 2 percent milk) comes in at 430 calories and 55 grams of carbs. Similarly, a medium Dunkin' Dunkaccino contains 350 calories, while the large size has almost 500 calories.

Save these fancy beverages to enjoy every once in a while, not every day. Ask for half the amount of flavored syrup and skip the whipped cream to slash sugar and fat. On most days, make your own coffee at home and add a little cream or milk and sugar. Or add 1 tablespoon of a flavored creamer, such as Coffee Mate Natural Bliss, which has just 5 grams of carbs in one serving.

Starbucks White Chocolate Mocha (grande)

430 calories

18 g total fat

12 g saturated fat

250 mg sodium

55 g carbohydrate

53 g sugars

Dunkaccino (medium)

350 calories

15 g total fat

12 g saturated fat

340 mg sodium

52 g carbohydrate

38 g sugars

Coffee Mate Natural Bliss Creamer - Sweet Cream (1 Tbsp.)

30 calories

1.5 g total fat

1 g saturated fat

5 mg sodium

5 g carbohydrate

5 g sugars

3. Biscuits and sausage gravy


Pictured Recipe: Country Sausage Gravy

Sometimes known as the bad boy on the breakfast buffet, traditional biscuits and gravy is indeed high in calories, saturated fat and sodium. For example, IHOP's Buttermilk Biscuits and Sausage Gravy (without eggs) entree has 1,410 calories and 44 grams of saturated fat. That's more than two times the recommended daily intake of saturated fat. The American Diabetes Association suggests eating less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fat-and for most people, this is about 20 grams of saturated fat per day. This breakfast also has 3,460 mg of sodium, which is more than the daily recommendation of 2,300 mg of sodium per day. In comparison, our Country Sausage Gravy recipe with Cheddar biscuits is lightened up and contains only 5 grams of saturated fat and 558 mg of sodium.

IHOP's Buttermilk Biscuits and Sausage Gravy

1,410 calories

102 g total fat

44 g saturated fat

3,460 mg sodium

98 g carbohydrate

EatingWell Country Sausage Gravy & Cheddar Biscuit

275 calories

11 g total fat

5 g saturated fat

558 mg sodium

30 g carbohydrate

4. Battered fish dinners

crispy fish and chips with cole slaw

Pictured Recipe: Crispy Fish & Chips

Fish: It's always a safe choice when managing your weight and diabetes, right? Well, it depends on the preparation and the sides. A typical breaded-fish meal, with sides like fries, hush puppies and coleslaw, is better consumed in moderation. The culprits are ... just about everything: A typical platter with two deep-fried fish fillets with tartar sauce, hush puppies, fries and slaw comes to a total of more than 1,110 calories, 59 grams of fat, 116 grams of carbs and a whopping 3,150 milligrams of sodium. That's double the suggested carbohydrate amount per meal (45-60 grams for most people with diabetes) and way over the recommended 2,300 mg daily maximum for sodium.

Instead, make EatingWell's Crispy Fish & Chips. While it doesn't completely fit the healthy plate method for meal planning-that is, to fill half the plate with nonstarchy vegetables, a quarter of the plate with a whole grain and a quarter of the plate with lean protein-it's a healthier alternative to ordering a battered fish dinner at a restaurant. One serving is just 366 calories, 2 g saturated fat and 564 mg of sodium.

Long John Silver's meal (2 pieces battered pollack, 2 hush puppies, fries, coleslaw and tartar sauce)

1,110 calories

59 g total fat

9 g saturated fat

3,150 mg sodium

116 g carbohydrate

EatingWell Crispy Fish & Chips (with slaw)

366 calories

10 g total fat

2 g saturated fat

564 mg sodium

40 g carbohydrate

5. Fruit juice beverages

Fruit juice is one of the worst offenders when you're trying to follow a diabetes-friendly diet because it's high in calories and sugar. For example, Minute Maid Enhanced Pomegranate Blueberry 100% Juice Blend has 130 calories, 31 grams of carbohydrates and 29 grams of sugars in an 8-ounce serving. And be aware that the nutrition information listed is per serving-and that many beverages that come in cans or bottles contain more than one serving. If there are two servings per container and you drink the whole thing, you need to double the amount of everything you see listed on the label.

If you're going to drink a glass of juice, check nutrition labels to make the best choices. While Minute Maid does offer a line of low-calorie juice drinks with 2 grams of sugar or less per 8-ounce serving, it's better to opt for whole fruit most of the time, rather than fruit juice. Whole fruit contains fiber, which keeps blood sugar from spiking as high. Consider adding lemon or lime juice to flavor your water or drink a zero-calorie sparkling water.

