16 Foods & Drinks to Limit With Diabetes—Plus Healthier Swaps

You don't need to totally avoid your favorite foods—Swap out these popular foods and drinks for better-for-you versions to help keep your diabetes under control.

Gluten-Free Blueberry-Lemon Doughnuts

Diabetes is a chronic health disease that affects how the body regulates sugar (glucose) in the blood, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When your blood glucose levels go up, the pancreas releases insulin into your bloodstream to move sugar into your cells. People with diabetes have elevated sugar levels because their pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin or their cells don't respond to it as they should.

Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to severe complications such as heart disease, kidney issues, nerve damage and hearing loss, among others. Diet plays a key role in managing diabetes. Contrary to popular belief, sugar isn't the only thing to watch out for if you have diabetes. Because people with diabetes are at higher risk for heart-related conditions, eating too much saturated fat and sodium overtime can increase your risk of high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Similarly, consuming too many carbohydrates at a time, especially simple carbs like added sugar, can lead to unstable blood sugar. This list of popular foods and drinks from fast-food restaurants or food shops are some examples of foods high in those nutrients.

If you enjoy some of these items regularly, don't despair: You don't have to avoid them altogether just because you have diabetes. Rather, enjoying them in moderation can have less of an impact on your blood sugar levels and overall health. We've also picked better-for-you swaps to make your favorite foods and drinks more nutrient-dense and great-tasting 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 the calories of an entire meal. For example, a regular order of Chili's Classic Nachos has 1,110 calories, 39 grams of saturated fat and 55 grams of carbohydrates.

To put these numbers into perspective: Most people need around 2,000 calories per day. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat to 5% to 6% of your total daily calories. That's 13 grams of saturated fat for someone following a 2,000-calorie diet. And, while it's unique for each person, 55 grams of carbs is closer to what you should be aiming for for each meal.

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, and consider making some special requests, like opting for a topping of grilled chicken instead of ground beef, or asking for light cheese to help cut down on saturated fat. Or share them with your party. Also, you can 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)

  • Calories: 1,110
  • Total fat: 75 g
    • Saturated fat: 39 g
  • Sodium: 2,540 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 55 g

EatingWell's Mini Nacho Cups (per serving)

  • Calories: 132
  • Total fat: 6 g
    • Saturated fat: 1.5 g
  • Sodium: 229 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 15 mg

2. Flavored Coffee Drinks

Aerial View Of Woman Drinking Coffee
Getty Images / Hinterhaus Productions

A simple cup of joe with a bit of milk or even half-and-half can be a perfect beverage for a person with diabetes. But many coffee-shop drinks simulate desserts because of their nutrition profiles—many are high in calories, added sugar and saturated fat. For example, a 16-ounce Starbucks White Chocolate Mocha (with whipped cream and 2% milk) provides 430 calories and 53 grams of added sugar. Similarly, a medium Dunkin' Iced Signature Latte (with whole milk and caramel craze flavor) contains 410 calories and 39 grams of added sugar, while the large size has 530 calories and 51 grams of added sugar.

You could enjoy these drinks every once in a while, but it's best to keep added sugar intake below 36 grams per day for men and 25 grams per day for women, as per recommendations from the American Heart Association. When you consume them, ask for half the amount of flavored syrup and skip the whipped cream to reduce the sugar and fat content. On a daily basis, we recommend making your coffee at home and adding a little cream or milk and sugar. Or add 1 tablespoon of a flavored creamer, such as Coffee Mate Natural Bliss-Sweet Cream Flavor, which has just 4 grams of added sugar in one serving.

Starbucks White Chocolate Mocha (grande size, with 2% milk and whipped cream)

  • Calories: 430
  • Total fat: 18 g
    • Saturated fat: 12 g
  • Sodium: 250 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 54 g
    • Added sugar: 39 g

Dunkin' Iced Signature Latte (medium size, with whole milk and caramel craze flavor)

  • Calories: 410
  • Total fat: 14 g
    • Saturated fat: 8 g
  • Sodium: 190 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 61 g
    • Total sugars: 57 g

Coffee Mate Natural Bliss Creamer (sweet cream flavor, 1 Tbsp.)

