How Does Fast Food Affect Diabetes?

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An important part of a diabetic meal plan is carbohydrates. Your body converts the carbs that you eat into sugar and uses it to provide the body with energy. However, some carbohydrates, particularly simple carbohydrates like white bread and sugar, can cause spikes in your blood sugar levels. This is an essential fact to keep in mind when ordering a fast food meal.

Many fast food menus contain high glycemic index foods such as white bread rolls, chips and french fries, and many of their foods are high in saturated fats and calories. Other items such as soft drinks and milk shakes are filled with empty calories, offering little nutritional value.

Making Good Choices

The American Diabetes Association explains that diabetics can enjoy the occasional fast food meal as long as they plan for it, and balance the not-so-healthy meal with better choices the rest of the day to help stabilize blood sugar levels.

When eating at a fast food restaurant, look for buzz words that may indicate unhealthy choices such as super-sized, fried, nugget and creamy. All of these words hint at foods that are deep-fried or loaded with extra calories. These types of foods can increase your risk of developing atherosclerosis, warns Mayo Clinic. The key is to pay close attention to the type of food and its preparation method.

At first glance, chicken appears to be a healthy choice. However, when you add mayonnaise, bacon and cheese to it, it is no longer a good option. The same is true with salad bars. Dark, leafy greens are a low carb food. Yet, adding croutons, cheese and deli meat may negate its nutritional value.

Risk Factors

Another concern regarding how does fast food affect diabetes and how it affects weight. As a diabetic, weight control is imperative. The American Diabetes Association estimates that the average fast food meal contains 1,000 calories or more. This information is more disconcerting in light of its effect on children.

A 2003 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that children’s consumption of fast foods increased by almost 300 percent from between 1977 and 1996. The prevalence of fast food sets up the scenario for increased risk of developing diabetes as an adult. A 2007 study in the journal, Health Matrix, explains that the fat and cholesterol of fast foods are addictive, creating a domino effect.

What Can Diabetics Eat?

You do have several options when eating out. Keep in mind how does fast food affect diabetes. For chicken sandwiches, opt for a grilled or broiled sandwich rather than breaded or fried. To avoid high glycemic foods, choose to have your sandwich without the bun. Likewise, pass on the fries and have a side salad instead.

Beware, however, of fat-free salad dressings. These products often contain high amounts of sugar. Rather than cream-based soups, choose a vegetable soup or chili instead. Flour is often used as a thickener in cream-based soups and can cause a blood sugar spike.

While fast food restaurants are beginning to realize their health impacts, the typical fast food menu still contains many foods which are inappropriate for diabetics. If you choose to eat out, it is important to research your food options before ordering so that you can make healthy choices for your diabetic lifestyle. Making conscious choices will allow you to enjoy your fast food meal without negatively impacting your health.


American Diabetes Association: The Fast Food

D. Frazier. The link between fast food and the obesity epidemic. Health Matrix, Spring 2007:17(2):291-317.

M.P. St-Onge et al. Changes in childhood food consumption patterns: a cause for concern in light of increasing body weights. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, December 2003: 78(6):1068-1073.