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The 15 Unhealthiest Meals For Diabetics

Keep your blood sugar levels in check by steering clear of these glucose-toxic restaurant meals.

The news about diabetes is not so sweet.

According to the CDC, diabetes mellitus (DM) is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. And 29.1 million people—which is nearly 10% of the population—are living with the disease right now, while some people don't even know they have it. The American Diabetes Association says that 1.4 million Americans are diagnosed with the disease each year. What's shocking is that 90-95% of the population with diabetes has the type that's completely preventable: Type 2.

So how do you prevent or ease the symptoms of Type 2 DM? Luckily, the nutrition wizards here at Eat This, Not That! teamed up with the editors of Zero Sugar Diet and discovered which restaurant meals to avoid to keep your blood glucose (blood sugar) levels balanced. Read on, and for more essential tips, don't miss these 15 Secret Diabetes Remedies.

First, a Word About Diabetes


The main cause of Type 2 DM is due to a) obesity and b) having such exponentially high blood glucose levels that it exhausts the beta cells in the pancreas. As a result, the pancreas can no longer produce enough insulin to meet the body's needs.

What's insulin and why do we need it? Insulin is an extremely important hormone, because it helps reduce the amount of sugar in your bloodstream. When you have Type 2 DM, excess sugar isn't utilized or "taken up" by muscle tissue, adipose (fat) tissue, and your liver as quickly as it should due to the lack of insulin. In other words, it just kind of floats throughout your bloodstream, which can cause serious problems, like hyperglycemia—the state of having too much sugar swarming through your blood. This happens by eating too many glucose-loaded products like bread, pasta, and syrup to name a few.

Protip one: Eat a variety of healthy carbs like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. And avoid the following meals that are too high in carbs, sugar, and even protein.


Cheesecake Factory's Farfalle with Chicken and Roasted Garlic

Nutrition: 2,190 calories, n/a fat (58 g saturated), 1,830 mg sodium, 164 g carbs, n/a fiber, n/a sugar, n/a protein

We all know the Cheesecake Factory isn't Diet Central, especially when you're trying to lose belly fat—"cheesecake" is right there in the name! And the cheesecake isn't the only outrageously high-calorie option on the menu. In fact, if you order the Farfalle with Chicken and Roasted Garlic, you'll already have eaten double the carbs you need for the day—in just one sitting. Not ideal, so steer clear.

Eat This Instead! Edamame and Seared Ahi Tataki Salad.


Olive Garden's Eggplant Parmigiana


Nutrition: 1,060 calories, 54 g fat (12 g saturated), 1,190 mg sodium, 113 g carbs, 11 g fiber, 23 g sugar, 30 g protein

Olive Garden is known for its classic unlimited soup, salad, and breadstick lunch duo that starts at $6.99. While this is a dangerous option for people with diabetes—four breadsticks alone are equivalent to 100 grams of carbs—the dinner portion of the Eggplant Parmigiana contains enough carbs to put you into a hyperglycemic state immediately after consumption.

Something else to watch out for at Olive Garden is drink pairings. Who wouldn't want to savor this Italian delicacy without a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon? One or two glasses at most are fine, so long as you pace yourself. Keep in mind that moderate alcohol consumption can cause blood sugar to rise, whereas excess alcohol consumption causes your blood sugar to drop. This is especially nerve racking for people with Type 1 diabetes because, with routine insulin injections, they are more prone to enter into a hypoglycemic state, or a state of low blood sugar.

Eat This Instead! Chicken Margherita.


Chili's Crispy Honey & Chipotle Waffles

Courtesy of Chili's

Nutrition: 2,450 calories, 123 g fat (39 g saturated), 5,720 mg sodium, 276 g carbs, 11 g fiber, 113 g sugar, 61 g protein

Can we agree that this chicken and waffle rendition constitutes as one of the The 22 Worst Carbs in America? I mean 276 grams of carbs, come on! What's even worse is the sugar content. To give you perspective, 113 grams is equivalent to 28.25 teaspoons of sugar. You would consume this much excess sugar by eating 14 Reese's peanut butter cups. Ditch this dish if you're trying to avoid a spike in blood sugar.

