Eating healthy all the time is hard—and that’s even more true for people with diabetes.
Do I have to eat "good” all the time? Can I just get back to having fun with food by having stuff that’s really satisfying? What do I do when I’m traveling and have to stop at rest stops with food courts? What food choices should I make? Is every food at a “fast-food” restaurant bad for me?
It is possible to satisfy a hunger craving with fast food? Can I even do that?
Food for People With Diabetes
Food choices for people with diabetes are often a mind-versus-body process. So what’s the challenge? Resisting temptation can seem nearly impossible, at times. Often times it’s about a need for sugar…the dreaded pro-inflammation ingredient.
But, essentially our focus is better when we find ways to incorporate a variety of food choices into our lives. Our diet doesn’t have to be bland or boring.
In fact, we can even sneak in some selections that can found at fast-food restaurants, but that’s if we look for the good stuff—and avoid the bad stuff.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly? Food Choices and Diabetes
Let me start out by saying that, in nature, there are no good foods or bad foods.
Modern humans, or Homo sapiens, have been co-evolving with plants and nutrients and foods for 300,000 years.
So our bodies recognize natural foods and nutrients and do not mount an inflammatory challenge to these choices, because our bodies recognize them as “friends if you will.
That’s not the case with highly refined and ultra-processed foods, which are bleached, chemical-drenched and robbed of vital nutrients.
So, it is from this standpoint that I refer to some foods as good foods or bad foods for people with certain conditions, in this case, diabetes.
So which foods are good or bad foods for people with diabetes? What are the worst foods?
Read on to learn which foods to eat and which to avoid for type 2 diabetes What’s the recurring theme for healthy food choices? Low carb and low sugar.
Worst Foods for Diabetics
Let’s start out by looking at the macronutrient that negatively affects people with diabetes the most: The wrong carbs.
Carbs are the body’s main fuel, which is why it is recommended to consume 45-65% of your calories from carbs. For people with diabetes, aim for the lower end of that range.
Carbs include fiber, sugar, and starches. With all the hoopla out there painting all carbs as the enemy, it often gets overlooked that fiber is not digested and absorbed by your body in the same way as other carbs. So, foods such as fruits and vegetables with high fiber are good for us, compared to processed foods like cookies and cakes, which have no fiber.
That being said, people with diabetes should avoid consuming too many non-fiber carbs at a time as this could cause blood sugar levels to rise very quickly and very high.
High levels of blood sugar can, over time, damage your body’s nerves and blood vessels, leading to serious health conditions such as heart disease and kidney disease. Preventing blood sugar spikes with a low-carb intake can help prevent the risk of diabetes complications.
There are many foods to avoid that spike blood sugar levels. A partial list of foods to avoid includes: Treats like candy, cookies, pies or sugar-sweetened beverages, dried fruit and packaged snack foods.
Also, avoid french fries, flavored coffee drinks, fruit-flavored yogurt, white bread, bagels, pasta, and white rice.
A basic rule that most people with diabetes should follow is to avoid almost anything that has a white color!
Surprised? Most grains that are stripped of fiber are white in color. Multi-grain bread, whole-wheat pasta, and brown rice are some of the best choices.
Fast Foods for Diabetics
People with diabetes know that it is a challenge to resist the temptation for fast food.
Fast food is pretty much everywhere in today’s fast-paced world. But we can still outsmart fast food if we try.
Here are four ways you can navigate fast foods:
1. Choose Healthier Menu Options
Although fast-food places have a reputation for serving bad foods high in carbs, sodium, fat, and sugar, there are restaurants that do also offer healthier options.
You don’t have to stick with just chicken or salads. There are now healthier options for burgers, for example, chicken, turkey or meat-alternative burgers with less grease. To reduce carb intake, try an open-faced burger with a multi-grain bun or a lettuce wrap.
But keep sauces to an absolute minimum (like a small dollop), since most sauces and condiments are high in sodium. Sodium raises blood pressure and makes the kidneys work harder.
2. Skip the Super Size!
Skip supersizing the soda or the meal, even if it is only 25 or 50 cents more! And if you must have a soda, choose a small soda. If you are ordering sides to go along with your meals, choose smaller sizes.
3. Check-in With Your “Hungry” Levels
Remember to ask yourself if the hunger is real or just because the time of day has just taken the controls of our appetite. Your answer to yourself might just prevent you from stopping at a fast-food joint on the way home.
4. Look At The Menu In Advance to Avoid Hidden Carbs and Sodium
Not that I recommend fast food in general, but, when we occasionally have to give in, for whatever reason, remember that the best fast food for people with diabetes is about knowing what to order. Today, nutritional information is available to help us make healthier choices at restaurants.
Most restaurants have nutrition values posted right next to the selections offered both inside the restaurant and in the drive-thru.
So what should we look for?
Look for menu items under 500 calories for any selection, at least 10 grams of protein per serving, in addition to sodium less than 800 mg per serving if you’re eating three meals per day.
Fast-food restaurants that offer better fast food options for people with diabetes include
- Taco Bell: Chicken Soft Taco with a side of Pintos N Cheese
- Burger King: Veggie Burger
- Chipotle: Salad b sowl with chicken, fajitas, black beans, pico, corn, green salsa, and sour cream and cheese. They have also just introduced “Lifestyle Bowls” catering to keto, paleo, and high-protein diets.
- McDonald's: Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad
- Starbucks: Chicken, quinoa and protein bowl with black beans and greens
- Panera. Panera offers a very good selection of diabetic-friendly and nutritious menu items.
However, keep in mind that these same fast-food restaurants can, or do, also offer bad fast food.
And remember that high-calorie options, fried foods and overdressing your food with condiments are bad choices since they’re hidden sources of sodium, sugar, and carbs.
Salads sound like a very healthy option at these same restaurants, but have more calories and carbohydrates than a hamburger!
Also, be aware of the amount of fried chicken tenders added to your salad and to the amount of dressing poured over it.
As another example, mashed potatoes with gravy from KFC—when combined with processed and breaded fried chicken—will jack up both blood-sugar and cholesterol levels. While I have nothing personal against FC, as they are just an example, In this case, a KFC bowl would be off-limits. So try to avoid the chicken nuggets offered at most fast-food restaurants with sweet-and-sour or creamy horseradish dressings!
What’s the best way to avoid fast-food temptations?
Eat before you leave home, so you’re out and about on a satisfied stomach. One idea is to drink a satisfying diabetic-friendly Almased shake on your way out or bring packets and a shaker bottle along with you for a healthy snack. When your body feels full, you’ll have no desire to stop at a fast-food restaurant.
Also, load up your fridge with healthy options and find easy-meal recipes to prepare your foods at home. Foods prepared at home almost always have considerably less sugar and sodium than fast-food.
All in all, there are many options available to diabetics to satisfy the real hunger urge. Check out my other blog articles on healthy and nutritious foods for people with diabetes.