  • Calories: 35
  • Total fat: 1.5 g
    • Saturated fat: 1 g
  • Sodium: 5 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 5 g
    • Total sugars: 5 g

3. Battered Fish

Oven-Fried Fish & Chips

Pictured Recipe: Oven-Fried Fish & Chips

Fish is 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. Why? Because most similar meals are high in calories, saturated fat and sodium. For example, a typical platter with two deep-fried fish fillets with tartar sauce, hush puppies, fries and slaw from Long John Silver's can provide more than 1,110 calories, 9 grams of saturated fat, 116 grams of carbs and a whopping 3,150 milligrams of sodium.

While there's no one-size-fits-all recommendation for carbohydrate intake for people with diabetes, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines 2020-2025 recommend that 45% to 65% of your daily calories come from carbohydrates. For someone who eats 2,000 calories with 50% coming from carbs, this meal provides almost half of what they would need in a day. And in regard to sodium, it's way over the recommended 2,300-mg daily maximum, per the CDC.

Instead, try EatingWell's Oven-Fried Fish & Chips. To make this recipe more diabetes friendly, we use crispy cornflakes for the crust and bake the fish and fries instead of deep-frying them. It's a healthier alternative to ordering a restaurant's battered fish dinner. One serving is just 323 calories, 0.5 grams of saturated fat and 404 milligrams of sodium.

Long John Silver's Alaska Pollock Meal (2 pieces battered pollack, 2 hush puppies, fries, coleslaw and 1 packet of tartar sauce)

  • Calories: 1,110
  • Total fat: 59 g
    • Saturated fat: 9 g
  • Sodium: 3,150 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 116 g
    • Sugars: 19 g

EatingWell's Oven-Fried Fish & Chips (4 ounces fish and 1/2 cup chips)

  • Calories: 323
  • Total fat: 5 g
    • Saturated fat: 0.5 g
  • Sodium: 404 g
  • Carbohydrates: 46 g
    • Sugars: 3 g

4. Fruit Juice Beverages

Cucumber-Mint Spritzer

Pictured Recipe: Cucumber-Mint Spritzer

Fruit juices are a common beverage consumed daily by many people. Most fruit juices, including natural ones, are high in calories and added sugar. For example, Minute Maid Cranberry Grape Juice has 190 calories, 50 grams of carbohydrates and 39 grams of added sugars in a 12-ounce serving. It's important to note that the nutrition information listed is per serving—and that many beverages 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 brands like Minute Maid do offer a line of zero and low-sugar juice drinks, it's better to opt for whole fruit rather than fruit juice. Whole fruit contains fiber, which keeps blood sugar from spiking as high, whereas zero sugar drinks might contain artificial ingredients. Consider adding lemon or lime juice to flavor your water, drink a zero-calorie sparkling water or try our nonalcoholic Cucumber-Mint Spritzer.

Minute Maid Cranberry Grape Juice (12-ounce bottle)

  • Calories: 190
  • Total fat: 0 g
    • Saturated fat: 0 g
  • Sodium: 25 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 50 g
    • Added sugars: 39 g

EatingWell's Cucumber-Mint Spritzer (3/4 cup)

  • Calories: 12
  • Total fat: 0 g
    • Saturated fat: 0 g
  • Sodium: 2 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 3 g
    • Added sugars: 0 g

5. Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnamon Streusel Rolls

Pictured Recipe: Cinnamon Streusel Rolls

One of the most delicious smells in the mall or airport is freshly baked cinnamon rolls. Sadly, a typical "mall" cinnamon roll is not the most diabetes friendly. For example, a classic Cinnabon cinnamon roll contains more than 800 calories, 129 grams of carbs and 59 grams of added sugar. Sometimes homemade cinnamon rolls can have similar nutrition profiles. But with a few ingredient tweaks, you can reduce the carbs and calories and use more healthful ingredients, such as rolled oats and whole-grain or whole-wheat flour. Our Cinnamon Streusel Rolls provide 194 calories per serving.

Cinnabon Classic (1 roll)

  • Calories: 880
  • Total fat: 37 g
    • Saturated fat: 16 g
  • Sodium: 1,150 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 129 g
    • Added sugars: 59 g

EatingWell's Cinnamon Streusel Rolls (1 roll)

  • Calories: 194
  • Total fat: 5 g
    • Saturated fat: 1 g
  • Sodium: 198 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 33 g
    • Sugars: 5 g

6. French Fries

sweet potato fries

Pictured Recipe: Air-Fryer Sweet Potato Fries

It's no surprise that this fast-food staple is on our list. French fries are loaded with saturated fat and sodium, and because of the large serving size you typically get in an order, a plate of fries also tends to be high in carbs. However, 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 small order of fries a two fast-food chains; Burger King and Chick-fil-A.

