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The Best Fast-food Items to Order if You Have High Blood Sugar

Whether you have diabetes or prediabetes, the choices you make at the fast-food drive-thru can help you manage blood sugar levels.
FACT CHECKED BY Jordan Powers Willard

Knowing which fast-food items you should order at the drive-thru if you have high blood sugar is important for those with diabetes or prediabetes. Although type 1 and type 2 diabetes are more well-known, you may be less aware of prediabetes and the severity of the diagnosis.

Considered "a serious health condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes" by the CDC, prediabetes is a diagnosis of concern because of its predisposition to possibly escalate to type 2.

In addition to getting more exercise, you will likely need to make some changes to your diet to reduce your intake of added sugars and other simple carbohydrates from processed foods and sweetened beverages when you have diabetes or prediabetes. These proactive steps can help you manage blood sugar or even reverse prediabetes.

Keeping your blood sugar in check at mealtime can be manageable using tactics like the Diabetes Plate Method, which provides balance without relying on carb counting, calculating, weighing, or measuring; however, picking the right meal to optimize your health can prove challenging while dining out, especially when you're at a fast-food joint.

While you may wonder if you'll ever be able to eat fast food again, don't worry—you can and will if you make the right choices based on your knowledge of the best fast-food orders for high blood sugar.

"You must order meals with low carbs and calories when you have high blood sugar," says Bill Bradley, RD, a registered dietitian, author, and CEO of Mediterranean Living. "Taking a lot of carbs causes the body to produce more insulin. It's also important to choose dishes that are high in fiber and avoid those containing high amounts of saturated fats."

To contextualize what "low carb" means for those with high blood sugar, Justine Rosado, RD, CDN, CDCES, of the Nutrition Queens says, "as a general rule of thumb, you should aim for 45–60 grams of carbohydrates at each meal and 15–30 grams of carbohydrates at snack time."

Because the effects of different foods on individual blood sugar levels can vary from person to person, you should always consult your doctor on how to best manage your specific blood sugar condition when eating out prior to pulling up to your local drive-thru. However, to help guide your decision making to an easier choice, here are some general recommendations for the best fast-food orders to place if you have high blood sugar.

Burger King Hamburger

burger king hamburger
Burger King
Per Hamburger: 259.8 calories, 9.9 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 33.9mg cholesterol, 569.4 mg sodium, 29.4 g carbs (1.3 g fiber, 6.8 g sugar), 13.8 g protein

If you're hankering for a beef hamburger, a classic Burger King hamburger keeps saturated fat and carbs to a minimum as far as sandwiches go. By including protein with fiber-rich carbohydrates and fats, you can slow the absorption of sugars into your bloodstream and, in turn, help avoid sudden spikes in your glucose levels after eating.

For an added boost of fiber and nutrients, you can add a Garden Side Salad on the side. Although Ken's Ranch or Golden Italian Dressing aren't high in carbs or sugars, be aware that they can add a lot of calories to this meal—so it's best to go without dressing.

Subway 6-Inch Veggie Delite Sandwich

subway veggie delite sandwich
Courtesy of Subway
Per 6-Inch Sandwich: 200 calories, 2 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 0mg cholesterol, 320 mg sodium, 39 g carbs (4 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 8 g protein

Whether you prefer a sub sandwich or make it a wrap, the versatility of the Subway Veggie Delite lets you can customize your lunch while maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. The key is to make smart choices in accordance with your diet plan.

"When building a sandwich, shoot for whole grain bread, which contains more dietary fiber and thus will help slow down the blood sugar spike," advises Rosado.

Note that wraps often contain more carbs than standard sandwich bread or buns. At Subway, the six-inch Hearty Multigrain bread has 36 grams of carbs, while the amount of carbs in its assortment of wraps range between 48–50 grams each.

You can also ditch the bread altogether by taking advantage of Subway's "make any sandwich into a salad" promotion. But be mindful that cutting out all carbs cold turkey can sometimes be a mistake, depending on what you've already had to eat and where you are in your overall blood sugar management journey.

"It's important to maintain a consistent intake of carbohydrates, as any long periods of starvation followed by huge influx of carbohydrates can wreak havoc on the delicate system that manages your blood sugars," says Rosado.

