When it comes to type 2 diabetes and food, there’s a world of confusing advice out there. Googling “What can I eat with diabetes” turns up over four million results. Changing that to “What can I eat out with diabetes” raises the total to over seventy-four million. With that much information floating around, it’s surely a complex question…right?
Not necessarily. While the bad old days of weighing every food and packing special meals are long over, there’s still a lot of confusion surrounding what to eat or not to eat with diabetes. And there shouldn’t be. When eating out, the same common-sense guidelines apply as when eating at home. With a little forethought and mindfulness—which is something we should all bring to the dinner table anyway—dining out with type 2 diabetes can be the same enjoyable experience it was before the disease.
To keep blood sugar levels—and calorie intake—in check when eating out, keep these simple guidelines in mind:
Skip the starter—and the bread basket
Many restaurant “starters” are the equivalent of a full meal, with comparable calorie counts. Having a “starter” before the actual meal can mean eating far more calories than needed and sabotaging weight goals. And tucking into bread sticks, rolls, tortilla chips before a meal packs in the carbs—which can lead to blood sugar spikes.
Pay attention to portion size
Like starters, most restaurant entrees are oversized. A typical entrée may be twice the size of a healthy portion and in some cases even more. And like it or not, when presented with a plate of food—even an oversized plate with oversized servings—most of us tend to eat it all. It’s not our fault; we’re hard-wired to eat whenever food is available and to keep eating until it’s all gone. It does present a problem, but the solution is simple: split the entrée with someone else, if possible, and if not, ask for a doggie bag and set half the serving aside before starting the meal.
Take a pass on the pasta
Most pasta manufacturers define a “serving” of pasta as 2 ounces of dry pasta, or about a cup of the cooked product. The USDA says a serving is a mere half-cup. A restaurant portion, on the other hand, is likely to be two, three, or in some cases even four cups—far more than the recommended serving size. And pasta is a carbohydrate and calorie bomb. Keep the pasta dishes for dinners at home, where portions can be measured.
Ditch the salad dressing
Salad dressings are notorious for containing hidden sugar. Even some savory dressings such as blue cheese may have an (un)healthy dose of high fructose corn syrup. A single tablespoon of salad dressing may contain as much as a gram and a half of sugar, making it very easy to wreck your diet before you even reach the real meal. And added toppings such as cheese, croutons, bacon bits, and nuts or seeds can turn a salad into a meal in its own right. If you’re going to start your meal with salad, opt for a small side salad without toppings and naturally low-calorie dressings such as plain vinaigrette.
Keep it simple
The more complex the dish, the more likely it is to contain an excess of calories and/or carbs. Glazes, sauces, and the like can be ideal hiding places for sugars, additives, and more. So stick to simple dishes simply prepared, such as grilled meats or fish accompanied by braised non-starchy vegetables. For example, choose grilled salmon and buttered carrots with tarragon over salmon Hollandaise and carrots glacé. And if you do choose the salmon Hollandaise, pay attention to portion size.