Burger King French Fries

  • Calories: 406
  • Total fat: 17 g
    • Saturated fat: 2 g
  • Sodium: 735 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 59 g
    • Sugars: 1 g --> can we change this to added sugar?*

Chick-fil-A French Fries

  • Calories: 320
  • Total fat: 19 g
    • Saturated fat: 3 g
  • Sodium: 190 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 35 g
    • Sugars: 1 g --> can we change this to added sugar?*

EatingWell's Air-Fryer Sweet Potato Fries (about 24 fries)

  • Calories: 168
  • Total fat: 7 g
    • Saturated fat: 1 g
  • Sodium: 333 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 24 g
    • Added sugar: 0 g

7. Cookies

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Pictured Recipe: Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Cookies with all the sprinkles or chocolate chips are irresistibly delicious—who can eat just one? Most people double the serving size or go for an entire row. Besides their amazing flavor, they're also high in added sugars and saturated fat. For example, four Oreo Double Stuf cookies have 26 grams of sugar.

While all foods can be part of a healthy balanced diet, consuming sugary foods daily can increase your risk for unstable blood sugar. Instead, try making a healthier version at home using oats or whole-wheat flour, like in our Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies. The added fiber will help slow down digestion, which also helps slow the rate at which glucose enters your blood stream. Read: less of a blood sugar spike.

Oreo Double Stuf (4 cookies)

  • Calories: 280
  • Total fat: 14 g
    • Saturated fat: 4 g
  • Sodium: 180 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 42 g
    • Total sugars: 26 g

EatingWell's Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies (1 cookie)

  • Calories: 105
  • Total fat: 5 g
    • Saturated fat: 2 g
  • Sodium: 45 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 14 g
    • Sugars: 8 g

8. Smoothies

Creamy Strawberry Smoothie
Photographer / Brie Passano, Food Stylist / Annie Probst, Prop Stylist / Holly Raibikis

Pictured Recipe: Creamy Strawberry Smoothie

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 added sugar they contain—often more than a day's worth.

For example, a medium Strawberry Whirl Jamba Juice Smoothie, although low in sodium and saturated fat—and free from added sugar—has 49 grams of carbs, which is a lot for a single beverage. Ordering a small smoothie will help bring the carb count down and thus, help lower the impact this drink will have on your blood sugar. But making your smoothie at home means you can have even more control. Limit the fruit to one serving and mix in extra fiber or a protein source, like Greek yogurt or silken tofu, as we do in our Creamy Strawberry Smoothie. Protein and fiber help slow down digestion, which can help keep blood sugar levels more stable.

Jamba Juice Strawberry Whirl Smoothie (medium size)

  • Calories: 290
  • Total fat: 0.5 g
    • Saturated fat: 0 g
  • Sodium: 15 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 49 g
    • Sugars: 37 g

EatingWell's Creamy Strawberry Smoothie (1 cup)

  • Calories: 100
  • Total fat: 2 g
    • Saturated fat: 1 g
  • Sodium: 52 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 16 g
    • Sugars: 11 g

9. Hamburgers

Classic Burger for Two

Pictured Recipe: Classic Hamburger for Two

Big, cheesy hamburgers are high in saturated fat, which can lead to high cholesterol levels. Plus, the bun and fries increase the sodium and carb counts in your meal. You don't have to cut out saturated fat altogether, but the American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat to 5% to 6% 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 leaner menu options when you arrive. Many restaurants have turkey burgers or veggie burgers, which are lower in saturated fat. To reduce the carb counts and sodium, ask to swap your bun for a lettuce wrap or your fries for a side salad. You can always make your own burger at home too, like our Classic Hamburger for Two.

