Worst Foods For Diabetes

  • Aisha choudry Bachelor's degree, Biomedical Sciences, General, The Manchester Metropolitan University, UK

Did you know that foods high in carbohydrates and fats can increase your chances of acquiring diabetes and/or related illnesses such as foot ulcers?

What is diabetes? 

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that is caused by a malfunction of insulin secretion. Insulin is an anabolic hormone which is responsible for blood glucose regulation. There are two types of diabetes which affect the regulation of blood glucose:

  • Type 1, which is known as insulin-dependent diabetes (an autoimmune disorder which is typically diagnosed at a young age)
  • Type 2, which is known as insulin-independent diabetes (could either be genetic or caused by poor diet and/or obesity) 
  • It is very important to manage diabetes as there are many complications that can arise, like microvascular or macrovascular.
  • Microvascular refers to small blood vessels and damage to nerves (neuropathy), kidneys (nephropathy) and eyes (retinopathy).
  • Macrovascular complications can include hypertension, stroke and cardiovascular diseases.1

The purpose of identifying the worst foods for diabetes is to reduce risks and chances of acquiring type 2 diabetes and, secondly, to reduce the chances of getting secondary conditions such as neuropathy. What we eat is very important to maintain healthy bodies, and we will be going through what types of foods you should be avoiding or reducing the intake of.

The impact of carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are a macronutrient found in our diets. They help insulin metabolism and control blood glucose by acting as a source of energy. Our digestive tract will break down the carbohydrates to be used as glucose to provide energy. There are different types of carbohydrates, such as fibre, starches, and simple and complex carbohydrates2 

Simple carbohydrates can cause an increase in blood sugar and the secretion of insulin from the pancreas. Foods and drinks that include simple carbohydrates include honey, fizzy drinks, sweets, white bread, cereals, pasta, and sugars. 

Complex carbohydrates will lead to a slow increase in blood sugar due to longer digestion time. Foods that are enriched with complex carbohydrates include brown rice, apples, lentils, broccoli and spinach.2

Fibre carbohydrates are also another good variation as both soluble and insoluble will aid our bodies. Insoluble fibres stay in the intestines and regulate our bowel movements. These are foods such as vegetables, potato skins, seeds and brown rice.

Soluble fibres help reduce post-meal blood glucose levels and lower LDL levels. Examples include fruits, oats, and broccoli.2

Therefore it would be beneficial to have foods with fibres and complex carbohydrates on your plate as opposed to foods enriched with simple carbohydrates.

Unhealthy fats

Types of fats

Fats (lipids) have vital roles in our bodies. They support cell growth, provide energy and help absorb certain vitamins such as vitamins A, D & K. There are three types of fats: Unsaturated (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated), trans fat and saturated fats.3

Saturated fats are usually in a solid state at room temperature and are typically present in animal products such as meat, dairy products, processed meats and oils. Increased consumption of saturated fats can lead to increased levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and an increased risk of heart disease. Foods that are high in saturated fat include fatty cuts of meat, pizzas, burgers and processed meat.3

Monounsaturated fats are in a liquid state at room temperature and are often found in products such as avocados, nuts, and olive oils. 

Polyunsaturated fats are also in a liquid state at room temperature. These are normally found in vegetable oils as omega 6 fatty acids or in fish such as salmon in the omega 3 form. Typically, unsaturated fats lower the LDL cholesterol levels in a balanced diet and are therefore considered healthy.

Trans fats are created artificially, where liquid oils are converted into solid fats. These can be either liquid or solid at room temperature. Trans fat is highly found in fried food and processed/packaged foods. Trans fats are similar to saturated fats and can increase our LDL cholesterol levels and increase heart disease risk. Examples of foods, including trans-fats, are fried and processed foods.4

Therefore it is important to understand and keep a balanced intake of fat in your diet. It is better to have unsaturated fats rather than trans and saturated fats as they have a negative impact on our LDL cholesterol levels. You can contact a healthcare professional for diet guidance.

Excessive sodium

Although there is no direct connection between sodium consumption and diabetes, high intake of sodium can increase or contribute to weight gain and high blood pressure. These are both risk factors for type 2 diabetes. 

Foods that normally entail high amounts of sodium and contribute to our sodium intake are as follows:

  • Processed meat products, 
  • Ready-to-eat meals, 
  • Dairy products, 
  • Cereals,
  • Condiments and sauces.

Hidden sugar & artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are an alternative to sugars in a lot of foods and drinks. Aspartame, saccharin and sucralose are examples of artificial sweeteners. Some of the packaged food we consume contains hidden sugars. These are sugars that have been listed under scientific names, which can make it hard to identify them. There are many of these, such as sucrose, fructose, maltose, molasses, syrup, and honey.

Artificial sweeteners & impact on blood sugar

Artificial sweeteners negatively affect blood glucose in diabetics. Artificial sweeteners lead to insulin release from the pancreas. This increase in insulin can lead to decreased receptor activity due to insulin resistance.6

Foods with hidden sugars & artificial sweeteners include

  • Flavoured yoghurt,
  • Sugar-free snacks and drinks,
  • Salad dressings and marinades.

Portion control & overeating

Proportion control is very important in diabetes management. Controlling portion sizes will affect our fat and cholesterol intake. Blood sugar levels will fluctuate depending on the amount and type of cholesterol and fat consumed, as mentioned previously. Hence, consistent portion sizes and mindful eating will make it easier to control your blood sugar levels. 