Eat This Instead! 6-ounce Sirloin with Grilled Avocado


Applebee's Classic Combo

Nutrition: 2,280 calories, 131 g fat (41 g saturated), 7,250 mg sodium, 193 g carbs, 21 g sugar, 83 g protein)

Applebee's Classic Combo is a diabetes disaster. Why? Just look at its carb and protein content—nearly 200 grams of carbs and 100 grams of protein. You already have an idea of how toxic that many carbs can be for blood glucose levels, but excessive protein intake is also a major concern. There's a microvascular complication that occurs when a person with diabetes has been consuming too much protein, and it's called nephropathy. Nephropathy is scientific jargon for kidney damage or kidney disease.

A good rule of thumb is to consume 0.8 gram of protein per 1 kilogram body weight. So if you're 150lbs., for example, that translates to 68 kilograms which means you'll want to aim for consuming a maximum of 54.4 grams of protein per day. It's also a wise idea to check with your doctor to see how much protein is adequate for your body.

Eat This Instead! Green Goddess Wedge Salad


Cracker Barrel's Buttermilk Pancakes with Fruit Topping

Nutrition: Pancakes alone: 630 calories, 16 g fat (3 g saturated), 2,640 mg sodium, 11 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 9 g sugar, 9 g protein

Breakfast anyone? When you add any one of the three fruit toppings—country peach, sweet ripe blackberry, and cinnamon spiced apple—paired with whip cream, you're eating up to 380 additional calories, 75 grams of carbs, and 68 grams of sugar. Opt out of this carb-heavy disaster and order a bowl of hearty oatmeal topped with fresh fruit to get your sweet fix.

Eat This Instead! Apple N' Cinnamon Oatmeal.


TGI Friday's Jack Daniel's® Ribs: Full-Rack with Coleslaw & Seasoned Fries

Courtesy of Fridays

Nutrition: 1,600 calories, 73 g fat (25 g saturated), 2,860 mg sodium, 73 g carbs, 7 g fiber, 126 g sugar, 69 g protein

The American Heart Association recommends that you consume no more than 25 grams of added sugar a day for optimal health. The fact that this full rack of ribs has a little over five times the amount of that sugar allowance is a major red flag.

Eat This Instead! Lunch portion of the Strawberry Fields Salad with Grilled Chicken with Balsamic Vinaigrette.


Red Lobster's Shrimp Linguini Alfredo

Nutrition: 1,340 calories, 59 g fat (24 g saturated fat), 2,410 mg sodium, 118 g carbs, 8 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 80 g protein

The full-sized portion of this meal is another dangerously high-in-protein selection. With this shrimp and pasta dish, you're exceeding your protein limit…and in a single sitting!

Eat This Instead! Lighthouse Snow Crab Legs


California Pizza Kitchen's Thai Chicken Pizza

Nutrition: 1,290 calories, 45 g fat (15 g saturated), 3,190 mg sodium, 167 g carbs, 27 g sugar, 10 g fiber, 63 g protein

California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) may have some mad pizza, but that carb content is just way too high for a person with diabetes. Protip: start paying attention to carb choices. One carb choice equals 15 grams of carbs. Women with diabetes should have up to 3-4 carb choices for lunch and dinner, which equates to 45-60 grams of carbs per meal. For men, 4-5 carb choices are recommended for both lunch and dinner, which equals 60-75 grams of carbs. This pizza alone takes care of your carb allowances for lunch and dinner, and then some.

Eat This Instead! Shaved Mushroom + Spinach Flatbread.


Carrabba's Rigatoni Campagnolo With Gluten Free Pasta

Nutrition: 1,210 calories, 45 g fat (18 g saturated), 158 g carbs, 6,730 mg sodium, 19 g fiber, 19 g sugar, 52 g protein

Believe it or not, gluten-free doesn't always mean the dish is healthier. In fact, the gluten-free variety of this dish has 44 more grams of carbs than the variety with whole grain spaghetti.