Here's a look at the nutritional breakdown for a small hamburger from two fast-food chains; McDonald's and Wendy's:

McDonald's Classic Burger

  • Calories: 250
  • Total fat: 9 g
    • Saturated fat: 3.5 g
  • Sodium: 510 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 31 g
    • Sugars: 6 g

Wendy's Jr. Hamburger

  • Calories: 250
  • Total fat: 11 g
    • Saturated fat: 4 g
  • Sodium: 420 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 25 g
    • Sugars: 5 g

EatingWell's Classic Hamburger for Two

  • Calories: 204
  • Total fat: 7 g
    • Saturated fat: 1 g
  • Sodium: 485 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 32 g
    • Total sugars: 8 g

10. Doughnuts

Gluten-Free Blueberry-Lemon Doughnuts

Pictured Recipe: Gluten-Free Blueberry-Lemon Doughnuts

Commercially made baked goods, like doughnuts, muffins and pastries, make our list of foods to limit because of their high added sugar and saturated fat contents. For example, one chocolate frosted doughnut from Dunkin' has 4.5 grams of saturated fat, 48 grams of carbs and 13 grams of added sugar.

Be sure to check food labels and look for low-fat or reduced-sugar baked goods. Or try making some yourself with these recipes: Apple-Cinnamon Mini Doughnuts or Gluten-Free Blueberry-Lemon Doughnuts.

Dunkin' Glazed Chocolate Donut

  • Calories: 260
  • Total fat: 11 g
    • Saturated fat: 4.5 g
  • Sodium: 290 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 34 g
    • Total sugars: 13

EatingWell's Gluten-Free Blueberry-Lemon Doughnut

  • Calories: 164
  • Total fat: 8 g
    • Saturated fat: 1 g
  • Sodium: 208 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 19 g
    • Sugars: 8 g

11. Regular Soft Drinks

Raspberry Ginger Lime Seltzer

Pictured Recipe: Raspberry Ginger Lime Seltzer

Added sugar-laden soda can spike blood sugar levels quickly. There are 4 grams of sugar in 1 teaspoon, so if your drink has 30 grams of added sugar, that's equal to consuming 7.5 teaspoons. A 20-ounce bottle of regular Coke, for instance, contains 240 calories and 65 grams of added sugar—that's 16.2 teaspoons of sugar!

The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 6% of your calories from added sugars. For most females that's no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams or 100 calories) of added sugar per day, and males should aim to stay under 9 teaspoons (37.5 grams or 150 calories). It's important to note that foods like plain dairy products and fruit have naturally occurring sugars that are not considered added sugar.

Sparkling water with fruit is a healthier alternative to sugary sodas.

Regular Coke (20-ounce bottle)

  • Calories: 240
  • Total fat: 0 g
    • Saturated fat: 0 g
  • Sodium: 75 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 65 g
    • Sugars: 65 g

EatingWell's Raspberry Ginger Lime Seltzer

  • Calories: 17
  • Total fat: 0 g
    • Saturated fat: 0 g
  • Sodium: 4 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 4 g
    • Sugars: 3 g

12. Flavored Water

berry basil and lime infused water

Pictured Recipe: Strawberry, Basil & Lime Infused Water

Flavored water can be convenient, but the added sugar hidden inside isn't worth the price. For example, Glaceau VitaminWater has 27 grams of added sugar in a 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 Sugar line of flavored waters, which have 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 other fruits or herbs to add flavor without sugar, like in our Strawberry, Basil & Lime Infused Water with sliced strawberries and basil leaves.

Glaceau VitaminWater, Essential Orange-Orange (20-ounce bottle)

  • Calories: 100
  • Total fat: 0 g
    • Saturated fat: 0 g
  • Sodium: 0 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 27 g
    • Added sugar: 27 g

EatingWell's Strawberry, Basil & Lime Infused Water (2 cups)

  • Calories: 0
  • Total fat: 0 g
    • Saturated fat: 0 g
  • Sodium: 15 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 0 g

13. Pizza


Pictured Recipe: Mediterranean Cauliflower Pizza

Pizza ranks high among favorite foods in the United States. Takeout pizza is a go-to meal for many families. It's delicious and 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 high in carb counts, saturated fat and sodium. When it comes to frozen pizzas, some include 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 DiGiorno frozen pizza and of Domino's pizza:

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

  • Calories: 300
  • Total fat: 11 g
    • Saturated fat: 5 g
  • Sodium: 750 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 37 g
    • Total sugars: 6g

Domino's Ultimate Pepperoni Pizza (1 serving)