Managing weight

Portion control is also essential in managing weight. Overeating can potentially lead to weight gain, which subsequently is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. The increased amount of visceral fat can cause insulin resistance which makes it harder for cells to regulate blood sugar levels and respond to insulin7. With portion control, you can maintain a healthy weight and reduce those chances of acquiring type 2 diabetes.

Overeating triggers

There are many triggers that can cause you to overeat. Factors such as emotional can include anxiety, depression and stress, where we tend to resort to either comfort eating or using food as a coping mechanism. 

Environmental factors can also influence the amount of food consumed. The key factors are the following

  • Food availability - Junk food and processed foods are easily available; hence, people are consuming these more. 
  • Advertisements: With constant exposure to food, we can easily be influenced into purchasing and craving unhealthy meals.
  • Portion sizes: Restaurants and takeaways may offer larger portion sizes at reduced prices which may attract more people to consume the larger sizes.

Lastly, overeating can be triggered by physiological factors such as hormones which send hunger signals and regulate appetite, such as leptin, ghrelin and peptide YY.8

Ways to avoid overeating

Strategies to avoid overeating would include mindful eating, taking into consideration the types of carbohydrates, fats and sugars that you are consuming. Smaller plates also restrict the amount you consume, so having meals on a smaller plate would reduce the amount you’re eating.

We would recommend you to contact your healthcare professionals and dieticians to seek a good balanced diet suitable to your needs. 

Alcohol consumption

Occasional consumption of alcohol with meals does not affect the blood sugar levels negatively. In fact, some studies have proven a beneficial result as the levels are slightly lower. However, long-term alcohol consumption in diabetics can lead to an increased level of blood sugar as well as very low blood sugar in diabetics who are not nourished. Subsequently, worsening related complications such as nephropathy and neuropathy.9 Alcohols can also be high in carbohydrates, which, as mentioned, affect your blood sugar levels.

There isn’t a specified recommendation for alcohol consumption for diabetics; however, it is essential to moderate the amount of alcohol consumed.10 As mentioned, a high quantity of alcohol in diabetics can worsen their blood sugar levels. It’s important that you understand how your body responds to alcohol. You should be monitoring your blood sugar levels intermittently when consuming alcohol.


To summarise, the worst foods for diabetes include but are not limited to sugary drinks, fried food, frozen meals, high-sodium condiments, white bread, pasta, processed foods, and meats such as bacon and sausages.

Controlling the type and amount of foods we eat can reduce the risk of diabetes. Ensuring you are having foods that are low in simple carbohydrates, trans and saturated fats would also be beneficial.

A balanced and diabetes-friendly diet is very important as not only does it help control your blood sugar levels, but it reduces the chances of diabetes complications occurring. It is strongly advised for you to seek guidance from healthcare professionals, dieticians or nutritionists for a personalised diet recommendation.


  1. Deshpande AD, Harris-Hayes M, Schootman M. Epidemiology of diabetes and diabetes-related complications. Phys Ther [Internet]. 2008 Nov [cited 2023 Sep 15];88(11):1254–64. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3870323/
  2. Holesh JE, Aslam S, Martin A. Physiology, carbohydrates. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 [cited 2023 Sep 14]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459280/ 
  3. Liu AG, Ford NA, Hu FB, Zelman KM, Mozaffarian D, Kris-Etherton PM. A healthy approach to dietary fats: understanding the science and taking action to reduce consumer confusion. Nutr J [Internet]. 2017 Aug 30 [cited 2023 Sep 15];16:53. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5577766/
  4. Dhaka V, Gulia N, Ahlawat KS, Khatkar BS. Trans fats—sources, health risks and alternative approach - A review. J Food Sci Technol [Internet]. 2011 Oct [cited 2023 Sep 15];48(5):534–41. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3551118/
  5. Partearroyo T, Samaniego-Vaesken M de L, Ruiz E, Aranceta-Bartrina J, Gil Á, González-Gross M, et al. Sodium intake from foods exceeds recommended limits in the spanish population: the anibes study. Nutrients [Internet]. 2019 Oct 14 [cited 2023 Sep 15];11(10):2451. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6835313/
  6. Mathur K, Agrawal RK, Nagpure S, Deshpande D. Effect of artificial sweeteners on insulin resistance among type-2 diabetes mellitus patients. J Family Med Prim Care [Internet]. 2020 Jan 28 [cited 2023 Sep 15];9(1):69–71. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7014832/
  7. Verkouter I, Noordam R, le Cessie S, van Dam RM, Lamb HJ, Rosendaal FR, et al. The association between adult weight gain and insulin resistance at middle age: mediation by visceral fat and liver fat. J Clin Med [Internet]. 2019 Sep 28 [cited 2023 Sep 15];8(10):1559. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6832997/
  8. Hernandez D, Mehta N, Geliebter A. Meal‐related acyl and des‐acyl ghrelin and other appetite‐related hormones in people with obesity and binge eating. Obesity [Internet]. 2019 Apr [cited 2023 Sep 15];27(4):629–35. Available from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/oby.22431
  9. Emanuele NV, Swade TF, Emanuele MA. Consequences of alcohol use in diabetics. Alcohol Health Res World [Internet]. 1998 [cited 2023 Sep 15];22(3):211–9. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6761899/
  10. Carlsson S, Hammar N, Grill V. Alcohol consumption and type 2 diabetes. Diabetologia [Internet]. 2005 Jun 1 [cited 2023 Sep 15];48(6):1051–4. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00125-005-1768-5
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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