Eating is one of the greater pleasures in life, and eating out is considered a vital part of socializing. However, eating out in restaurants can be very stressful and challenging if you have diabetes as it can be hard for you to make healthy food choices. Still, it is possible to enjoy a delicious, diabetic-friendly meal without restricting yourself or avoiding your favorite restaurant. By having in mind some key tips and tricks when making your meal choice, you can make eating out an enjoyable experience and keep your blood sugar stable at the same time. Here are some strategies you can follow:
- Pick the best restaurant option – Before choosing a restaurant, make sure you do a little research on its meals and their nutritional values. For example, if the restaurant has a website, have a look at the menu and check the fat and carbohydrate content of the meals (starters and mains containing 60-90 grams of carbohydrate in total and moderate amounts of healthy fat are considered ideal). If fat and carbohydrate content is not mentioned, search for foods categorized as healthy or low carb and make sure that the restaurant offers a variety of low-glycemic choices.
- Invite health conscious friends to join you – Dining with other health conscious people will help you stick to your diabetes diet and will decrease your chances of ordering something harmful for your health.
- Go to the restaurant before feeling hungry – Going to the restaurant while starving can be a disaster for your diet as you will be less able to make a health conscious decision.
- Make questions – In case the menu doesn’t mention nutritional values or healthy options, ask the waitress or the restaurant manager for further information on the carbohydrate content of meals, and if sugar, syrup, bread and flour are used during cooking.
- Start with veggies – Vegetables, including steamed or grilled vegetables with butter and salads can be an ideal starter as they are low in carbohydrates (have in mind that peas and corn are not considered a vegetable). They are also full of fibre which, when consumed together with a carbohydrate rich meal, has the ability to lower its glycemic index (GI). Order your vegetables and salad plain, with low-sugar dressing or high healthy fat dressing like olive oil. Any other sauces should be avoided unless their sugar content is known.
- Choose meat or fish as a main – Meat and fish (grass fed beef, chicken, pork, turkey, ostrich, wild caught fish fillets, shellfish) are a great source of high biological value protein, they are low in carbohydrates and saturated fat, and, when consumed together with a rich healthy fat meal, they have the ability to lower its glycemic index.
- Make substitutions – Use lettuce leaves instead of tortillas for taco substitutes, request steamed veggies and top with some butter instead of ones with sweet sauces. Instead of French fries, ask for baked sweet potato fries (don’t eat a plate load though). Substitute sweet dressings, BBQ sauce and ketchup with sour cream or full fat greek yogurt, mustard, salsa and lemon juice. Ask for quinoa or wild rice instead of normal white rice, request the croutons to be removed from your salad and substituted with some full fat cheese. Use portobello mushrooms instead of a bun for your burger, choose sugar free frozen yogurt instead of ice cream as a dessert and choose unsweetened berries and nuts for your frozen yogurt’s topping.
- Watch the extras – Sometimes the extras ‘hidden’ in a healthy meal can destroy your diet and cause a raise in your blood sugar levels. For example the croutons hidden in a salad or soup, the sweet chili sauce hidden in a sandwich, the bread crumbs hidden in your fish fillet and the BBQ sauce hidden in your spare ribs. It is therefore very important to check the ingredients mentioned in the menu, or ask the waitress for further information. Have in mind that ingredients like sweet chili sauce, BBQ sauce, ketchup, honey-mustard dressing, syrup, sugar, flour, bread and bread products are often used by restaurants to make your meal taste better.
- Be portion wise – Restaurants usually serve much bigger portions compared to the ones we usually consume at home. This will add up to extra than the required carbohydrates and sugar. Therefore it is important to go for a medium sized meal. If you need to take half of your meal home to make it proportionally correct for you, ask for a to go container. Preferably with a proportion of 50% vegetables, 25% meat and 25% grains. It is really important for you to make sure your plate includes no more than ½ cup of cooked rice, pasta, potato or 1 slice of bread.
- Drink safely – Alcohol can worsen diabetes complications and is possible to interact with diabetes medication. It is therefore important to be consumed in moderation. According to a study conducted in Christian Doppler Laboratory for Receptor Biotechnology in Austria, the phytochemicals found in red wine have the ability to prevent, improve and even treat symptoms of diabetes. So, in case you are ordering alcohol, go for one small glass of red wine along with a healthy low GI snack like unsalted nuts. Another alcohol choice could be Vodka and club soda with a twist of lime. Vodka has no carbs.
- Use GI-lowering foods – Some foods have the ability to instantly reduce the GI value of our meal. A great example is vinegar or lemon juice. Just a few teaspoons of vinegar or lemon juice in your meal can lower its GI by up to 40%. Also, fibre rich foods, nuts, seeds, meat, and shellfish all have the ability to reduce the GI value of your meal.
- Desserts – Choose sugar free frozen yogurt, fresh strawberries with stevia sweetened whipped cream. An excellent choice would be a Cheese Course for dessert. Very European!
Examples of diabetes-friendly foods that you can enjoy in a restaurant:
- Breakfast in a cafe: Choose omelette served with cheese and roasted tomatoes and coffee.
- Lunch in a pub: Choose fajitas made with lettuce leaves instead of tortillas and a glass of unsweetened iced tea. (Carry your own sweetener like liquid Stevia).
- Dinner in an Italian restaurant: Starter: Choose a small portion of Insalata Caprese served with some olive oil and balsamic or a minestrone soup without croutons.
- Main: Choose two slices of a thin crust pizza rich in vegetables and meats or a medium portion of roasted chicken topped with your favorite sauce like Arrabiata. (no pasta). Add some fresh vegetables.
It’s not hard. It just takes some thought and good choices.
Diabetes is a serious chronic condition that can lead to serious health complications if left unmonitored. Fortunately, diabetes can be managed through lifestyle changes and allow you to live a normal life. Just have in mind that famous diabetic individuals like the actress Halle Berry, CNN host Larry King and music producer Randy Jackson managed to cope with their condition and to become successful and healthy.
Diabetes doesn’t have to stop you from leading the life you want, and all the above tips can help you enjoy your eating out while staying healthy.