Eating at Restaurants with Diabetes

Whatever your taste, you can keep your blood sugar in check.

Lara Rondinelli By Lara Rondinelli, RD, LDN, CDE

Last month we learned about healthier choices when eating fast food, now it's time to learn about healthy eating at different types of restaurants. Eating out can often bring stress, temptation, and high blood glucose levels for people with diabetes - so you need to learn the best approach for you when stepping into a restaurant. We already talked about some of the eating-out dangers such as extra-large portion sizes, treating yourself too much for the "special occasion", and going into a restaurant without a plan. Remember those key principles and here are some tips for eating different cuisines healthfully:

Italian restaurants can be full of high-carbohydrate foods such as bread, pasta, lasagna, and risotto. Many dishes are also high in fat with cream sauces, cheeses, sausage, pepperoni, or fried foods such as eggplant Parmesan – these are the foods to limit. One of the healthiest changes you can make at an Italian restaurant is to limit your portion size of pasta. I often tell my patients to think of pasta (and rice) as a side dish rather than the main entre. Usually one cup of pasta, which contains 45 grams of carbohydrate, is a proper portion size for most people. The next time you are eating pasta at home, measure out 1 cup of cooked pasta to get an idea of what it looks like on your plate.

Here are some healthier dishes to order at Italian Restaurants:
Chicken or veal picata, marsala, or cacciatore. Grilled or baked fish, pasta with marinara sauce with chicken, fish or vegetables, minestrone soup, salad with low-fat dressing.

Mexican food can also be full of carbohydrates with large portions of rice, beans, and tortillas. It can also be high in fat from sour cream, cheese, and fried foods, such as chimichangas. Limiting portion sizes of tortillas, rice, and beans can limit the carbohydrate content and choosing lower-fat entrees will make for healthier eating. Also, don't forget to limit the chips and salsa – you can consume large amounts of calories, carbs and fat even before you begin your meal. If you love chips and salsa, take a handful and ask for the basket to be removed from the table.

Here are some healthier dishes to order at Mexican Restaurants:
Soft chicken or fish tacos with salsa, chicken or shrimp fajitas, taco salad (without the fried shell), broth-based soup, chicken with rice, and chicken burrito (easy on cheese, sour cream).

Chinese food can be notorious for raising blood sugar levels, therefore making healthy choices here is very important. The base of the Chinese cuisine is healthy – lots of vegetables and lean meat such as chicken. However, when you throw in extra large portions of white or fried rice, egg rolls, breaded and fried chicken, and sugar-laden sauces, Chinese food can become quite unhealthy quickly. Be aware of these foods and opt for some better choices. Remember, to watch your portion size of rice and white rice is always better than fried rice. Brown rice would be the best choice if available.

Here are some healthier dishes to order at Chinese Restaurants:
Hot and sour soup, wonton soup, chicken or beef chop suey, stir-fried chicken or shrimp with vegetables, and chicken chow mein. Asking for extra vegetables and less sauce can decrease carbs and help fill you up too.

If you are going to a restaurant that offers a variety of foods such as burgers, fries, salad, and soups then you can definitely choose wisely. Beware of high-fat fried foods such as French fries, breaded and fried chicken or fish, or salads that contain breaded meats.

Here are some healthier dishes to order at American Restaurants:
Grilled chicken sandwiches or salads with low-fat dressings, turkey burgers, baked potato, broth-based or bean soups such as chicken noodle or black bean soups. Baked or grilled fish, salads with tuna or shrimp with low-fat dressings. Chicken or turkey wraps that are easy on the cheese, mayo or other sauces.

You can enjoy eating out with diabetes, but make sure to use the above information to make healthy choices.

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Last Modified Date: February 16, 2013

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by Brenda Bell
Years before I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, The Other Half came out of a doctor's appointment with a diagnosis of "borderline diabetes" and an ADA exchange diet sheet. His health insurance agency followed up on the diagnosis with a glucometer and test strips. After a year or so of trying to follow the diet plan and test his glucose levels, things appeared to be back in "normal" range, and stood there until a couple of years after my own diagnosis. Shortly...
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