  • Calories: 390
  • Total fat: 19 g
    • Saturated fat: 8 g
  • Sodium: 880 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 37 g
    • Total sugars: 3 g

EatingWell's Mediterranean Cauliflower Pizza (1 slice)

  • Calories: 200
  • Total fat: 14 g
    • Saturated fat: 4.7 g
  • Sodium: 484 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 10 g
    • Total sugars: 3 g

Make your own pizza from homemade dough or buy a frozen cauliflower crust to reduce the sodium, sugar and saturated fat. With less than one carb count, this Mediterranean Cauliflower Pizza is a great alternative. And if you're thinking of ordering out, here's a tip: choose a thin-crust pizza with veggies or lean meats like ham or chicken, and skip adding extra cheese.

14. Milkshakes

Peanut Butter & Chocolate Banana Smoothie

Pictured Recipe: Peanut Butter & Chocolate Banana Smoothie

Most rich, thick milkshakes from sit-down restaurants or fast-food joints are high in added sugar and saturated fat.

For example, a small chocolate milkshake from Dairy Queen has 14 grams of saturated fat and 77 grams of carbs (they don't specify how many of those grams come from added sugar). Topping it with whipped cream adds more sugar to your meal.

Instead, make your own chocolate shake with a frozen banana, cocoa powder and milk or a unsweetened dairy alternative. You can also mix in an avocado or nut butter to boost the creaminess factor, as we do in our Peanut Butter & Chocolate Banana Smoothie.

Dairy Queen Chocolate Shake (small size)

  • Calories: 530
  • Total fat: 19 g
    • Saturated fat: 14 g
  • Sodium: 220 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 77 g
    • Total sugars: 67 g

EatingWell's Peanut Butter & Chocolate Banana Smoothie (1 cup)

  • Calories: 211
  • Total fat: 9 g
    • Saturated fat: 2 g
  • Sodium: 154 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 24 g
    • Sugars: 14 g

15. Alcohol

fizzy rosemary cider mocktail

Pictured Recipe: Fizzy Rosemary Cider Mocktail

While having diabetes doesn't mean you have to avoid alcohol completely, drinking it can pose issues if you aren't careful. According to the American Diabetes Association, the main concern is that alcohol can increase the risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) in people taking blood-glucose-lowering medications. Furthermore, many ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages and cocktails, like a canned daiquiri, are high in added sugar and calories.

If you're planning on drinking alcohol, it is important to know your blood glucose before you start drinking and to continue monitoring it in the following hours. And remember, people with diabetes should follow the same alcohol guidelines as all adults—one daily drink or less for females and two drinks or less for males.

Whether or not you should drink alcohol if you have diabetes depends on different factors, including your health status and medications. Talk to your health care provider to determine what works best for you. If you want to skip the booze, choose diabetes-friendly mocktail drinks like our Fizzy Rosemary Cider Mocktail.

Canned Daiquiri (1 can or 200 mL)

  • Calories: 259
  • Total fat: 0 g
    • Saturated fat: 0 g
  • Sodium: 83 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 33 g
    • Total sugars: 15 g

EatingWell's Fizzy Rosemary Cider Mocktail (1 cup)

  • Calories: 64
  • Total fat: 0 g
    • Saturated fat: 0 g
  • Sodium: 25 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 16 g
    • Total sugars: 15 g

16. Dried Fruit

dried fruits and vegetables

While dried fruit may seem like a healthy snack, it contains a lot more sugar than whole, fresh fruit because it's condensed. A 1 cup of grapes contains around 16 grams of sugar, whereas a 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.

Raisins (1/2 cup)

  • Calories: 217
  • Total fat: 0 g
    • Saturated fat: 0 g
  • Sodium: 38 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 57 g
    • Total sugars: 47 g

Grapes (1 cup)

  • Calories: 60
  • Total fat: 0 g
    • Saturated fat: 0 g
  • Sodium: 1 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 15.8 g
    • Total sugars: 14.9 g

While some varieties contain no added sugar, it's best to watch your portion sizes, eat dried fruit in moderation and choose the ones with higher fiber content, such as figs, prunes, berries and apricots. Dehydrating your fruit at home helps control the sugar and fat content as well. However, we recommend choosing fresh fruit most of the time to increase your water and fiber intake even more and decrease your sugar intake compared to dried fruit.

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