6. Deep-fried Chinese entrees

Teriyaki and Orange Chicken

While some Asian chicken dishes are great choices, deep-fried orange chicken and white rice shouldn't be a go-to order for someone with diabetes. This breaded chicken swimming in a sugary sauce typically comes in at more than 400 calories and 43 grams of carbohydrates per serving. And that's without the steamed white rice, which can add another 200 calories and 44 grams of carbohydrates in a typical 1-cup serving. Rarely does this dish come with vegetables.

When ordering Asian food, opt for:

  • Plain, unbreaded chicken
  • A thin sauce rather than a cornstarch-thickened sauce
  • A high proportion of veggies (you can usually order steamed vegetables as a side dish)
  • Steamed brown rice (have a 1/3- to 1/2-cup serving and save the rest for your next meal)

Here is the nutrition value for a typical orange chicken entree in comparison with our Teriyaki and Orange Chicken. Making your own orange chicken gives you the ability to add more vegetables and lower the sodium and carb content.

Panda Express Orange Chicken (with 1/2 cup white rice)

680 calories

23 g total fat

5 g saturated fat

820 mg sodium

95 g carbohydrate

EatingWell Teriyaki and Orange Chicken

320 calories

2 g fat

1 g saturated fat

432 mg sodium

41 g carbohydrate

7. Cinnamon rolls

One of the most tempting smells in the mall or airport is freshly baked cinnamon rolls. But before you succumb to the craving, take a deep breath of fresh air and consider that a typical "mall" cinnamon roll contains more than 800 calories and 120 grams of carbs-well over the 45-60 grams of carbs suggested for an entire meal for the majority of people with diabetes. Sometimes even a homemade cinnamon roll can be over the top. With a few ingredient tweaks, you can save carbs and calories and use more healthful ingredients, such as rolled oats and whole-grain or whole-wheat flour, like in Cooking Light's Whole-Wheat Cinnamon Rolls with Maple Glaze.

Cinnabon Classic

880 calories

37 g total fat

17 g saturated fat

1,140 mg sodium

127 g carbohydrate

Cooking Light Whole-Wheat Cinnamon Rolls with Maple Glaze

252 calories

5 g total fat

3 g saturated fat

168 mg sodium

48 g carbohydrate

8. Restaurant french fries

sweet potato fries

It's no surprise that this fast-food staple is on our list. French fries are loaded with saturated fat, sodium, carbohydrates and calories. Although most fast-food restaurants now offer trans-fat-free fries, that doesn't make them good for you. You don't have to eliminate french fries from your diet completely, but choose them less often and consider sharing when you're out. Here's a look at the nutritional breakdown for a large order of fries from three fast-food chains.

Burger King French Fries

430 calories

19 g total fat

3.5 g saturated fat

640 mg sodium

60 g carbohydrate

Chick-Fil-A French Fries

460 calories

24 g total fat

2.5 g saturated fat

370 mg sodium

56 g carbohydrate

McDonald's French Fries

510 calories

24 g total fat

3.5 g saturated fat

350 mg sodium

66 g carbohydrate

Make your own french fries at home using our recipe! Swapping out white potatoes for sweet potatoes, which have more fiber and a lower glycemic index, makes this a healthier alternative.

EatingWell Air-Fryer Sweet Potato Fries (for 24 fries)

168 calories

8 g total fat

2 g saturated fat

332 mg sodium

24 g carbohydrate

9. Store-bought cookies

Bevs Chocolate Chip Cookies

That cookie with all the sprinkles or chocolate chips is full of simple carbohydrates (read: sugar) and not-so-healthy fats. Plus, who can eat just one? Most people double that serving size or go for an entire row, a quick way to pile on the calories and carbs. Four Oreo Double Stuf cookies, for example, have 42 grams of carbs.

While it's great to treat yourself to a tasty cookie once in a while, reserve it for a time when you need a treat, and don't treat it as something you consume daily. Also, try making a healthier version at home using oats or whole-wheat flour, like in Bev's Chocolate Chip Cookies. The added fiber will help keep you full and satisfied.

Oreo Double Stuf (4 cookies)

280 calories

14 g total fat

4 g saturated fat

180 mg sodium

42 g carbohydrate

EatingWell Bev's Chocolate Chip Cookies (1 cookie)

99 calories

5 g total fat

2 g saturated fat

64 mg sodium

12 g carbohydrate

10. Fried chicken

Fried chicken is another restaurant staple and all-time favorite comfort food that should be consumed in moderation. Frying the chicken adds significant carbs, calories, sodium and fat. It turns a good protein choice into a healthy-meal deal-breaker.