Eat This Instead! ½ portion of the Parmesan-crusted Chicken Arugula with a side of steamed spinach.


Buffalo Wild Wings' Boneless Asian Zing

Nutrition: 1,710 calories, 74 g fat (29 g saturated), 5,330 mg sodium, 184 g carbs, 12 g fiber, 62 g sugar, 77 g protein

Talk about a carb, sugar, and protein overload! The nutrition information listed above is indicative of the large portion size. I would say just order the small size, but even that has 101 grams of carbs, 40 grams of sugar, and 39 grams of protein. We're not wild about this choice.

Eat This Instead! Up to five single wings (boneless or traditional) of any flavor.


PF Chang's Chicken Pad Thai

Nutrition: 1,120 calories, 22 g fat (4 g saturated), 4,970 mg sodium, 166 g carbs, 9 g fiber, 50 g sugar, 52 g protein

P.F. Chang's sure has a killer Chicken Pad Thai, but its carb content is pretty darn high for a dish that's supposed to be mostly made of airy rice noodles. Ditch the carbs and all of the vegetable oil, which is one of the foods that cause inflammation, that comes with it. Not to mention, the sodium content is outrageously high which is bound to make you retain water and bloat.

Eat This Instead! Handmade Shrimp Dumplings (steamed).


Red Robin's Nacho Chicken Bacon Wrap

Nutrition: 1,480 calories, 81 g fat (26 g saturated), 3,080 mg sodium, 127 g carbs, 18 g fiber, 4 g sugar, 54 g protein

On the bright side, this wrap has a relatively low sugar content. But let's be real, when you waltz into a Red Robin it's kind of hard to leave without ordering one of their iconic shakes. Add a Monster-sized "Nana-nana Moo Moo" shake and you're really in the dog house. Clocking in at 162 grams of carbs and 141 grams of sugar, a shake enjoyed with the nacho chicken bacon wrap is a no-go for diabetics.

Eat This Instead! Ensenada Chicken Platter


Texas Roadhouse's Fish and Chips

Nutrition: 1,160 calories, 48 g fat (9 g saturated), 6,120 mg sodium, 122 g carbs, 6 g fiber, 4 g sugar, 59 g protein

This classic restaurant cranks out a mean fish and chips platter, but it's high carb and protein content makes it a poor choice for diabetics. Steak fries are accounted for in this meal's nutrition facts, however, what's not included is the tartar sauce. Add that onto plate and you gain an additional 390 calories, 38 g fat, 530 mg of sodium, 14 g carbs, and 9 g sugar just to name a few.

Eat This Instead! Grilled BBQ Chicken.


O'Charley's Strawberry Waffle Combo with Ham Steak

Nutrition: 1,450 calories, 83 g fat (36 g saturated), 3,330 mg sodium, 132 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 45 g sugar, 45 g protein

This waffle from O'Charley's is loaded in both carbs and sugar, but it's even more notably loaded in saturated fat, which contributes to visceral fat, aka belly fat. This kind of centralized abdominal fat is a main contributor to obesity and Type 2 DM, so keep that intake low at brunch…and at every other meal, too.

Eat This Instead! ½ portion of California Omelet with Wheat Toast.


Bob Evans' Biscuit Breaded Fried Shrimp

Nutrition: 1,520 calories, 86 g fat (33 g saturated), 3,850 mg sodium, 155 g carbs, 10 g fiber, 35 g sugar, 36 g protein

Last but not least is Bob Evans' classic dinner item, the biscuit breaded fried shrimp. The carb, sugar, and protein content are all too high for a single meal and will cause blood sugar to spike. Check out some of these Best Foods for Diabetics for inspo on what to eat while eating out or cooking at home!

Eat This Instead! Grilled Salmon Fillet—Fit From the Farm variety.


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Cheyenne Buckingham
Cheyenne Buckingham is the news editor of Eat This, Not That!, specializing in food and drink coverage, and breaking down the science behind the latest health studies and information. Read more
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