Wendy's Grilled Chicken Sandwich

wendy's grilled chicken sandwich
Courtesy of Wendy's
Per sandwich: 350 calories, 8 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat),95mg cholesterol, 850 mg sodium, 35 g carbs (1 g fiber, 7 g sugar), 32 g protein

A chicken sandwich is almost always a better choice for keepin g saturated fat and carbs on the lower side—as long as you don't load it with barbecue sauce.

You can make Wendy's Grilled Chicken Sandwich better for your blood sugar by eliminating the bun. "Request a lettuce wrap," suggests Rosado. "That'll drop the carbs to [around] five grams and calories to 280."

Wendy's Southwest Avocado Salad

wendy's avocado chicken salad
Courtesy of Wendy's
Per Salad (Without Dressing): 420 calories, 25 g fat (9 g saturated fat), 125mg cholesterol, 930 mg sodium, 12 g carbs (6 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 39 g protein

When people who wish to better manage their blood sugar are searching for a healthy salad, it's important to look at more than just carbohydrate content, because healthy fats and protein can slow the absorption of carbs into the bloodstream. While some fast-food restaurant salads are calorie-dense, flavorless, or both, Wendy's Southwest Avocado Salad is a great choice because it's loaded with flavor and nutrients.

"The bed of spinach and romaine lettuce gives this salad more than just water-dense iceberg lettuce as a base. These two leafy greens bulk up the vitamins and minerals," says Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD, a registered dietitian at Balance One. "The nutrient quality will improve if you forego the traditional salad dressing and allow the avocado to take its place."

Chick-fil-A 12 Grilled Nuggets

chick fil a grilled nuggets
Per 12-Count Order: 200 calories, 4.5 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 660 mg sodium, 2 g carbs (0 g fiber, 1 g sugar) 38 g protein

Carbohydrates are kept to a minimum in these nonbreaded, grilled chicken nuggets from Chick-fil-A—which also come in orders of five or eight. Add a Kale Crunch Side salad to infuse more nutrients and fiber into your meal while only adding about 9 grams of fat and 8 grams od carbs to your meal.

Shake Shack Chick'n Bites

shake shack chicken bites
Shake Shack
Per 6-Piece Order: 300 calories, 19 g fat (3.5 g saturated fat), 780 mg sodium, 15 g carbs (0 g fiber, 1 g sugar), 17 g protein
Per 10-piece Order: 510 calories, 32 g fat (6 g saturated fat), 1,300 mg sodium, 26 g carbs, (0 g fiber, 2 g sugar), 29 g protein

Whether feeling just a little peckish or very hungry, the Shake Shack Chick'n Bites are a carb-conscious fast-food option for the savory snacker who prefers their nuggets come complete with a crispy crunch.

"Both [the 6- and 10-piece] options are reasonably low in carbs, and I appreciate that these bites feel like a more grown-up version of a chicken nugget," says Rosado.

Chipotle Burrito Bowl

Chipotle burrito bowl chicken fajita veggies
Per burrito bowl (chicken, light brown rice, light black beans, pico de Gallo, fajita veggies, lettuce): 400 calories, 11 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 1,210 mg sodium, 39 g carbs (8 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 39 g protein

What's nice about Chipotle is you can build your own Burrito Bowl, tailoring the ingredients to your taste as you boost the meal's nutritional value and make choices that keep carbs and saturated fats low.

"By choosing a lean protein like chicken, adding [a 'light' portion of] brown rice, and tons of veggies, you'll be mixing the three macronutrients without excessive fat or carbs," says Juliana Tamayo, MS, RD, at Fitness Clone.

"Be sure to avoid excess sour cream or cheese," she says. "Ideally, your meal should have 30–45 grams of carbohydrates."

Fast-Food Menu Items You Can Skip

frying french fries in oil

French fries are a fast-food classic you're better off going without as you manage your blood sugar and work toward maintaining consistently healthy levels. Loaded with carbohydrates and saturated fats, French fries are among the worst foods to consume. This is especially true if you're considered diabetic because of how rapidly French fries can elevate blood sugar and then sustain this high level for an extended period of time because the fat can take a long time to digest.

Remember to also "skip desserts, such as milkshakes, churros, cinnamon rolls, or ice cream," advises Tamayo. "If you feel like having something sweet, go with a cup of fruit or apple slices."

Jeff Csatari
Jeff Csatari, a contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, is responsible for editing Galvanized Media books and magazines and for advising journalism students through the Zinczenko New Media Center at Moravian University in Bethlehem, PA. Read more about Jeff