Diabetes in the United States is growing at an alarming rate, affecting more than 29 million Americans, based on current estimates (1). That’s around 10 percent of the whole country. While medication helps, one of the best ways to treat (or prevent) this disease is to learn which foods to avoid with diabetes.
It’s about more than controlling your blood sugar by avoiding sweets. You need to educate yourself about foods with hidden sugars, artificial ingredients, and processed foods. For those with gestational diabetes, adhering to a diabetic diet is even more important.
1. Coffee Creamers
The Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) released a study that found coffee drinkers have a significantly lowered risk of type 2 diabetes (2). Great news, right? There was one catch: coffee is super healthy, as long as it’s not loaded with sugary creamers.
Among the many foods to avoid with diabetes, coffee creamer is likely an afterthought. You don’t use that much, after all. But they are usually loaded with sugar and artificial flavorings that are even worse than sugar (3). Unfortunately, your favorite coffee add-in is most likely laced with nasty artificial sweeteners and corn syrup(4). Non-dairy creamers are the worst offenders – have you ever read the ingredients label on one? *gag*
The good news is that there are some healthier options available if you just can’t stomach black coffee (5 ). Real cream, cinnamon, vanilla, coconut creams, and natural sweeteners like honey (sparingly) or stevia are all better options. Chances are you’ll find a combination that tastes better than your beloved creamer!
2. Processed Lunch Meat
Your doctor probably recommended that you get more protein in your diet – and you should. But processed lunch meats are NOT the answer. Full of fillers, flavoring agents, sodium, preservatives, and toxic chemicals, it’s hard to label them as food at all (6).
In fact, the HSPH found that regularly consuming processed meats increases the risk of heart disease by more than 40% (7). However, that wasn’t the biggest surprise: it also raised participant’s risk of type 2 diabetes by nearly 20%! Consuming 50g of these “meat” products (the equivalent of one hot dog) per day actually increases the risk of diabetes by more than 50%.
Stick to organic meats, seafood, and vegetable proteins that require some level of preparation (8). Cook and refrigerate your meals ahead of time so you don’t find yourself reaching for unhealthy options in a hurry. For those times when you are in a bit of a crunch, there are healthy jerky and other to-go protein options (9).
3. Frozen Meals
Flash-frozen fruits and vegetables definitely have benefits, when done right. It allows you to enjoy the full nutritional benefits year-round without worrying about expiration dates or preservatives (10). Frozen meals, however, are a completely different story.
Microwaving food doesn’t exactly do much to keep food appetizing. To make up for it, manufacturers have to add some pretty unnatural ingredients (11). The average frozen dinner contains more sodium, fat, and preservatives than one person should consume in a day. Anything with a sauce – even gravy – is bound to be full of glucose-raising carbs (12).
4. Soft Drinks
There are few food or drink items that contain as much sugar in as small of a package as soda (13 ). It’s basically liquid sugar with an average of around 39 grams in a single 12 oz can (14). Considering that the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends no more than 38 grams per day for an adult male, it’s bad news all around.
Studies show that drinking two of these sugar bombs a day doubles your risk of diabetes (15). Thinking of switching to diet? The same study found that drinking diet soda didn’t make a difference in risk levels. The artificial sweeteners in diet soda products are just as bad for you in the long run (13 ).
It is important to note that the correlation with diet soda and diabetes is not the same as causation (16). Switching to diet soda is a great way to reduce your sugar intake while you work to quit your soft drink habit. It is NOT a pass for you to increase your sugar intake through other sweet products – which is what researchers found most people were doing.
If you cant give up soda right away, then switch to diet in the short term ONLY. Drink naturally flavored carbonated beverages (think La Croix) or add a squeeze of lemon juice or FDA-approved essential oils to your water. Better yet:
5. Commercial Fruit Juice
In its whole form, fruit still contains sugar – but it also contains fiber (19). Fiber lowers your body’s glycemic response by slowing digestion, as well as keeping you full. Juicing removes the fiber, leaving you with nicely-flavored sugar water. Commercial fruit juices take this one step further and actually ADD sugar to make the juice sweeter! Subsequently, research studies now confirm that regular consumption of fruit juice increases your risk of type 2 diabetes (20).
Homemade fruit juice is just slightly better: the fiber is still gone, but there’s no added sugar (unless you add it yourself). The good news is that eating whole fruit is associated with a lower risk of diabetes. Whole fruit are loaded with micronutrients, antioxidants, and vitamins, in addition to the fiber (21 ).
If you’re not in the mood to munch on whole fruit, then give smoothies a go (22). You’ll keep the fiber, and there are endless, delicious combinations to come up with (23 ). To really keep your glycemic index low, add some more fiber to your smoothies with some flaxseed, chia seeds, or spinach.