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Tips for Dining Out with Diabetes

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When I was growing up, most meals were cooked at home and so eating out was a special treat. Now the tables are turned: Many people eat at least one meal out every day, and a home-cooked meal is a treat!

When I talk to people with diabetes about healthy eating, one thing I ask them about is how often they eat out. Why? Because meals eaten in restaurants are typically higher in calories, fat, and sodium and are too often short on fruits and vegetables.

Benefits of eating out less often

What this all means is that if people with diabetes cut back on the number of meals they eat when they’re away from home, they can often improve their blood glucose levels, lose weight, and save money!

Sometimes, however, you just have to eat out. You’re starving, nothing is ready to eat at home, you’re tired from a long day at work or you’re meeting friends for a social evening, or you just plain enjoy having someone wait on you! The good news is that restaurants today are responding to their customers’ requests for healthier foods and more nutritious menu choices

Tips to help you select a healthy meal when dining out

  • Check phone apps or websites for nutrition information before going to the restaurant. My favorite website for this is Calorieking, where you can search either for a particular food or for a certain restaurant in your area. Some ideas for phone apps include “restaurant nutrition,” “myfitnesspal,” and “go meals.” Do a search for carbohydrate information and play around with a couple of apps to see which is easiest for you to use. A word of advice here: It’s easier to eat within your carb goals or to calculate your insulin dose if you know the carb content of the foods you’re eating.
  • When getting ready to order at a restaurant, check the menu for suggestions or references to “light fare,” or “entrees under 600 calories.” Generally, most people trying to lose weight will be more successful if they limit their meals to 600 calories or less. Unless you’re vigilant and keep your wits about you, it’s easy to put away 1,000 calories in no time at all.
  • Pay attention to the adjectives. To avoid extra fat and calories, do not order any dishes that are described as:
    • fried
    • breaded
    • cream or creamed
    • butter
    • Alfredo
    • scampi
    • au gratin
    • hollandaise
    • bacon-
    • sausage-
    • “loaded”
    • “grande”
  • Instead, choose items on the menu designated as:
    • baked
    • grilled
    • broiled
    • roasted
    • stir-fried
    • steamed
  • Ask! You are the customer, the one who’s paying the bill—so ask
    • for salad dressings and special sauces on the side
    • that salt or monosodium glutamate (MSG) not be added to your foods when they’re being prepared
    • how an item has been prepared, if you don’t know
    • for a side of vegetables instead of French fries
  • To reduce portions, share the meal with whomever you’re with or, if you’re alone, eat half of what is served and take the other half home.
  • Instead of a meal, order one or two appetizers.
  • Select entrees where vegetables are the key ingredients.
  • Drink water or calorie-free beverages.

Enjoy yourself when you eat out but stay close to your carbohydrate and calorie goals. And, if you are eating out more often, or are bringing meals home more frequently, examine your grocery-shopping and meal-planning habits. When you cook at home, you have more control over the ingredients and the portions. To help manage your diabetes, make eating out a treat instead of a habit.

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