Here's a look at the nutritional breakdown for a fried chicken breast versus a grilled chicken breast from a leading chicken restaurant, KFC:

KFC Extra Crispy Fried Chicken Breast

530 calories

35 g total fat

6 g saturated fat

1,150 mg sodium

18 g carbohydrate

KFC Grilled Chicken Breast

210 calories

7 g total fat

2 g saturated fat

710 mg sodium

0 g carbohydrate

11. Store-bought pie

Tempted to grab a pie while grocery shopping? Store-bought pies are packed with calories, fat and carbs. Don't want to miss out on the holiday pie this year? Make your own with some healthy swaps like whole-wheat flour or oats, or make a pie with only a bottom crust (such as a tart)!

Here's how a grocery store pie compares to our Incredible Apple Tart.

Sara Lee Apple Pie (per slice)

340 calories

16 g total fat

7 g saturated fat

360 mg sodium

47 g carbohydrate

EatingWell Incredible Apple Tart (per slice)

153 calories

8 g total fat

4 g saturated fat

156 mg sodium

17 g carbohydrate

12. Purchased smoothies

If you're looking for healthier options at the drive-thru window, a fruit smoothie might seem like a good choice. Filled with fruit and sold at colorful, fresh-looking hot spots, smoothies seem like great snacks or lunch choices. Unfortunately, what you don't see is the sugar they contain, often more than a day's worth.

For example, a medium Strawberry Whirl Jamba Juice Smoothie has 310 calories, 77 grams of carbs and 66 grams of sugars. Ordering a small smoothie will slash some of the sugar, but you're best off making your own at home. Limit the fruit to one serving and mix in a protein source like Greek yogurt or silken tofu, like we do in our Strawberry-Almond Smoothie.

Jamba Juice Strawberry Whirl Smoothie (medium)

310 calories

0.5 g total fat

0 g saturated fat

25 mg sodium

77 g carbohydrate

EatingWell Strawberry-Almond Smoothie

171 calories

3 g total fat

0 g saturated fat

105 mg sodium

30 g carbohydrate

13. Processed lunch meat

Greek Chicken & Cucumber Pita Sandwiches with Yogurt Sauce

Although processed lunch meats are low in sugar, they're full of sodium, a nutrient to keep an eye on if you have diabetes, as it can contribute to high blood pressure. Two slices of Oscar Meyer Deli Fresh Honey Ham, for example, have 560 milligrams of sodium. Aim to stay under 2,300 mg for the day.

Read the nutrition labels printed on the packages you buy in the store, or ask a deli attendant to tell you the nutrition information for fresh-sliced meat. You can reduce your sodium intake by slicing meat you've roasted at home, or by buying low-sodium deli meats at the store. Enjoy sandwiches for lunch or dinner by following our Healthy Sandwich Recipes, developed specifically for people with diabetes.

Tip: Don't forget that some sandwich toppings can turn a healthy sandwich into a carb and fat disaster. Pile on veggies like spinach or cucumbers, swap cheese for a heart-healthy fat like avocado, and use spreads like mustard instead of mayonnaise.

14. Restaurant hamburgers

Big, cheesy hamburgers are high in saturated fat, the leading factor in high cholesterol levels. Pair that with the bun and fries and it's a triple threat for someone with diabetes. You don't have to cut out saturated fat completely, but the American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat to 5-6 percent of your total daily calories. That's 13 grams of saturated fat for someone following a 2,000-calorie diet.

Most restaurant chains post nutrition information online, so you can compare burger nutrition information at popular chains before you leave the house, to help you decide where to eat. If nutrition information isn't available online, ask the staff about lighter menu options when you arrive. Many restaurants have turkey burgers or veggie burgers, both which are lower in saturated fat. Ask to swap your bun for a lettuce wrap, or fries for a side salad, to cut the carbs.

Here's a look at the nutritional breakdown for a basic (smallest size available) hamburger from three fast-food chains:

Burger King Hamburger

240 calories

10 g total fat

3.5 g saturated fat

380 mg sodium

26 g carbohydrate

Wendy's Hamburger

240 calories

10 g total fat

3.5 g saturated fat

470 mg sodium

25 g carbohydrate

McDonald's Hamburger

250 calories

8 g total fat

3 g saturated fat

480 mg sodium

31 g carbohydrate

15. Store-bought doughnuts and baked goods

Commercially made baked goods, like muffins, pastries and doughnuts, make our list of foods to avoid because of their high calorie, sugar and fat contents. For example, one chocolate glazed cake doughnut from Dunkin' has 340 calories, 19 grams of fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 38 grams of carbs and 17 grams of sugar.

