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What foods to avoid if diabetes runs in your family?

If you have a family history of diabetes, you may be at an increased risk for developing the condition yourself. Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects how the body processes blood sugar (glucose). With diabetes, the body either cannot produce enough insulin or cannot properly use the insulin it produces, causing glucose to accumulate in the bloodstream. Over time, high blood glucose levels can lead to serious complications like nerve damage, kidney disease, vision loss, and heart disease. While genetics play a role, lifestyle factors like diet and exercise also influence your diabetes risk. By making smart food choices, you may be able to reduce your chances of developing diabetes even with a family history of the disease.

What foods should you limit or avoid?

If diabetes runs in your family, limiting processed carbohydrates and added sugars is key. Foods high on the glycemic index like white bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes cause faster and larger spikes in blood sugar compared to low glycemic foods. Here are some of the top foods to reduce in your diet if you have a genetic predisposition to diabetes:

Sugary Beverages

Sodas, fruit juices, sports drinks, sweetened coffees and teas, and other high-sugar drinks are very high in added sugars and calories. Drinking sugary beverages frequently has been linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Cutting out sugary drinks can help control blood sugar spikes and manage weight.

White Bread, Rice, Pasta

Refined grains like white rice, bread, and pasta have been stripped of the fiber-rich outer bran layer during processing. The lack of fiber leads to rapid digestion and quick spikes in blood glucose and insulin. Choosing whole grain options like brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and sprouted grain bread more often can reduce glycemic impact.

Packaged Snacks and Desserts

Cookies, cakes, candy, chips, and other packaged snacks tend to be highly processed and contain refined flours, added sugars, and unhealthy fats. These poor quality carbohydrates promote unstable blood sugar levels and can contribute to weight gain. Limiting sugary and salty packaged snacks and desserts is advised if you’re at genetic risk for diabetes.

Fruit Juice

Although fruit juice provides some vitamins, it is also very high in natural sugars like fructose and glucose. Drinking more than one small glass of juice per day has been associated with a higher risk of diabetes. Whole fruits are a better option for getting vitamins and minerals without excess liquid sugars.

Processed Meat

Processed meats like bacon, sausage, hot dogs, salami, and deli meats are convienent but also high in sodium, nitrates, and unhealthy fats. Studies show frequent processed meat consumption increases diabetes risk. Choosing fresh lean meats more often can help manage diabetes risk.

Healthy Alternatives

Changing how you eat may feel challenging at first. Focus on crowding out the unhealthy options with more nutritious alternatives. Here are some examples of better food choices:

Whole Grains

Swap out white flour products with whole grain options like rolled oats, quinoa, brown rice, sprouted grain bread, and whole wheat pasta. The fiber in whole grains slows digestion, preventing blood sugar spikes.

Leafy Greens

Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables like spinach, kale, broccoli, carrots, beans, and other fiber and nutrient-rich produce. The vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients in vegetables provide health benefits.

Lean Protein

Choose plant-based proteins like beans, lentils, tofu, and edamame or lean meats like chicken breast, fish, and turkey. Protein foods help sustain energy levels and control appetite.

Nuts and Seeds

Snack on unsalted nuts like almonds, walnuts, and pistachios or seeds like pumpkin, flax, and chia. Nuts provide filling fiber, plant-based protein, and healthy fats.

Greek Yogurt

Plain Greek yogurt has more protein and less sugar than regular yogurt. The probiotics may also improve blood sugar control. Top Greek yogurt with fresh fruit and nuts for a balanced diabetes-friendly snack.


Stay well hydrated by drinking water, unsweetened tea, sparkling water, or coffee. Getting enough fluids helps regulate blood sugar levels.

Meal Planning Tips

With some simple meal planning strategies, you can reduce your diabetes risk while still enjoying delicious and satisfying meals. Here are some tips:

Plan Ahead

Take time on weekends to map out healthy meals and snacks for the week ahead. This makes it easier to prepare balanced homemade meals and resist unhealthy convenience options.

Cook at Home

Preparing meals at home allows you to control ingredients and portions. Fill plates with lean protein, veggies, whole grains, legumes, and healthy fats like olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds.

Practice Portion Control

Be mindful of oversized portions of carb-heavy foods like rice, pasta, and starchy veggies. Measure out reasonable portions to prevent blood sugar spikes. Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables.

Go Low Glycemic

Choose foods like oats, beans, nuts, non-starchy veggies, and stone fruits that have less impact on blood sugar over baked goods, juice, potatoes, or refined grains.

Read Labels

Check nutrition labels and limit packaged foods with long lists of added sugars or unhealthy fats in the ingredients. Choose options lowest in sugars and refined carbs.

Don’t Skip Breakfast

Jumpstart your day with a balanced breakfast containing fiber, protein, and healthy fats to help manage hunger and blood sugar throughout the day. Good options include Greek yogurt with nuts and fruit, eggs with vegetables, or oatmeal with almond butter.

Stay Hydrated

Drink plenty of water and limit sugary drinks. Proper hydration prevents blood from thickening, which can impair glucose regulation.

Sample Meal Plan

Here is a one week sample meal plan with diabetes-friendly food choices:

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7
Oatmeal with berries and almonds Veggie omelet with whole grain toast Greek yogurt with granola and fruit Avocado toast on sprouted grain Tofu veggie scramble Chia pudding with nuts and cinnamon Smoothie with protein powder, spinach, berries
Turkey sandwich on whole wheat Salmon over quinoa and greens Burrito bowl with brown rice, beans, salsa Chicken stir fry with broccoli and peppers Tuna salad wrap with lettuce and tomato Veggie and hummus whole wheat wrap Baked chicken with roasted carrots and potatoes
Veggies and guacamole with whole grain crackers Cobb salad with turkey, egg, avocado Minestrone soup with whole grain bread Grilled shrimp and vegetable kebabs Tofu vegetable curry over brown rice Chicken apple salad with nuts and dressing Baked cod with spinach salad and quinoa


A family history of diabetes raises your risk but does not guarantee you will develop the condition. Consuming a diet low in added sugars and refined carbohydrates and high in fiber, lean protein, heart-healthy fats, and antioxidants can help reduce your chances. Limit sugary beverages, juice, white bread, pasta, rice, and processed foods. Instead, emphasize whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, fish, poultry, yogurt, and water. With balanced nutrition and an active lifestyle, your fate is not sealed even with a genetic predisposition to diabetes. Small everyday choices can have big lifelong protective benefits.