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Fast food and diabetes: Tips and options

People with diabetes need to follow a healthful diet to manage their blood sugar levels. Fast food is often highly processed, and this can have a negative impact on health.
Research has shown that, around the world, as fast food has gained popularity, the number of people with diabetes has risen. There is concern that there may be a link between the two.
Like junk food, people should avoid fast food most of the time. Many of the options are highly processed, contain little fiber, and have a high salt, sugar, or fat content. All of these factors can make fast food harmful for a person with diabetes.
However, with a bit of know-how, people with diabetes can eat fast food in moderation without putting their health and wellness at risk.

It is important for people with diabetes to approach fast food options with some caution. Knowing about the nutritional content of food before setting out can help a person to make wise choices.
Before going to a favorite fast food restaurant, people with diabetes should consider some of these tips:
  • Do not go when overly hungry. Starting any meal on an empty stomach can lead to overeating and unhealthful choices. When possible, people with diabetes should plan to eat a fast food meal after having a healthful snack, such as an apple, to avoid overeating.
  • Know before going. Many fast food restaurants have calorie counts on their menus and nutrition information on their websites. Some independent websites also offer reviews and food facts. Whatever the source, it is a good idea to look at the menu options and plan a meal in advance, whenever possible. This can help limit impulse orders.
  • Drink water, not soda. People with diabetes should avoid soda due to the high sugar content and the risk of causing a spike in blood sugar levels. Swapping soda for water can help prevent unnecessary calories and blood sugar spikes and help reduce the feeling of hunger.
  • Eat slowly. The brain takes at least 15 minutes to register that the stomach is satisfied. Eating slowly helps the brain catch up with what the stomach is feeling. This technique can help a person avoid too large a meal.
  • Limit the number of visits. Research has linked a high fast food intake with poor dietary habits. Many health and wellness professionals recommend limiting the number of times anyone, including people with diabetes, eats fast food. It is best to keep visits rare, no more than once to twice a month, for best health.
  • Keep it small. When the counter clerk asks about upping the order size, it is generally a good idea to say “no.” There will still be plenty of calories in the smaller meal, but fewer than in the super-size or large size.
  • Beware of the value meal options. “Value” combinations may appear better value, but they are not always healthful. It is better to purchase a sandwich with a side salad and bottle of water instead of a pre-packaged burger, fries, and fountain drink meal.
  • Watch the salads. Salads are not always healthful or low in calories. Salads that contain deep-fried taco shells, fried chicken, fatty dressings, cheese, and croutons can add calories and affect blood sugar levels. Instead, opt for salads with lighter dressings, grilled chicken, limited or no cheese, and no croutons.
  • Fried is bad. It is best to avoid deep-fried foods, such as chicken strips, fries, and taco shells.
  • Swap the sides. When available, people should choose side salads, fruits, vegetables, or other sides that are more healthful than fries.

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