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Eating Out With Diabetes

Busy days, special occasions, holidays and social events often involve dining out, which can be intimidating if you have diabetes and are not sure what foods will be available. Plus, not everyone with diabetes has the same nutrition goals or meal plan. Cutting calories may be most important, or your dietary goals may be to limit saturated and trans fat and salt.

In general, keep in mind that not all restaurants will meet your needs, so call ahead to check out your options. When making reservations ask if the chef can prepare entrees with oil instead of butter or without added salt. If available, obtain a copy of the menu in advance, or check on the restaurant’s website for their offerings.

“Choose a restaurant that has some healthy choices,” says Daniel Nadeau, MD, Program Director of the Mary & Dick Allen Diabetes Center, Dr. Kris V. Iyer Endowed Chair in Diabetes Care and Endocrinologist at Hoag Medical Group. “Even steakhouses will often have a choice of fish and fabulous salads.” Other things to consider include: Does the restaurant offer a variety of choices? Does it allow substitutions without an extra charge? Can two people split an entrée without an extra charge? Will they be willing to accommodate dressings and sauces on the side and prepare food without extra butter or salt?

“Fast food places are a bit more problematic,” says Dr. Nadeau. “But certainly some healthy choices exist. For example, Chipotle offers brown rice for their bowls and burritos, and veggie fast food places with fabulous choices are springing up everywhere.”

“And don’t hesitate to try ethnic foods,” says Dr. Nadeau. “Pick whole grain breads, chickpeas, and cauliflower in Indian restaurants. Brown rice and mixed vegetables in a clear white sauce make healthy options in Chinese restaurants. Avoid deep fried and sticky sweet breaded choices such as General Tso’s Chicken or anything described “crispy”.”

Other helpful tips:

  • Order all dressings and gravies on the side. Instead of pouring dressing on your salad, dip your fork in the dressing before spearing a piece of lettuce.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask for substitutions: choose a double helping of vegetables instead of French fries, for example.
  • Order baked potatoes plain, then top with a teaspoon of low-calorie sour cream and/or vegetables.
  • Try to eat the same size portion as you would if you were at home. If the serving size is considerably larger, ask to take home the extra food “to go.”

Healthy tip: If you would like an alcoholic drink, choose one without a high-calorie mixer. Avoid margaritas and daiquiris, for example, as they contain high-sugar mixers. A glass of wine or a beer is fine. If on medications that can cause low blood glucose such as insulin, have some carbohydrates at the same time to protect yourself from lows.