If you've been told your blood sugar levels are borderline high and you have prediabetes, then you'll want to start paying close attention to your diet. What you choose to eat – and not eat – can have major impacts on your blood sugar control.
Certain foods can help you to manage your blood sugars, while others can raise your blood sugar levels and make things much worse. Eating the wrong foods can ultimately put you at higher risk of developing diabetes, so making healthy food choices is something to take seriously
We know it's not always easy to know what foods to say yes to and what foods to say no. So to help you out, here's a list of some of the top foods to avoid if you have prediabetes.
9 popular foods to avoid with prediabetes
1. Sweetened breakfast cereals
A lot of people like to start their day with a bowl of cereal and milk. And while certain cereals are not bad breakfast options for people with prediabetes, many of the common cereal brands you'll find in the grocery store are highly processed and full of sugar.
The Environmental Working Group estimates that 92% of cold cereals in the US contain added sugars. What's worse is that many contain 15 grams of sugar or more per serving. Combine those added sugars with highly refined carbohydrates, and you end up with a product that has a very high glycemic index and glycemic load. That means that it will spike blood sugar and insulin in a harmful way.
Even cereals that seem healthy, like granola or instant oatmeal, are often not good for people with prediabetes. In fact, common granola brands contain some of the highest levels of sugar out of all cereals.
Look for healthy cereals that are unsweetened and made out of whole grains. Cheerios, regular oatmeal, and muesli are all good choices. Consider other healthy breakfast options as well like scrambled eggs with veggies or plain yogurt with fresh berries.
Did you know sugar in sugar-sweetened beverages (like sodas) is the biggest source of added sugar in the American diet? And on top of that, did you know that this "liquid sugar" is one of the most dangerous forms of sugar to the human body?
Drinking sugar-sweetened beverages like soda increase your risk for diabetes in a significant way. In fact, studies suggest that for every additional sugar-sweetened beverage you drink per day, your risk for diabetes goes up by about 25%.[2,3]
Sodas are one of the top things you need to avoid if you have prediabetes. If you cut back on just one soda per day, you could decrease your diabetes risk by up to 10%.
Aim for refreshing drinks like sparkling water with fresh lemon or lime juice, unsweetened tea or coffee, and pure water infused with herbs and fruit.
3. Flavored yogurt
Yogurt itself is actually quite good for you. It has live probiotics in it that support gut health, and it is also rich in other nutrients like calcium. Research shows that people who regularly eat yogurt have a lower risk of diabetes compared to people who never eat yogurt at all.
But here's the problem. Many popular yogurt brands put a lot of sugar into their flavored yogurt products. It turns out that these flavored yogurts contain about twice as much sugar as unflavored yogurts. Fruit-flavored yogurts like strawberry or blueberry yogurt are some of the worst culprits. Unfortunately, the added sugar turns a healthy food into a not-so-healthy food.
Pick out plain, unsweetened yogurt instead of flavored varieties. To make plain yogurt more interesting, mix in things like fresh berries, a dash of cinnamon, oats, or chopped nuts.
4. Flavored coffee drinks
Many specialty designer coffee drinks out there may look appealing, but be warned: they really pack the punch when it comes to calories, saturated fat, and sugar. In many cases these coffee drinks can contain more sugar than you should be consuming in an entire day.
Take Starbucks drinks, for example. A Grande Caramel Macchiato has more than 30 grams of sugar per serving, a Tall White Chocolate Mocha has more than 45 grams, and a Grande Caramel Frappuccino has over 60 grams.
Don't order specialty drinks from coffee shops and stick with the basics instead. Try switching to black coffee, or coffee with just a little splash of cream.
5. Jams and jellies
PB&J sandwiches, toast with jam, and other classic foods that contain jams and jellies are often family favorites. But these fruity preserves are another thing to avoid if you have prediabetes.
Although they are made from fruit, the processing that occurs when making jams and jellies leaves behind a sugary, high-calorie, nutrient-lacking end product. Most of the time, jams are made out of more sugar than actual fruit.
Choose whole fruits instead of jams whenever possible. Try topping your toast with a little bit of sliced banana or strawberry. On a PB&J sandwich, replace the jam with mashed raspberries or blueberries.
6. French fries
French fries are a fast-food American favorite, but they'll do you no favors at all if you have prediabetes.
Potatoes themselves raise the risk of diabetes as they are a high-carb, high-starch veggie with a high glycemic index. So they aren't the best option for prediabetes – fried or not.
