International fare can keep diabetics' blood sugar in check

By Dr. Daniel Nadeau

Some have a misconception that dining with diabetes means bland, boring and overly restrictive.

It doesn't have to be so.

In honor of National Diabetes Awareness Month, I wanted to share how those living with diabetes can thoroughly enjoy dining out.

Enticing internationally inspired cuisine that also keeps blood sugars in check is easy to find with a little planning and preparation.

Maintaining a diet with a balance of high fiber, plant-based protein and whole-grains is an important part of managing diabetes.

Eating this way is not exclusively for people with diabetes, either.

Everyone can benefit from a nutritious diet focused on whole foods, which can help ward off obesity, heart disease and hypertension.

And it is not as complicated as it may seem. It's simply about knowing how to order.

Mexican fare, as many of us are accustomed, is often covered in cheese and drowned in heavy sauces. You would not typically find this Americanized version in Mexico.

Choosing chicken fajitas, with plenty of veggies, wrapped in a whole-wheat tortilla, topped with guacamole and salsa, is a healthy alternative.

Chinese food can take a little more finesse to find a meal that won't spike blood sugar, but there are several vegetable-centric dishes that favor light and flavorful sauces. Tofu and broccoli with spicy green beans in a white sauce is ideal for a healthy meal.

Vegetable fried rice made with brown rice is also a good option, but be sure to request it Chinese-style, which means they'll avoid using sugar-laden sauces.

Next up on our tour of healthy international cuisine: Indian food. Spices like tumeric take center stage with Indian food. Spices add vibrant flavor and have major health benefits, including reducing inflammation and aiding in digestion.

My picks start with a pilaf of long-grain brown basmati rice. Brown rice is always the healthier option over white rice, but a long-grain variety is even better.

Long-grain rice has a low glycemic index, which means it is broken down slowly in the digestive tract. Let this diabetes-friendly grain serve as the starting point, then pair with chana masala — a chickpea-based dish — or chicken curry. Add a whole grain roti and your meal is complete.

Being diagnosed with diabetes is an opportunity to expand your palate and rethink your approach to eating. By incorporating a variety of meals from international cuisine people with diabetes can commit to an eating plan that is optimal for healthy living while incorporating delicious flavors from around the world.

The Diabetes Center at Hoag Hospital has dozens of diabetic-friendly recipes to try at home at

Dr. Daniel Nadea is the program director of the Mary & Dick Allen Diabetes Center at Hoag Hospital Memorial Presbyterian and Dr. Kris V. Iyer endowed chair in diabetes care.