Recently, my father developed Type 2 diabetes. He’s learning how to eat all over again at 60 to manage his blood sugar. And while it’s encouraged him to learn how to cook more for himself, his diagnosis also poses a unique challenge. His job requires a lot of road trips for business reasons, so cooking his own food isn’t always possible. Often, he only has fast food drive-thru options available when it’s time for him to eat. So, now what? I did some research to help him out — and it should help other diabetics make healthier choices, too!
Fast Food Chains With Either Diabetic-Friendly or Customizable Menu Options
I’ll admit that pulling this list together was harder than I expected. Unlike keto dieters, diabetics can’t just swap out the bun for lettuce to hit their daily goal. Managing your blood sugar while sitting for long periods is especially difficult. Ideally, he needs to consume 10 grams of sugar or less per meal. With that in mind, here are the safest fast food menu options for diabetics like him eating on-the-go.
Chain #1: McDonald’s
This is my first pick because it’s the king of American fast food chains. In addition, there’s almost nowhere in the U.S. that doesn’t have a McDonald’s. But it’s also true that McD’s adds sugar to nearly everything on its menu. However, this chain also thoughtfully provides a standalone nutrition calculator to help you make more informed food choices. These options should work for any diabetic who’s on the road a lot for work:
- Egg White Delight McMuffin (260 calories, 8g fat, 29g carbs, 16g protein, 3g sugar, 2g fiber)
- Egg McMuffin (300 calories, 12g fat, 30g carbs, 17g protein, 3g sugar, 2g fiber)
- Sausage burrito (300 calories, 16g fat, 26g carbs, 13g protein, 2g sugar, 1g fiber)
- Filet-O-Fish (390 calories, 19g fat, 38g carbs, 17g protein, 5g sugar, 2g fiber)
- Southwest grilled chicken salad, but without any dressing (330 calories, 11g fat, 26g carbs, 33g protein, 9g sugar, 6g fiber)
- Quarter pounder with cheese, but no bun or ketchup (310 calories, 22g fat, 4g carbs, 24g protein, 1g sugar, 1g fiber)
- Side salad (15 calories, 0g fat, 3g carbs, 1g protein, 1g sugar, 1g fiber)
- Newman’s Own low fat balsamic vinaigrette dressing – Note: this is the ONLY safe option for salads, unless you’re okay going without! (35 calories, 2g fat, 4g carbs, 0g protein, 3g sugar, 0g fiber)
Chain #2: Taco Bell
The real killer at this fast food chain is all the fried shells. Luckily, their menu options are super-easy to customize so you can create a healthier version! My tip for you is to order everything “fresco style.” That gives you fresh pico de gallo to add flavor, crunch and vitamins, but skip the high-sodium sauce packets. Much like McD’s, Taco Bell has their own nutrition calculator to help you track your macronutrients. Try these diabetic-friendly fast food options the next time you make a Run for the Border:
- Fire-grilled chicken soft taco (170 calories, 6g fat, 16g carbs, 12g protein, 1g sugar, 1g fiber)
- Grilled steak soft taco (170 calories, 6g fat, 16g carbs, 12g protein, 1g sugar, 1g fiber)
- Side of black beans (50 calories, 1g fat, 8g carbs, 2g protein, 0g sugar, 3g fiber)
- Pintos ‘n cheese (170 calories, 6g fat, 20g carbs, 9g protein, less than 1g sugar, 9g fiber)
- Fresco crunchy beef taco (140 calories, 7g fat, 14g carbs, 6g protein, less than 1g sugar, 3g dietary fiber)
- Power menu grilled steak bowl with black beans, lettuce, guacamole, cheddar cheese and pico de gallo (260 calories, 12g fat, 15g carbs, 21g protein, 1g sugar, 5g fiber)
- Power menu fire-grilled chicken bowl with refried beans, lettuce, guacamole, cheddar cheese and pico de gallo (250 calories, 12g fat, 14g carbs, 23g protein, 1g sugar, 6g fiber)
- Power menu veggie bowl + fire-grilled chicken, double black beans, lettuce, guacamole, and pico de gallo (300 calories, 10g fat, 29g carbs, 24g protein, 2g sugar, 12g fiber)
Chain #3: Starbucks
Are you a coffee addict like me? If so, then you likely have the Starbucks app downloaded to your phone already. And you probably also know the food there’s healthier than what you normally find on fast food drive-thru menus. Here are some better food choices for diabetics who can’t live without their daily caffeine fix on the road:
- Eggs & cheese protein box (470 calories, 25g fat, 40g carbs, 23g protein, 21g sugar, 5g fiber)
- Chicken & artichoke panini (470 calories, 21g fat, 37g carbs, 30g protein, 3g sugar, 5g fiber)
- Regular drip coffee (2 calories, 0g fat, 0g carbs, 0g protein, 0g sugar, 0g fiber)
- Reduced-fat turkey bacon & cage-free egg white sandwich (230 calories, 5g fat, 28g carbs, 18g protein, 2g sugar, 3g fiber)
- Spinach, feta & cage-free egg white breakfast wrap (280 calories, 8g fat, 34g carbs, 20g protein, 5g sugar, 4g fiber)
- Prosnax carrots, white cheddar cheese and almonds snack tray (140 calories, 10g fat, 6g carbs, 6g protein, 3g sugar, 3g fiber)
- Creminelli prosciutto tray (170 calories, 7g fat, 12g carbs, 13g protein, 0g sugar, 0g fiber)
- Avocado spread, which is a great addition to any sandwich! (90 calories, 8g fat, 5g carbs, 1g protein, 0g sugar, 4g fiber)
General Fast Food Menu Guidelines for Diabetics
No matter where you go, here are a few tips for navigating any fast food menu without spiking your blood sugar:
- Avoid sauces, condiments and dressings (or choose the option with the lowest sugar). You can have one ketchup packet, but in general, stick to mustard and avoid mayo. Of course, fast food restaurants are famous for packing extra sugar into everything to add flavor. In fact, low-fat or low-calorie dressings are often the worst possible choice!
- Look for items that contain at least 3 grams of fiber, 10 grams of protein and 10 grams of fat or less. It’s not a perfect ratio, but ideally, choose fast food items that contain at least some fiber, protein and fat to feel full. Women should aim for at least 25-30 grams of fiber per day; men should eat at least 30-38 grams.
- Ask the person taking your order for a paper copy of the menu’s nutritional information to take with you. If you tend to eat at the same fast-food joints over and over again, this is crucial. This way, you know which foods are “safe” in order to meet your blood sugar goals on the road. Bonus: You can avoid the temptation to try seasonal or “limited time only” menu items, because you won’t see them on your list!