Be sure to check food labels and look for fat-free, sugar-free or reduced-sugar baked goods. However, the best way to control what you eat is to make treats yourself. Try out these Apple-Cinnamon Mini Doughnuts or our Gluten-Free Blueberry-Lemon Doughnuts.

Dunkin' Glazed Chocolate Donut

340 calories

19 g fat

9 g saturated fat

420 mg sodium

38 g carbohydrates

Gluten-Free Blueberry-Lemon Doughnut

164 calories

8 g total fat

1 g saturated fat

208 mg sodium

19 g carbohydrate

16. Frozen meals

Frozen meals are convenient, but their high sodium and fat content can make them unhealthy choices for everyone in your family. If you do buy a frozen meal when you're in a fix for lunch or dinner, try these tips:

  • Pick frozen meals with fewer than 400 calories, 4 grams of saturated fat and 600 milligrams of sodium, and with at least 3-5 grams of fiber and 14 grams of protein. Match the carbohydrate content to your personal carb recommendations.
  • Add your own fresh or frozen vegetables to bulk up the meal with more antioxidants and fiber.

While typical frozen meals can often add more sodium and preservatives than is healthy, don't skip the frozen section entirely, as you use it to hack a healthy dinner. For example, if you aren't comfortable cooking fresh fish, try a frozen seafood meal or fish fillets. Frozen veggie burgers are another good choice. Just read the ingredients label-the shorter it is, the better-and look for whole foods, like beans, quinoa, lentils or brown rice. Serve over a bed of greens or in a whole-wheat wrap.

17. Regular soft drinks

Sugar-laden soda can derail your healthy meal plan, spike blood sugar levels and cause weight gain. There are 4 grams of sugar in 1 teaspoon, so if your drink has 30 grams of sugar, that's equal to consuming 7.5 teaspoons of sugar! The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 6 teaspoons (or 25 grams) of added sugar per day, and men should stay under 9 teaspoons (36 grams). If it's not plain dairy or fruit (both of which have naturally occurring sugars), then the sugar is considered an added sugar.

Of course, there are diet versions of many drinks that are made with artificial sweeteners (sugar substitutes) and other healthier alternatives, such as sparkling water with fruit.

18. Store-bought cakes

Dessert is not off-limits for people with diabetes, but some desserts are better choices than others. Would you still eat that tempting piece of cake if you knew it had 23 grams of sugar in one small serving? Many commercially baked cakes, such as those sold by Pepperidge Farm, contain added sugars and saturated fat, which can lead to high cholesterol and risk of cardiovascular disease.

Portion size and moderation are the keys to enjoying a sweet treat and taking care of your diabetes. And using better-for-you ingredients means you can have your cake and eat it, too! This Sunshine Cake uses lemon to boost flavor instead of relying on butter, cream and sugar.

Pepperidge Farm Vanilla Cake

240 calories

12 g total fat

6 g saturated fat

130 mg sodium

34 g carbohydrate

EatingWell Sunshine Cake

169 calories

4 g fat

3 g saturated fat

37 mg sodium

29 g carbohydrate

19. Flavored water

berry basil and lime infused water

Flavored water can be convenient, but the sugar hidden inside isn't worth the price. For example, Glaceau VitaminWater has 32 grams of sugar, 120 calories and 32 grams of carbohydrate in an 20-ounce bottle.Check the Nutrition Facts carefully too: some beverage bottles contain multiple servings, so you'll need to consider that (and do some math) if you drink the whole bottle.

Make a better choice by picking from the VitaminWater Zero line of flavored waters, which have 0 calories, 7 grams of carbs or less and 0 grams of sugar. Better yet, make your own flavored water by squeezing lemon, lime or orange into a glass of plain water. You can also add chunks of watermelon, mint leaves or other fruits and berries to add flavor without sugar.

Glaceau VitaminWater, Power-C (20-oz. bottle)

120 calories

0 g total fat

0 g saturated fat

0 mg sodium

32 g carbohydrate

VitaminWater Zero, Power-C (20-oz. bottle)

0 calories

0 g total fat

0 g saturated fat

0 mg sodium

4 g carbohydrate

20. Frozen pizza

cauliflower pizza

Pizza ranks high among favorite foods in the United States. It's delicious, it's convenient and you can eat it with your hands-plus, it's a mainstay of football games, birthday parties and movie nights. The downside is that many commercially made pizzas are full of calories, carbohydrates, saturated fat and sodium that can blow a meal plan in just one slice. Some frozen pizzas are three or more servings but look like just one or two-so keep that in mind when assessing the nutrition information.