But French fries are even worse. Fried foods in general are thought to increase the risk for diabetes, and eating three servings per week of French fries has been linked to a 19% increased risk of type 2 diabetes.[8,9]
If you are out to eat, order a side salad or roasted vegetables instead of a side of fries. If you are looking for crispy snack alternatives to French fries, opt for cut veggie sticks, sliced fruit, or popcorn. And if you absolutely love potatoes and still want to eat them occasionally, be sure to cut back on portion sizes, bake instead of fry, and serve them with healthy sources of protein and fat.
The next time you are ordering a drink or mixing one up at home, pause to consider what's going in it. The ingredients used to mix up cocktails can make them very harmful for people with prediabetes.
Many drinks are made with sugar, syrups, sodas, and fruit juice. This can make them very high in sugar, calories, and carbs, which is something you will want to avoid if you want to watch your blood sugars.
For example, a Pina Colada contains 526 calories, 44 grams of carbs, and 40 grams of sugar. A White Russian contains 568 calories, 25 grams of carbs, and 22 grams of sugar.[10-12]
Mix your spirits with seltzer and fresh lime juice instead of syrups, juices, or soda. And keep light beers, dry wines, or hard seltzers on hand as low-sugar, low-calorie alternatives.
You may enjoy picking up a croissant with your morning coffee or stopping by the bakery on your way home to get a treat for the family‚Ä¶ but if you have prediabetes these are habits you'll want to reserve for very special occasions only.
You see, pastries are largely made up of refined carbohydrates and sugar, which are two major offenders when it comes to a healthy prediabetes diet. Without providing you many nutrients at all, pastries will only encourage unhealthy blood sugar swings.
More nourishing alternatives to pastries include whole-grain toast with peanut butter and fruit; an English muffin with avocado on top; or oatmeal and other hot cereals.
9. Breakfast and snack bars
Breakfast and snack bars are super easy to eat on the go, but that convenience comes at a cost. While they are marketed as healthy options, these bars are really just sweets in disguise.
Some brands of bars contain as much as 25 grams of added sugars. For example, a Nature Valley Chewy Trail Mix granola bar has 15 grams of sugar, and a Quaker Apple & Cinnamon Oatmeal breakfast bar has 20 grams of sugar.[13,14]
Try making your own breakfast bars or "cookies" made from simple ingredients like oats, bananas, and nuts. Consider other easy breakfast options like muesli with plain yogurt and berries, Cheerios, or overnight oats. For on-the-go snack substitutions, opt for veggies with hummus, apples and peanut butter, string cheese, or cottage cheese.
Additional foods to avoid with prediabetes
The bottom line
There are lots of popular foods that are just not very good for you if you are trying to keep your blood sugar levels in balance – as tempting as they might be.
Fortunately, living with prediabetes doesn't have to mean living without delicious foods and tasty treats. It just means being more careful about what you put into your body. Do your best to avoid (or at least limit) the foods listed above, and start to explore healthier alternatives.
Get adventurous and creative with your food choices. There are usually many different tasty substitutions you can make that will still leave you satisfied.
Does cutting out foods and making healthy food swaps sound daunting? Consider joining Lark's Diabetes Prevention Program to get support. We'll be by your side as you navigate new diet and lifestyle changes to optimize your health.
Drouin-Chartier JP, Zheng Y, Li Y, et al. Changes in Consumption of Sugary Beverages and Artificially Sweetened Beverages and Subsequent Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: Results From Three Large Prospective U.S. Cohorts of Women and Men. Diabetes Care. 2019;42(12):2181-2189.
Salas-Salvadó J, Guasch-Ferré M, Díaz-López A, Babio N. Yogurt and Diabetes: Overview of Recent Observational Studies. J Nutr. 2017 Jul;147(7):1452S-1461S.
Coyle DH, Ndanuko R, Singh S, Huang P, Wu JH. Variations in Sugar Content of Flavored Milks and Yogurts: A Cross-Sectional Study across 3 Countries. Current Developments in Nutrition. 2019 Jun;3(6):nzz060.
Zhang Y, You D, Lu N, et al. Potatoes Consumption and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: A Meta-analysis. Iran J Public Health. 2018 Nov;47(11):1627-1635.
Cahill LE, Pan A, Chiuve SE, et al. Fried-food consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes and coronary artery disease: a prospective study in 2 cohorts of US women and men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Aug;100(2):667-75.
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