Make smart food choices even when dining away from home
It’s possible to be diabetic and still eat a healthy meal away from home at a restaurant.
For some people, eating out is an occasional indulgence. For others, it’s a way of life. Either way, moderate portions and careful choices can help make restaurant meals part of an overall plan for diabetes nutrition.
Many restaurants include information about the nutritional values of their entrees at the restaurant or on their websites. Take advantage of the Web and research food or meal options to help you make healthy choices.
Large portions are common at many restaurants but diabetes nutrition and healthy eating in general is often based on moderate portions. To control your portions:
• Choose the smallest meal size if the restaurant offers options, for example, a lunch-sized entree.
• Share meals with a dining partner.
• Request a take-home container and use it to take part of the meal home
• Make a meal out of a salad or soup and an appetizer.
• Consider avoiding all-you-can-eat buffets. It can be difficult to resist overeating with so many options. Even a small amount of many foods on your plate can add up to a large number of calories.
Don’t settle for what comes with your sandwich or meal.
For example instead of french fries, choose a diabetes-friendly side salad or a double order of a vegetable.
It’s also a wise choice to use fat-free or low-fat salad dressing, rather than the regular variety, or try a squeeze of lemon juice, flavored vinegar or salsa on your salad. Ask for salsa or pico de gallo with a burrito instead of shredded cheese and sour cream.
On a sandwich, trade house dressings or creamy sauces for ketchup, mustard, fat-free mayonnaise or fresh tomato slices.
Extras like bacon bits, croutons and cheeses can sabotage diabetes nutrition goals by quickly increasing a meal’s calorie and carbohydrate count.
Even healthier additions — including fat-free salad dressing, barbecue sauce and fat-free mayonnaise — have calories. But you can enjoy small servings of these without adjusting your meal plan. Ask for them on the side to further control how much of them you eat.
Food preparation is also something to consider. Avoid breaded and fried food. Instead request that your food be broiled, roasted or grilled.
Ask if the chef can use egg whites or low-cholesterol egg substitutes instead of whole eggs, whole-grain bread and skinless chicken.
If you’re ordering pizza, request a thin crust and lots of vegetables. Avoid doubling up on cheese or meat.
If you’re on a low-salt meal plan, ask that no salt or MSG be added to your food. Don’t feel self-conscious about requesting healthier options or substitutions. You’re simply doing what it takes to stay committed to your meal plan, and most restaurants want to make customers happy.
Beware of the continuously refilled soda glass. Sugar-sweetened soda can add hundreds of calories to your meal. Shakes and ice-cream drinks may have even more calories, as well as saturated fat. Instead, order water, unsweetened iced tea, sparkling water, mineral water or diet soda.
Alcohol has its own caveats. If your diabetes is under control and your doctor agrees, an occasional alcoholic drink with a meal is fine. But alcohol adds empty calories to your meal. It can also aggravate diabetes complications, such as nerve damage and eye disease.
If you do drink alcohol, choose options with fewer calories and carbohydrates, such as light beer, dry wines and mixed drinks made with sugar-free mixers like such as diet soda, diet tonic, club soda or seltzer
Women and men older than age 65 should try to limit themselves to one drink a day and younger men up to two drinks a day.
Eating at the same time every day can help you maintain steady blood sugar levels — especially if you take diabetes pills or insulin shots. If you’re eating out with others schedule the gathering at your usual mealtime.
To avoid waiting for a table, make a reservation or try to avoid times when the restaurant is busiest. If you can’t avoid eating later than usual, snack on a fruit or starch serving from the upcoming meal at your usual mealtime.
Even diabetics can eat dessert. Sweets count as carbohydrates in the meal plan.
If you’d like dessert other than fruit, compensate by reducing the amount of other carbohydrates such as bread, tortillas, rice, milk or potatoes.
Remember the ground rules whether you’re eating at home or eating out including:
• Eat a variety of healthy foods.
• Limit the amount of fat and salt in your diet.
• Keep portion sizes in check.
•Above all, follow the nutrition guidelines established by your doctor or registered dietitian.
Mayo Clinic Staff