Here is the nutrition information for one serving of these popular frozen pizzas:

California Pizza Kitchen Signature Uncured Pepperoni, Crispy Thin Crust (⅓ of the pizza)

330 calories

17 g fat

9 g saturated fat

730 mg sodium

29 g carbohydrate

DiGiorno Original Rising Crust Pepperoni Pizza (⅙ of the pizza)

310 calories

12 g fat

5 g saturated fat

800 mg sodium

38 g carbohydrate

Make your own pizza from homemade dough or buy a frozen cauliflower crust to cut the carbs. With just 10 grams of carbohydrate, this Mediterranean Cauliflower Pizza is a great alternative.

21. Restaurant pizza

Take-out pizza is a go-to meal for many families. But pizza from a restaurant or take-out spot is just as bad as the frozen stuff. Here's a tip: cut sodium, fat and calories by choosing a thin-crust pizza with veggies or lean meats like ham or chicken, and resist adding extra cheese.

Here's a breakdown for one slice of a hand-tossed 14-inch (large) cheese pizza:

Domino's Pizza

290 calories

10.5 g fat

4.5 g saturated fat

625 mg sodium

36 g carbohydrate

Papa John's

295 calories

9 g fat

4 g saturated fat

705 mg sodium

38 g carbohydrate

Pizza Hut

290 calories

10 g fat

5 g saturated fat

540 mg sodium

34 g carbohydrate

22. Milkshakes

chocolate avocado shake

Pictured Recipe: Chocolate Avocado Shake

Rich, thick milkshakes from sit-down restaurants or fast-food joints are loaded with sugar and calories, but they are also full of saturated fat.

For example, a small chocolate milkshake from Dairy Queen has 530 calories, 19 grams of total fat, 14 grams of saturated fat and 77 grams of carbs. Topping it with whipped cream adds more calories and sugar to your meal.

McDonald's also offers these tempting treats, but here's a dose of reality: a small chocolate shake has 530 calories, 15 grams of fat, 9 grams of saturated fat and 87 grams of carbs.

Instead, make your own chocolate shake with a frozen banana, cocoa powder (0 g sugar) and a low-sugar milk like almond milk. You can also mix in an avocado to boost the creaminess factor, like we do in our Chocolate Avocado Shake.

Dairy Queen Chocolate Shake (small)

530 calories

19 g total fat

14 g saturated fat

220 mg sodium

77 g carbohydrate

McDonald's Chocolate Shake (small)

530 calories

15 g total fat

9 g saturated fat

260 mg sodium

87 g carbohydrate

EatingWell Chocolate Avocado Shake

381 calories

23 g fat

6 g saturated fat

154 mg sodium

45 g carbohydrate

23. White bread and pasta

White bread, bagels, rolls, tortillas and pastas are made with refined grains, which spike blood sugar. Swap out refined grains to make most of your grains whole grains. Whole grains are full of fiber, which slows the rise of sugar in your blood, keeps you full longer and is a key nutrient for losing weight. One white bagel has about 50 grams of carbs, and less than 2 grams of fiber. A whole-wheat bagel has about the same carbs, but more like 6 grams of fiber.

Whether white or wheat, make sure to check the total carbohydrates on the label to stay within your personal range.

24. Alcohol

cucumber mint spritzer

Pictured Recipe: Cucumber-Mint Spritzer

While having diabetes doesn't mean you need to completely avoid it, alcohol can pose issues if you aren't careful. Drinking booze can cause your blood sugar to drop too low. This is because alcohol interferes with your liver's ability to produce glucose. If you're planning on drinking, it is important to know what your blood glucose is before you start drinking, and continue monitoring it in the hours following. Don't drink on an empty stomach either. Wondering which alcohol is best to drink if you have diabetes? We've got the answers here: What to Know About Alcohol and Diabetes. Or, save your carbs and sugar allowances for food and make a mocktail-like this Cucumber-Mint Spritzer-instead.

25. Dried Fruit

While dried fruit may seem like a healthy snack, because it's condensed, it contains a lot more sugar than whole, fresh fruit. A 1/2 cup of grapes contains 12 grams of sugar, whereas 1/2 cup of raisins contains 47 grams of sugar. Also, dried fruit is often sweetened with added sugar. Check the ingredients list to see if sugar is listed as an ingredient.

While some varieties contain no added sugar, it's best to watch your portion sizes and eat dried fruit in moderation. Choose fresh fruit most of the time to increase your water and fiber intake and decrease your sugar intake compared to dried fruit.

*Nutrition information cited was gathered from company websites or food packaging.

Some original reporting by Lori Brookhart-Schervish for Diabetic Living Magazine